It was always going to be a tough task for the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night.
They were without two of their superstars with Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton nursing ankle injuries. The Bucks’ reserves were depleted after trading Cam Payne and Robin Lopez earlier in the day. The Minnesota Timberwolves have the best defense in the NBA.
So, probably to be expected, the Bucks weren’t competitive in a 129-105 loss at Fiserv Forum after returning home from a five-game road trip.
The Bucks fell to 33-19, including 1-5 under new head coach Doc Rivers.
BOX SCORE:Timberwolves 129, Bucks 105
Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t appear in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. He finished with 17 points in 27 minutes.
“This was going to be a tough one if we’re not injured,” Rivers said. “Coming back from the trip we just came back from.
“Sleep patterns. And then I’ve never seen the flights that they had us (on) – time change, coming back, back-to-backs. Insane. Having said that, no one feels sorry for you. You go through this.”
Anthony Edward finished with 26 points to lead the Timberwolves. He took advantage of a short-handed Bucks backcourt by scoring nine points and helping the Timberwolves take a 30-26 lead after the first quarter.
The Bucks stayed within 63-53 at halftime, thanks to Jae Crowder’s 16 points.
Crowder had 21 points in 37 minutes. He shot 4 of 5 on three-pointers.
“He’s getting back in shape,” Rivers said. “That’s another guy, we forget, we’re playing him minutes, he just came off an injury.
“It’s funny, I wanted to keep him in, but I didn’t want to push it. I was thinking more about conditioning. Maybe using tonight as a condition thing. But the fact we play tomorrow is why I took him out.”
Crowder was listed on the injury report as probable for the game, but he was in the starting lineup.
The Bucks seemed to run out of gas in the third quarter.
The Timberwolves pushed their lead to 91-64 on a three-point play by Naz Reid, and it became even more apparent that this wasn’t going to be Milwaukee’s night.
“We just couldn’t make enough shots,” Rivers said. “And then you get dispirited. I was really proud of the second unit guys. They really came out and fought and earned minutes at the same time.”
Antetokounmpo subbed out of the game with just over 4 minutes remaining in the quarter. He didn’t play after that.
“Wow, just watching their length out there,” Rivers said. “Giannis would beat one seven footer and run into another seven-footer. You beat him and then there’s another seven-footer with length.”
Minnesota had a 102-75 advantage heading into the fourth, and fans at Fiserv Forum started heading for the exits.
The only thing worth Bucks fans sticking around in the fourth quarter was to see Bucks guard A.J. Green get hot from long range.
“Credit to my teammates for finding me,” Green said. “Whether it’s setting screens or kicking and finding me.
“Just staying patient and letting it come. Shooting my shots.”
He hit three-pointers on three straight possessions, and kept bombing away. He finished with a career-high 27 points and hit 7 of 8 three-pointers.
“Shot-maker,” Rivers said. “Adding another shot-maker to what we have. Shot-makers around Giannis is pretty important.
“We obviously know he can shoot the ball. He’s a fighter on defense. Not saying he’s a great defender, but you’re not just going to go score on him. He’s going to give you a fight.”
It’s not the kind of game in which Green wanted to have a career night.
“We knew we were short-handed going into it,” Green said. “But you also know you got to find a way to win.
“Good teams find a way to win. So no matter who is playing or not, we got to come out and compete.”
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18 Minutes for rookie Andre Jackson Jr., his most since Rivers took over as coach. In fact, they were the only minutes Jackson Jr. has had since Jan. 29 as he had three “did not play-coaches decisions” and saw 37 seconds of action in Utah on Feb. 4. He played just over 17 minutes against New Orleans on Jan. 27 under interim head coach Joe Prunty.
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Middleton sprained his left ankle against the Phoenix Suns during the fifth and final game of a long road trip on Tuesday, so it was unlikely that he would play against the Timberwolves.
That was confirmed when Middleton was listed as out for the first game of the back-to-back set.
Bucks coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he didn’t have a timeline for Middleton’s return.
“I think we’ll know more (Friday),” Rivers said.
Lillard is nursing a left ankle sprain and he was scratched from the lineup just before tipoff.
First appeared on www.jsonline.com