That would be so “easy,” which was a word uttered frequently Friday by the Milwaukee Bucks to describe what it’s like to play with their newest acquisition, after a 94-87 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“As a coach, you want that every night,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We know it’s hard to do. But I thought the intensity, I thought Eric gave us a little life there. His speed there in that first half, I think, makes the game a lot easier for everybody. For the first time playing together, I thought they did a great job.”
Making his Milwaukee debut after being acquired by the team Tuesday through a trade with the Phoenix Suns, Bledsoe played 29 minutes against the Spurs and scored 13 points to go with seven assists and three turnovers.
Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo provided one of the highlights of the night while foreshadowing what should become a common occurrence this season in the second quarter. On a fast break with LaMarcus Aldridge closing in, Bledsoe flipped the ball behind him to a trailing Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop dunk that put the Bucks ahead 43-41.
“Eaaaasssy” is how Antetokounmpo described what it was like to play with Bledsoe.
“It’s really easy to go play with him because you know he’s going to find you,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s going to make the right play. That’s how we want to play. We want to play with an edge. I think Eric helped a lot with that, but everybody stepped up.”
Considering the little time the group actually spent together, that’s exactly what was needed to secure the win over the Spurs.
Bledsoe didn’t join the Bucks in San Antonio until Thursday and was unable to practice because Milwaukee hadn’t yet received confirmation that the trade with Phoenix was finalized with center Greg Monroe passing his physical. So Bledsoe didn’t participate in any on-court work with the team until Saturday morning’s shootaround.
The Bucks typically spend about an hour at game-day shootarounds. But in this case, the team stretched the light workout to spend extra time working to acclimate Bledsoe, whom Kidd announced as a starter for Friday’s game before the conclusion of shootaround.
During the shootaround, Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo spoke about how the Spurs might guard the Bucks in the pick-and-roll.
“I told him that if he goes downhill, it makes everything a lot easier,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s going to make a play for someone else. He’s going to make a play for himself, or I’m going to be wide open on the roll. It’s easy knowing that your point guard knows what you’re thinking. It’s just easy when you go downhill.”
Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points on 12-of-24 shooting, with 12 rebounds and five assists. Five of Bledsoe’s seven assists came in the first half, and despite the Bucks initially planning to play the newly acquired point guard for just 20 minutes, he ended up playing almost 30 minutes.
“He’s another wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Good defender and scorer, strong, fast. He has a lot of talent.”
Added veteran San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili: “Very intense, aggressive, and he was — I assume [because] I don’t know him that well — willing to prove a point to be out there, [make] a good impression and get them a win.”
The Spurs pulled the game to within three points with 8:55 remaining on a Bryn Forbes 25-footer, and Milwaukee quickly called a timeout to sub in Bledsoe for Matthew Dellavedova and Antetokounmpo for Tony Snell, as the Bucks attempted to quell the rally.
Before the Milwaukee win Friday, Bledsoe hadn’t played in a game since Oct. 21.
“Eric was under control the whole night. He was getting into the paint, making decisions, looking for him to score or to find a teammate,” Kidd said. “I thought he did a great job for his first night with the guys. I think he was just excited to be back playing, and I thought his leadership, talking on the floor, talking to his teammates, is something that we needed. He wasn’t bashful in trying to talk to his teammates, and in a close game, guys didn’t know each other that well, and I thought they handled the situation quite well.”
At the stool in front of his locker after the game, Bledsoe let out the laugh when asked if he relished finally getting the opportunity to throw Antetokounmpo an alley-oop.
“Of course,” Bledsoe said. “The other team gets scared, not us. You see a big smile on our face. They’re either going to give up an easy layup or try to stop his dunk. So you’ve got to pick your poison at that point. What more is there to do than throw it up to a man that’s going to get the easy assist? I watched him play all the time. I watched y’all play all the time … us now.”