MILWAUKEE — What looked like a lost cause early on eventually inspired joy as the Milwaukee Bucks fought through a difficult first half to defeat the Indiana Pacers 132 to 119 in front of a sellout Fiserv Forum crowd.
With his two co-stars out of the lineup, point guard Jrue Holiday dismantled the Pacers for 35 points and 11 assists on 68.4% from the field and 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point land. The 32-year-old point guard’s dominance was evident from the jump as Holiday applied pressure on a stingy Pacers defense anchored by center Myles Turner (30 points, eight rebounds).
Holiday admitted that this young Pacers team left him feeling winded in the first quarter. Indiana ranks second in points per possession in transition and transition possessions per game, making them a high-octane team. He felt like the Bucks tried matching that energy in the first half before slowing down and playing their own game in the second half.
Now in his 14th NBA season and third with Milwaukee, Holiday has come to understand which circumstances call for him to take over a game.
“I’m pretty much dominating the ball,” Holiday said of his games without teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I do think that without him there, I really just try my best almost every possession to touch the paint or attract two [defenders].”
Head coach Mike Budenholzer called his starting point guard “phenomenal,” citing his control of the game and defensive intensity as the differentiators.
“He kind of put us on his back,” Budenholzer said. “He’s got a tough job. The point guard, he’s kind of built to be unselfish, to take care of others, and sometimes, we need him to flip that switch and I guess, in essence, take care of us.
“[Holiday] got a great balance. He felt it tonight, and he had a great run. Made some tough baskets, and that’s what you need to win games like this.”
Milwaukee Bucks disrupt Pacers’ tempo to secure victory
Fan favorite Bobby Portis, who addressed the Fiserv Forum crowd to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day moments before tip-off, delivered on his promise to “get a win today” by contributing 21 points and 11 rebounds as a member of the starting lineup.
It was a tale of two halves for the Milwaukee Bucks. Indiana got out to a hot start, scoring 38 points in each of the first two quarters to establish a 76-65 lead. From the opening minutes of the game, Indiana was dialed in from deep en route to 19 made threes on 47.5% shooting in the afternoon.
The Pacers rode a wave of momentum surged by backup point guard T.J. McConnell, who set a career-high with 25 of his 29 points in the first half. Prior to Monday, McConnell hadn’t scored more than 23 points in a game during his eight years in the league.
So how did the Bucks overcome their foes’ big game? By playing to the strengths of their personnel and hounding the Pacers on defense. Coach Budenholzer put the team in a switch-heavy scheme in the second half, which allowed them to play faster on defense and dominate the steals margin nine to zero.
“I liked all of it,” Holiday said of his team’s decision to switch on the perimeter. “We kept them around the 3-point line and made it hard for them to penetrate our defense.”
The Bucks also hit a season-best 23 triples, making more than 50% of their shots from behind the arc. Although much of the creation came from Holiday, it was an unselfish outing for all of the 10 Bucks player in rotation headlined by the four who contributed at least four assists.
Veteran guard George Hill provided a spark off the bench with nine points, six assists and three steals in 22 minutes for the Bucks. Though Hill is known best for his defensive role on the team, it was his precise cutting and 3-point shooting that helped the team pull away in the fourth quarter.
The 36-year-old point guard has played sporadically as of late, though he’s been around the league long enough to know that he needs to be prepared for playing time at any given moment. With both Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness) and Khris Middleton (knee) out of the lineup, Hill was ready to leave his mark on the game.
“We’ve been trying to find different rotations and… [have] been tweaking the lineup a little bit, but [it’s about] just having a next man up mentality. When your number is called, go out there and do the best you can,” Hill said.
Milwaukee will look to double down on its performance with the Toronto Raptors coming to town on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CST and can be heard live on 620 WTMJ.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS COVERAGE FROM THE WTMJ NEWS STAFF:
- Bucks Talk with Justin Garcia: Jan. 12, 2023
- Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming to Fortnite
- Milwaukee Bucks: 5 trade targets who would make a difference in a title run
- Giannis Antetokoumpo closing in on Kevin Durant for NBA All-Star captain duties
- REPORT: Bucks center Brook Lopez strives for Defensive Player of the Year award, future in Milwaukee
PREVIOUS GAME: Vincent leads Heat to 2nd straight win over Bucks