The battle between MVP candidates never quite fully materialized, as James Harden and Giannis Antetokuonmpo both made an impact, but neither dominated. Instead, it was Eric Bledsoe who was the best player on the floor, and the Houston Rockets went ice-cold from beyond the arc in the second half, as they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 108-94.
After a back and forth first half that saw the Bucks take a 58-53 lead into the break, the Rockets went 1-13 from deep in the third quarter, and in a game that was played with both playoff intensity and playoff whistles (no calls), Houston was dead in the water when not hitting their threes.
Overall, the Rockets shot just 35 percent from the field and were just 16-52 from beyond the arc, including a wide variety of wide open misses from multiple players and from multiple areas of the court.
Credit the Bucks for playing tough defense all around, and on James Harden in particular, holding The Beard to 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists on just 9-26 from the field and 1-9 from three. With Harden’s shot not falling, the Bucks sent him to the right all night and closed off the backside, and with whistles firmly swallowed, Harden got to line for just 5 free throw attempts on 17 shots from two-point range, most of them drives to the bucket.
Milwaukee was sharper all night, forcing numerous Houston turnovers off of inbounds and in their own end, and they outscored the Rockets 28-2 in the fast break (19-0 in the first half), highlighting their edge in energy. They looked like the more engaged team from the mid second quarter on.
The Rockets were also led by Chris Paul, who finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, but he was just 7-18 shooting, and they also got 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks from Clint Capela. Danuel House had 15 points on 5-9 shooting from deep, and that was the extent of the major contributions for the Rockets.
P.J. Tucker was just 1-9 from the field (1-8 from deep), Eric Gordon was 0-7 (0-5) on the night and probably should have just sat out, while Iman Shumpert and Austin Rivers never looked comfortable.
As for the Bucks, Bledsoe led the way with 23 points, 7 assists, and 2 blocks, while they also got 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists from the Greek Freak. Pat Cannaughton had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks off the bench, while Khris Middleton had 13 points, as did Brook Lopez, who also grabbed 8 boards and knocked down three triples because the Rockets decided he wasn’t worth guarding.
The Rockets fall to 47-28 on the season and are now in fourth place in Western Conference standings. They’ll return to the court Thursday night at home against the Denver Nuggets.
As for the MVP race, I implored anyone reading in the game thread to not judge a long 82-game MVP race on one game in late March, and it never came to fruition anyway because both neither player had a gangbusters night. The Bucks came away with the win and the season sweep, which I’m sure we’re about to hear a lot of on Twitter, and the Rockets are left to lick their wounds before another tough match in two nights. Such is life in the NBA.