Here are my thoughts about last night’s TNT doubleheader
Hello, and welcome to my new feature: Thursday Night Thoughts (TNT) on Friday! In this space I will give my takes on both games of the NBA’s premiere weekly broadcast. If you would like to add anything about the evening’s games, be sure to let me know what’s up in the comments section!
Los Angeles Lakers 113, Milwaukee Bucks 106
I watched this game live on mute because Marv Albert and Chris Webber have done an atrocious job of announcing games, and the remote setup of these broadcasts has exacerbated their flaws. I used the Ashanti vs. Keyshia Cole Verzuz as background noise. However, I would have gladly sat in silence if that event hadn’t occurred.
As for the game, the Milwaukee Bucks did a great job of attacking the inside. They outscored the Lakers 58-32 in the paint on Thursday night. The Bucks earned a solid chunk of those points in transition, outscoring LAL 24-9 on fastbreak points. However, they also found plenty of ways to score them in the halfcourt, spreading the floor and then attacking off of drives and post ups.
The Lakers counteracted Milwaukee’s paint blitz by dominating from beyond the arc. LA hit ten(!!) more three-pointers than the Bucks, going 19-of-37 (51.4%) from long distance. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the charge, going 7-of-10 on his threes. LeBron James followed up by going 6-of-10.
How did this happen? Well, the Bucks defense is designed to focus on protecting the paint and conceding the three-point shot. It’s how they manage to average the fourth-fewest opponent points in the paint this season while also allowing the tenth-most opponent 3-point attempts. The Lakers called their bluff on this evening, and were wildly successful in the end.
The Lakers held a double-digit lead in the fourth, but played with their food a little bit. This allowed the Bucks to get back into the game, making it 102-100 with 3:05 left in the game. However, that was all the wake-up call the Lake Show needed, and they promptly shut the door with back-to-back treys by Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso.
This victory showed me that the Lakers are just humming along as the best team in the league. Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell aren’t the best paint defenders, but the team has enough pieces at this point to cover up that issue.
Milwaukee, on the other hand, has seen great success under head coach Mike Budenholzer. However, he needs to make some sort of schematic changes on the defensive end if he wants he team to get to the next level. The Lakers aren’t the first team and won’t be the last to burn the Bucks from beyond with the way they play defensively. Something has to change if they don’t want to get burned again in the early rounds of the postseason.
Utah Jazz 129, New Orleans Pelicans 118
The Utah Jazz picked up where they left off on Tuesday and secured another double-digit win over the New Orleans Pelicans. New Orleans trampled Utah 43-31 in the first quarter, but the Jazz bounced back with a 39-26 second quarter and took a one-point lead into halftime. From there, Utah comfortably held serve until the final buzzer.
Donovan Mitchell shepherded Utah to this victory with 36 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. His 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range was the X-factor in what is the Jazz’s seventh consecutive win. Mike Conley chipped in 20 points and Jordan Clarkson dropped 19 points from off the bench. So there was plenty of great guard play for Utah on the evening.
Entering this season, I figured the Jazz would be a decent team, but I am pleasantly surprised how just how dominant they have been in the early going. Their top-tier three-point shooting (first in makes per game, second in percentage) and stereotypically tough defense (seventh in defensive rating) have been the keys to their success. Hopefully, this strong play will continue as the season wears on.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are still trying to figure it out. They got off to a great start in this game. Unfortunately, once they were hit in the mouth in the second quarter they failed to make a counter-punch and ultimately coasted to a loss. Consistent effort and perseverance through adversity is just another lesson this team will have to learn. Zion Williamson paced the Pels with 27 points while Brandon Ingram had 23.
I will table my thoughts on Donovan’s postgame interview with Shaquille O’Neal for another day…