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MILWAUKEE — The last time the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Utah Jazz, Utah hit a franchise-record 18 three-pointers, Giannis Antetokounmpo and assistant coach Sean Sweeney got into a shouting match on the bench, and the Bucks lost in blowout fashion, 121-108.
At the time, it was the Bucks’ third loss in its last four games and the team was giving up an average of 106.3 points per contest and looking out of sync on both sides of the ball.
Aware that his group wasn’t on the same page, head coach Jason Kidd had to do something to get the energy and effort up to the level he and his coaching staff desire. Kidd conducted a long, grueling practice the next day in San Francisco and it’s safe to say his message got through to the players.
The Bucks are 6-1 since suffering that embarrassing loss on the road in Utah and got their revenge against the Jazz on Saturday at home with a 117-100 victory. Milwaukee are now 15-10 on the season, their best start since 2005-06 when they also opened with a 15-10 record through the first 25 games.
“We just had to be ready to fight from the jump ball and I thought the guys did a great job,” Kidd said Saturday after the win over the Jazz. “Both the starters and the bench, everybody was into it for 48 minutes. Us, as a team, we’re growing up and understanding what it takes to win in this league. It’s not easy. The week didn’t start off well for us, but we ended it on a positive note. Now we turn the page to another week with another three in four.”
As usual, Antetokounmpo was leaps and bounds the best player on the floor and torched the Jazz with 37 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and one filthy dunk over Utah big man Rudy Gobert.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 10, 2017
Antetokounmpo believes the chemistry that has been on display over the past seven games is a result of how close the guys are with each other, both on and off the floor.
“It’s fun when you win, it’s fun when you play together,” Antetokounmpo said. “We find the chemistry and it’s easy. Look at them (across the locker room), joking around, it’s easy to play with those guys. It’s fun and it makes everybody want to play harder. Not just us, but the guys behind us seeing us that we, the best players, have found the chemistry. The guys behind us, the bench players, play hard, too.”
Antetokounmpo was pointing to Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, who both scored 20 points and have helped immensely in taking the offensive burden off of Giannis’ shoulders.
Opposing teams can no longer double-team Antetokounmpo at every turn since Bledsoe and Middleton have proven to be good floor-spacers. The two went a combined 5-of-9 from beyond the arc on Saturday.
Bledsoe, celebrating his 28th birthday, says the atmosphere has been fun ever since he arrived from Phoenix and that the team is starting to play with more pace and energy.
“The energy, pace, we just having fun,” Bledsoe said. “We’re having fun playing with each other. We’re a talented group of players. We just have to build on each and every game. It don’t matter who we’re playing.”
The explosive point guard, while smiling, also said the extended practice in California was good to get things back on track.
“It was pretty hard,” Bledsoe added. “But you know we need days like that to calm us down and get back to the basics and focus on one goal and one mission.”
The Bucks will look to make it four in a row Wednesday when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans.