An uneven four games saw the Milwaukee Bucks struggle immensely on defense, and following a blowout in Toronto, players suggested a change in defensive strategy to new coach Adrian Griffin.
Coming off their best defensive showing under Griffin, the Bucks will attempt to produce another stout performance Monday night when they visit the Brooklyn Nets.
Milwaukee allowed its first four opponents to average 122 points and gave up at least 50 percent shooting in three of those games. After allowing the Raptors to shoot 56 percent and control the rebounding by a 50-29 edge in a 130-111 loss on Wednesday, Griffin decided to use Brook Lopez closer to the rim on defense Friday.
The move worked like a charm in Milwaukee’s 110-105 win over the visiting New York Knicks in the in-season tournament opener. Lopez racked up eight blocks after the former Nets center totaled two in his first four games, and the Bucks allowed a season-best 39.6 percent shooting and 25.6 percent from 3-point range.
Damian Lillard scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter Friday and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22. Jae Crowder scored 14 points, Lopez and MarJon Beauchamp contributed 13 apiece and Khris Middleton chipped in 12 while playing fourth-quarter minutes for the first time this year as the Bucks limit the guard’s minutes.
The Nets have split their first six games and began a stretch of 11 out of 14 games at home with a 124-114 loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday to complete their first back-to-back set. After stirring fourth quarters in wins at Miami and Chicago, the Nets appeared to fizzle in the fourth when they allowed the Celtics to pull away.
Cam Thomas continued his productive start by leading the Nets with 27 points. Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie added 19 apiece but the Nets shot a season-low 43 percent and 32.7 percent (17-of-52) from 3-point range.
The Nets rested Ben Simmons for the first time and their offense also produced a season-low 22 assists while scoring nine second-chance points.
Simmons is expected to be available Monday, but Nic Claxton likely will miss his sixth straight game with a high left ankle sprain he sustained in Brooklyn’s season-opening 114-113 loss to Cleveland. Claxton is out of his walking boot and the Nets will likely start Dorian Finney-Smith at center again on Monday. Milwaukee is 8-2 in the past 10 regular-season meetings. The Bucks won three of four meetings last season, while the Nets posted an 118-100 win at home on Dec. 23.