As super cool as the other side of the pillow. © Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
If ever there was a time for the good-vibe caravan of the Milwaukee Bucks to go slamming into a wall of NBA reality, it was Tuesday night in San Antonio. The Spurs had won nine straight home games entering the matchup, and the Bucks were mostly without stretchy superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was battling illness and missed all three of his shots in just nine minutes of court time. San Antonio was without an All-Star of its own—LaMarcus Aldridge, too, was under the weather—but that historically hasn't much mattered; the Spurs tend to win games like this going away. They take these sort of absences as opportunities to give other parts of the roster a workout. They're the Spurs.
All of which makes it that much more surprising that the Bucks pulled off a 109-107 win on Tuesday night. Even more surprising was how that upset came to pass. Part of it was what you'd expect, if you've been keeping up during Milwaukee's fast-track to respectability; Jabari Parker went for 22 points, for instance, and second-round find Malcolm Brogdon had another productive game. But another part of this would seem normal only to someone whose last contact with the NBA was the 2008 draft. Michael Beasley, owner of a three-game stretch last week in which he scored 12 total points, poured in 28 against San Antonio, acting as Antetokounmpo's stand-in and serving as the offensive hub down the stretch.
For Parker, it was a chance to prove he could maintain his recent uptick without the help of his gummy-limbed pal. He showed the whole repertoire—tidy midrange and post footwork, explosive cuts through the lane and finishes at the rim, a pair of timely threes—and resisted over-chucking, finishing 9-16 from the field. Most impressively, a good bit of this came against Kawhi Leonard, basketball's best perimeter defender. Midway through the second quarter, Parker corralled a low pass, shielded Leonard away, drove, and mashed a dunk on David Lee's noggin. Milwaukee fans might happily think that's exactly how Leonard would have played it against himself.
If Parker embodied Milwaukee's hopes for the future, though, this night undeniably belonged to Super Cool Beas. The former number-two overall pick not only flashed his still-there skill but made it the axis of the Bucks' attack. Beasley faced up and backed down, rotated over to block shots, and dropped nifty block-to-block dimes. The most curious part of watching Beasley, on his occasional big-number nights, is how much sense that dominance makes; he has such diverse talents, and thinks the game so clearly, that he naturally looks more like one of the league's 30 best players than a bench dude getting hot for a game. Beasley spent the fourth quarter going where he wanted and making the right decisions, rising up for off-handed hooks or dishing against the grain of an overcorrecting defense.
Milwaukee's final go-ahead bucket came, fittingly, on a Beasley assist, after he pulled three Spurs into the lane and kicked to Brogdon for a corner triple. The play that best summed up Beasley's brilliant night came much earlier in the game, though. In the third quarter, Beasley rotated over to smack a Pau Gasol shot against the backboard, and the Bucks got out on the break. Parker filled the middle, caught a pass, and glided to the rim for a layup. That was the story of the game: a nascent franchise player in motion, a weirdo pitching in, and a surprising season still very much rolling along.