MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks had played the night before, needing a late rally to beat the Dallas Mavericks by seven. The Utah Jazz had flown in from Salt Lake the day before and were resting comfortably at their hotel.
So which team came out with more energy Saturday night? We’ll give you a hint — it wasn’t the Jazz.
The Bucks looked more energetic from the opening tip, racing to a 14-point first-quarter lead on their way to a comfortable 117-100 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The loss was the third straight for the Jazz, who had won six straight before that. It was the first of a six-game road trip that stretches for 12 days at some of the NBA’s toughest stops.
Even though the Jazz got within striking distance a couple of times, it was an uphill climb all evening due to that horrid start. And the Jazz players and coaches all knew it.
“I thought they came out really aggressive and energetic and had their way with us early,” said coach Quin Snyder. “If we start games like that, it’s very difficult against good teams to come back on the road.”
“We can’t start the game down 15 points in the first quarter,” said Rudy Gobert. "Then we tried to catch them the whole game. We need to start with a different mindset.”
“It’s on us, the way we started the game was terrible,” said Donovan Mitchell. "We came out flat and gave up transition points we never give up. We didn’t look like us.”
The Jazz had no answer for the Bucks’ All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who dominated with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting and 13 rebounds. He punctuated his excellent game with a left-handed slam dunk over Gobert with 17 seconds left, giving the home fans a final thrill.
But the Greek Freak had plenty of help as Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each scored 20 points and Malcolm Brogdan added 16 off the bench.
“It’s hard to guard the whole team,” said Derrick Favors. “(Antetokounmpo) is good getting into the paint and making tough plays, he’s a tough matchup for everybody.”
On a positive note for the Jazz, Gobert had his first good offensive game since returning from his injury last week as he finished with 20 points while pulling down nine rebounds. Alec Burks matched his 20 points off the bench, sinking 8 of 13 from the field and adding six rebounds and three assists.
Mitchell had his first off game in about three weeks as he could only make 4 of 17 from the field for 12 points and gave up four turnovers. As a team, the Jazz shot just 43.4 percent from the field compared to Milwaukee’s 54.3 percent.
“It was a lot of things,” said Snyder about giving up such a high percentage of field goals. “Early on turning the ball over contributes to transition points or layups. It wasn’t a good effort for us defensively from the standpoint in that I didn’t think we were precise on either end of the floor. We didn’t play well.”
After taking a 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Favors, the Jazz failed on nine of their 10 possessions as the Bucks raced to an 18-5 lead and got as high as 14 and led 29-19 after the quarter.
The Jazz rallied to get within two at 44-42 on a pair of Ricky Rubio free throws, but the Bucks finished the half on a 7-0 run and then started the second half on a 13-7 run to push the lead back to 15.
The lead got as high as 22 in the fourth quarter before the Jazz made one last push and cut the lead to 10 with under five minutes left. But Antetokounmpo made the shot of the game when, after the Jazz had knocked the ball away inside, he retrieved the ball, turned and fired up a 3-pointer as the shot clock hit zero.
So instead of possibly cutting the lead to under 10, it was a 13-point game, and the Jazz never got any closer.
“Home court is important to us,” said Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd. “Utah is a very good team and we had to be ready to fight from the jump ball and I thought the guys did a great job. Everybody was into it for 48 minutes.”
The Jazz flew back to Salt Lake after the game and will come back to the Midwest for a game with Chicago Wednesday night, followed by games in Boston and Cleveland on the weekend.