The Bucks' new hands-on approach to defense fueled their post-All-Star winning streak

MILWAUKEE — For eight minutes and 26 seconds in the second quarter of Tuesday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Charlotte Hornets did not score. Not eight minutes and 26 seconds of actual time – 8:26 of game time.

The Hornets scored just 10 points in the quarter after scoring 16 points in the first quarter. Their 26 points in the first half were the fewest in the first 24 minutes of an NBA game this season.

The Hornets are not a good offensive team. The team ranks 28th in offensive rating, scoring just 108.6 points per 100 possessions, and their offensive engine, LaMelo Ball, has not played since January 26. However, the Bucks showed up on Tuesday and did their job. They came out with a solid defensive intensity, put the Hornets in uncomfortable situations and prevailed 123-85.

Given the Bucks' inconsistent defensive performance on a game-to-game basis in the first half of the season, doing what they needed to do defensively against an inferior opponent was a sign of growth, according to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Sometimes, I feel like we come in and we don't touch anyone,” Antetokounmpo said of how things have changed in Milwaukee. “We just let them run their offense, move the ball, blitz, turn it over, do the fluff stuff, just to get the ball to the play they want without it getting touched. They run their offense for 60 seconds without getting touched.

“We have to be physical. When someone asks to pick up and twist, we have to get into his body, make him feel us. The guy who's going to do the shifting, make sure you put your hands, unsoiled, on the scanner. Make sure he feels you're there and then go Switching. Like we work on these things. We don't do it all the time, but we work on these things, and when we're at our best, like tonight, I think we were physical. People felt us today. So we've got to keep doing that. We've got to To hold ourselves to that standard.”

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The Bucks are still far from perfect defensively, a fact the team regularly emphasizes after games, but they appear to be working in the right direction. Bucks coach Doc Rivers recently confirmed that he is happy to see his team starting to “dominate” opponents. This doesn't mean the Bucks are fouling the other team and sending them to the free throw line or hacking opponents as they try to climb around the rim, but instead Rivers' players are now more physical with their opponents before starting to shoot higher.

Watch Bobby Portis on the start of this possession during the Hornets' scoreless stretch in the second quarter.

Hornets center Nick Richards was supposed to start that possession at the free throw line. Richards eventually got there, but it wasn't easy as Portis began to get his hands on Richards at the 3-point line. From the moment they made contact at the three-point line, Portis' hands never left Richards' body.

Portis stayed with Richards until the moment he needed to switch with Danilo Gallinari, and at that moment, Portis extended his hands and pushed Richards towards Gallinari. When asked about Rivers directing his players to start putting their hands on people, part of Portis' description explained exactly what he was trying to do on the play above.

“When you switch, push the guy to the next guy, so he can feel you, so there's not a lot of separation for the guy to get screens out, things like that,” Portis said. “Just all the little things that go into winning that you have to do every day, to keep heading in the right direction.”

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But the Bucks' newfound physicality didn't just apply to Portis at the start of the possession above. Look at Gallinari. When Portis pushed Richards toward Gallinari on the switch, Gallinari took over where Portis left off and caught Richards as he tried to roll to the rim. Look at Patrick Beverley on the ball at the end of the clip. He crowded Grant Williams and started getting his hands on him as the Hornets forward scanned the floor.

This kind of physicality limits pollution. All of these instances of 'controlling' attacking players may have been considered fouls by different refereeing staff. But enhancing that advantage is what will allow the Bucks to establish their identity as a physical defensive team.

As possession continued, the Bucks became more sluggish in their rotations and cracks began to appear in their defensive efforts, but they were still able to put down a solid shot.

Although it wasn't perfect, Gallinari stayed in front of Seth Curry on the switch and was forced to drive and punt again. When Trey Mann attacked that kick, Portis found himself in no man's land, but Beverley flew onto the scene and forced another penalty from Williams, who had to force a deep 3 as the shot clock expired.

The Bucks could have done a much better job on the defensive glass here, but failing to grab the rebound didn't exactly dampen the Bucks' morale. Antetokounmpo and Beverley hounded Mann into the corner, while Portis and Gallinari moved back to protect the rim, eventually forcing a Bucks turnover.

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Again, it wasn't ideal. And yes, the Hornets' ineptitude on offense certainly helped the Bucks stop possessions, but that doesn't detract from the effort the Bucks put in on defense every night.

“I thought we were very physical,” Rivers said. “Our hands have been active. Our deflections have gone up over the last four or five games. We talked about that, like how can we not have a lot of deflections? We're not fast. We're long. So we're putting our fingertips on a lot of balls, and that slows down the fast teams.” “And I think we do.”

The Bucks will have a chance to test their new defensive mettle against tougher opponents next week in a four-game road trip to the Western Conference. But first, they play the Hornets again on Thursday, in Charlotte, where they try to stay as committed on the defensive end as they were in the first three games after the All-Star break.

(Photo by Patrick Beverly and Doc Rivers: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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