All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milauwkee with 28 points (7-16 field-goals), 14 rebounds, and 9 assists, while Khris Middleton followed with 25 points (9-16 field goals, 4-7 three-point) and 10 rebounds. However, the best performance of the night should be given to 7’1″ rookie Thon Maker.
Thon dropped a career-high 23 points on 9-12 shooting, and was 4-7 from three.
Maker has been receiving more minutes in Jason Kidd’s rotation, due to a second ACL injury suffered by Jabari Parker (back in early February). John Henson has also been out with a sprained left thumb injury, leaving more minutes for Maker. And it paid off, as Thon had his best game as a professional.
In the first quarter, the Bucks jumped to an early 35-22 lead over the Pistons. And while there were only two lead-changes the entire game, Detroit took the lead around the one minute mark of the third.
The Pistons were in great shape to win, as they were up by a season many as eight in the fourth quarter. But while it was needed most, Maker came up huge in the final minutes.
At the one minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Pistons were ahead of the Bucks 95-93. Antetokounmpo drove to the basket, but was stripped on the way up. Maker was able to clean up the lose ball, tying the game with a critical layup.
Both teams were headed to overtime, and the heroics certainly didn’t end there for Thon.
While scoring five points in the extra period, Maker connected on a corner three in the final-two minutes, propelling the Bucks to a 102-99 lead. The Bucks would eventually hang on after Antetokounmpo went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 23 points off the bench.
Following the win, Antetokounmpo had words of praise for Thon’s performance. However, he followed it up with “fighting” words regarding his confidence.
During the overtime period, Giannis admitted that he would “punch him” if he ever hesitated to shoot the ball:
“He [Maker] does a lot of things.” Antetokounmpo said. “He rebounds, he runs the floor. He does a little bit of everything. But the most important thing is listening, and he’s learning.”
“I told him, to play in this game you don’t have to hesitate. Actually, I told him in the overtime, ‘If you hesitate, I’m going to punch you.’ So shoot the ball whenever you get it.”
Maker, who just recently turned 20 years old, has only had three games of scoring in double-figures this year. And while that surprises you, there’s been just four times where he’s grabbed five or more rebounds in a game. Hence we forget, Thon hasn’t found much playing time, averaging 8.7 minutes per game in his first NBA season.
Bypassing college, the Bucks selected Maker tenth-overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. And to hint that he wasn’t expected be a lottery pick on many draft boards, Milwaukee took a chance on him.
And while some are concerned about his talent, Maker fits the Bucks’ system very well — as he’s been lights-out from three this year (27-68, nearly 40%). Although, the next step for him is becoming more physical to the NBA level. As an extremely raw prospect with limited playing experience, the process is entirely new for the forward out of Sudan.
From what we’ve seen in sample sizes, the Bucks could have an impressive talent with Maker. He’s shown potential as a floor spacer, which will compliment winning teams greatly. To also mention that he’s already making great strides as a weak-side defender, using his seven-foot wingspan to negate inside opportunities.
The Bucks (40-36) are continuing to name themselves as one of the more feared teams to play on any given night. They’re currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, and once Parker returns from injury, one could expect them to be even higher. But for now, they’re attempting to finish the regular season strong — for what’s been a crucial run towards the upcoming postseason.