Dribbles: Nothing small about Rockets' defense in win over Giannis, Bucks

Sam Amico

Random dribbles following the Milwaukee Bucks' 120-116 loss to the Houston Rockets on the Disney campus Sunday.

1. Yes, the Rockets took 61 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. But they won their second straight come-from-behind thriller with defense. Yes, defense. Yes, I used that word in a sentence about the Rockets.

2. And yes, coach Mike D'Antoni and the Rockets' small-ball is working just fine, thank you very much, in the Orlando bubble.

3. As for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, well, they played pretty well for about 87.8 percent of this game. The last three minutes were not included in that -- as the Rockets went on a 16-4 run to close the game.

4. The reasons were many. You do indeed have to give the Rockets credit. But you can also blames the Bucks, who suddenly stopped moving the ball and just sort of flung the ball at the basket and hoped for a bounce. When they weren't doing that, they were throwing the ball away.

5. Overall, the Bucks committed 23 turnovers. You don't beat good teams such as the Rockets that way. You don't beat too many lousy teams that way, either.

6. Nor does anyone beat the Rockets very often when they make 21 threes, which is how many went down for them on this night. As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle pointed out, the Rockets are 44-4 under D'Antoni when making at least 20 threes.

7. This was great game that truly belonged to the brightest stars. Rockets guard Russell Westbrook finished with 31 points and eight assists. James Harden recorded 24 points one game after erupting for 53. Harden is averaging a league-best 34.6 points. 

8. It's hard to believe Harden turns 31 at the end of month. Westbrook is already there.

9. Harden also had some nice defense on Antetokounmpo near the end of the game, even stripping the ball from the Bucks' star at a critical juncture. 

10. Antetokounmpo finished with game-highs of 36 points and 18 rebounds. Khris Middleton scored 27 and Brook Lopez had 23. Middleton and Lopez also grabbed 12 boards apiece. But other than those three, the Bucks didn't get a whole lot offensively.

11. The Bucks (54-13) still have the NBA's best record, and one very close loss to a good opponent is no reason to be concerned. But doesn't it still feel like no one is taking them too seriously as a real championship contender?

12. Meanwhile, it's only been two games, but the Rockets (42-24) are finding ways to win. They look locked in, cohesive and determined. Maybe a world with no homecourt advantage is exactly what they need.

13. It's no secret Antetokounmpo isn't a real big fan of Harden, and the feeling seems to be mutual. In one sequence, Antetokounmpo grabbed a defensive rebound without leaving his feet, stretching one arm way up to grab the ball and holding off a helpless Harden with the other.

14. But Harden got aggressive and frustrated Antetokounmpo at the end. When asked about his defense on Antetokounmpo, Harden told reporters, "I have nothing to prove to anybody."

15. Right now, neither do the Rockets. The results are doing their talking.