A few weeks ago in his pregame Q&A session, Scott Skiles commented on how coming out of September he thought he had a real good shooting team on his hands. Then the season started and the Bucks struggled out of the gate. Guys were shooting less than their career norms and the offense was a possible cause for panic. Skiles said he expected things to turn around and he wasn’t going to worry about it so early into the season.
Well, it looks like he had cause not to panic.
The Bucks hit nine threes Saturday night, five out of Charlie Bell and overcame a 24-point deficit in points in the paint to ease by Memphis Saturday night, 103-98. With Andrew Bogut out of the line-up it was obvious that protecting the paint was going to become increasingly difficult, but scoring in the paint has been as tall of a challenge. The Bucks have very few players with slasher skill sets who can get in the paint and finish. So it has become all the more important for Brandon Jennings to operate as a drive-and-kick point guard, hitting open shooters for three’s. Both he and Luke Ridnour have excelled at this since Bogut’s been out.
The Bucks hot three point shooting kept them in it when they fell behind early AGAIN and helped put it away for them late. Without Bogut they’ll have to find other ways to score and this is a terrific sign. You’d think things can only get better from outside when Michael Redd gets back then, right? I sure hope so.
- Ridnour finished with 13 points and 12 assists and has firmly established himself as a premier back-up point guard. In the second quarter, a quarter in which the Bucks began to assert their control, Ridnour had six points and five assists. As the perfect back-up should do, he provided great support until Brandon Jennings (29 points, 24 in the second half) was able to get his game going. 39 points and 14 assists out of your point guards is pretty good. It’s certainly better than the 11 and seven Memphis got out of their duo.
- Fourth quarter Ersan Ilyasova: seven points and five rebounds. Fourth quarter Zach Randolph: two points and zero rebounds. Randolph had 18 points and six rebounds, but after the first quarter mattered relatively little. Ilyasova played hard all game, finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for his second double double in the Bucks last three games and won the match-up with Randolph. It was important that he use his ability to stretch the floor and generally be a good, smart teammate to out play the Grizzly big men and he did just that. Ersan consistently knew when to make the extra pass, when to screen and how to play against the opposition depending who was on him. Another terrific role player plus game from him.
- Wondering why the Bucks didn’t buy out or trade Kurt Thomas before the season? Bogut insurance. The Bucks struggled behind a foul-prone Dan Gadzuric early, but righted the ship when Kurt Thomas started getting heavy minutes Saturday night. Thomas ended the game with eight points, ten rebounds, two steals and three blocks in 31 minutes. A true stat-stuff evening for the wily vet. The Bucks were getting bullied early, but when Thomas came in nothing was moving inside. He uses his girth so well and gets great low position making him nearly impossible to move off the block on defense. A great night from him.
- Turnovers were a boon for the Bucks after a rough patch of late. The Bucks only forced three more turnovers than the Grizzlies (16-13), but were able to score 25 points off turnovers, ten more than Memphis. This helped negate the Grizzlies 54-30 advantage in the paint.
- Part of Memphis’ inside advantage was their rebounding edge. A night after allowing just two offensive rebounds to Charlotte, the Bucks lost that battle 11-6. Rudy Gay in particular was active and had one fierce dunk off an offensive board. Poor Gay and Marc Gasol battled admirably in this one, but simply are not part of a team strong enough as a unit. This game featured a team with lots of talent losing to a team that plays stronger as a unit. It’s a lesson for Memphis.
The Bucks teamwork tonight was really something you had to see to appreciate. Constantly making extra passes and setting extra screens, the Bucks were looking to open things up for teammates all night. Charlie Bell constantly planted himself in the corners for open threes and his teammates did their best to get it to him, allowing him to shoot 11 threes, a season high. Ersan was stepping out, using wise ball-fakes and setting screens after passes, helping the Bucks look sharp. I like the idea of Ersan as a role player-plus. He’s capable of providing more scoring than a typical role player, but isn’t someone you want to have to rely on every night at this stage in his career. You CAN rely on him being pesky and hitting the boards though, just like any other scrappy guy that typically can’t shoot. Ersan has been a godsend thus far and fits Skiles to a tee.
It all starts with the two point guards on offense though. They are constantly looking to kick out and find open teammates. Unselfishness spreads throughout teams like a virus and the Bucks were positively sick on Saturday night and got the Bucks four game trip off to the absolute best start possible.