MILWAUKEE — The sellout crowd at Fiserv Forum still believed. Sure, the Milwaukee Bucks had largely put forth a rare stinker, trailing for most of the game even with Dallas Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic out with a sprained right ankle. But they were still hanging on every play, waiting for the comeback.
That all changed with two shots by Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-foot-3 former All-Star drained a 31-footer over the outstretched arm of Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo. About 20 seconds later, Porzingis splashed a 30-footer, putting the Mavericks up by 14 and sending some fans to the exits with just under six minutes remaining.
Just like that, it was clear the Bucks' 18-game win streak would be no more. It ended in a 120-116 loss on Monday night, but while the game largely wasn't as close as the final score would indicate, the Bucks made things interesting down the stretch.
Trailing by 15 and with a bench unit on the floor with under 3½ minutes left, the Bucks made one final push, taking advantage of Dallas' apparent interest in just stalling out the clock. The margin remained at 11 with under 40 seconds left before a 5-0 run over 15 seconds got the Bucks back in the game. Then Justin Jackson missed two free throws and George Hill made a layup with 17.3 seconds left.
Antetokounmpo came back in. The margin got as low as three on an Antetokounmpo and-1 layup with 5.2 seconds left. He missed the free throw, but Sterling Brown got the rebound. Brown tried to put it back, but his attempt was blocked by Porzingis off Brown and out of bounds. That's where the comeback died, but it was a valiant one at that.
Antetokounmpo put forth a herculean effort, scoring 48 points on 18-of-31 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds, but he didn't get enough help from his teammates, whose combined shooting percentage hovered around 30% much of the night. Kyle Korver, with 17 points and 6-of-7 shooting off the bench, was the only other Bucks player to score in double figures until the final minutes of the fourth when Ersan Ilyasova (11 points) and Hill (10 points) joined them.
It was a night where virtually nothing worked for the Bucks. Their offense amounted to little outside of Antetokounmpo and Korver no matter who coach Mike Budenholzer threw into the game. Playing their second game without point guard Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks were unable to find play-makers outside of Antetokounmpo who could consistently drive and create for themselves or others.
Defensively, their usual drop coverage failed to slow Dallas' 3-point-heavy attack. With Brook Lopez (three points, 1-of-8 shooting) failing to make an offensive impact, the Bucks opted to sit him most of the night and go smaller in order to switch more. When they started switching, the Bucks had some success but struggled to execute well and contain drivers.
Everything hinged on Antetokounmpo from the get-go. He opened the game with an and-1 layup, hit Donte DiVincenzo for a dunk, then knocked down a 3. But the Bucks couldn't find any rhythm outside of his contributions, while the Mavericks got hot from 3-point range, hitting six of their first 10 — part of a 16-for-41 night.
With Antetokounmpo out, the Bucks flailed at the end of the first quarter, taking a 14-point deficit into the second. It marked their largest disadvantage since Nov. 8 — the date of their previous most recent loss.
Korver then stepped up to give the Bucks some life. When they trailed by 16 — the largest deficit of the night — it was Korver who netted a jumper. He then put forth an incredible defensive effort, scrambling across the court to block a 3-point attempt by Seth Curry. Korver then ran the floor, hitting Antetokounmpo, who somehow scored a layup despite being wrapped up by Jackson.
The Bucks were alive again. Antetokounmpo's 13-point second quarter, with eight points from Korver, helped Milwaukee go into intermission trailing by just three points.
Antetokounmpo then rattled off the first 11 Bucks points of the third quarter, raging to the rim time after time. The Bucks regained the lead and it looked like they may have broken through.
But Antetokounmpo's help never came. His teammates went just 3-of-14 in the third quarter, and as Milwaukee's offense struggled, Dallas ripped off a 9-0 run to push the margin back into double figures where it would stay for much of the remainder of the game.