The Bucks biggest (16,128, nice job Milwaukee) and loudest crowd of the year was almost treated to what would have been the Bucks biggest upset of the season. In fact, it hardly looked like an upset at all for the first two and a half quarters. It was simply one team outplaying the other, if you had no idea which team’s record was better and which one had supposedly better players, you’d have no idea that the Magic were the reigning Eastern Conference champions and the Bucks were a plucky overachieving team picked to finish last by virtually everyone. But those were the facts at hand and they eventually came to fruition as the Bucks were unable to hold off Orlando in a 100-98 home loss.
The Bucks looked better than they did for most of their four game trip against Western Conference foes. Confidence returned, ball movement returned and three-point shooting returned. As important as the second and third things are, they really stem from number one. When a team feels confident and strong they’ll move the ball more and hit more shots. But do they need to be doing those things to feel confident? Chicken or the egg I suppose.
- The Bucks finished 11-19 on three’s, led by Brandon Jennings 4-7 effort. The problem on the evening for Jennings was not the deep shots, it was all the rest of them. 3-15 inside the arc. That’s the Dwight Howard effect. Howard is so agile that Jennings couldn’t shake or get by him on the pick and roll and was forced into very tough shots and blocked on a few occasions. The last four or five games have exposed Jennings in-between game some. He can hit from deep and when he gets by his man he can finish more often than not if there’s not contact, but he hasn’t been consistent with a floater or short jump shot. He’ll need to develop that over the next few years to truly be an elite scorer.
- Ersan Ilyasova played without mask for the first time and unlike most superheroes, turned into something better without the mask. 20/16 including seven offensive rebounds. Ilyasova never stopped battling and was in perfect position to come up with multiple airballs and badly missed Buck shots. It’s almost as if he had an extra sense and knew where to go. That’s a common thing amongst great rebounders, they know where to position themselves to get the best opportunity on the offensive glass.
On the downside, Ersa Major missed short on a three that would have given the Bucks a one-point lead with 30 seconds to go and nearly airballed a free-throw a little while earlier. He still seems to get a liiiiiitle shaky down the stretch from what I see and it often results in him coming up short on his shots. I seem to remember Dirk being that way early in his career too. Surely these guys took big shots in Europe though, right? Maybe it’s not a European thing and I’m grasping at straws, but I hope these experiences with big shot attempts eventually add up to some success for Ersan.
- Hakim Warrick and Luke Ridnour combined for 36 off the bench and both looked unstoppable at times. Unfortunately, Warrick looked eminently stoppable in the third and fourth quarters, scoring just two points on 1-4 shooting. Ridnour was 4-8 in the second half with ten points (9-15 with 20 on the night), but took a questionable shot with 28 seconds left after grabbing an offensive rebound on Ilyasova’s missed three. He was open for the shot and the Bucks were facing a defense that, when set, was better than their offense, but it might have been better to pull it out. Hard to second guess a heat of the moment play like that, because if it goes in, we’re celebrating it.
I bet you’ve heard this before, “the NBA is a game of runs”. It’s almost a running joke amongst my friends how often we hear and say that. But there were a few extended periods when the Bucks probably could have sewed this one up and failed.
End of second quarter: 11-3 run by Orlando to make a 17-point game a nine-point game.
End of third quarter: A 15-2 run turns a 70-58 Bucks lead into a 73-72 Bucks deficit.
Closing quarters out like that is a recipe for disaster and good way to undo the hard work it took to build up a lead in the first place. Momentum is sucked out from under a team when they can’t keep their strong play going into the next quarter.
- Dwight Howard was a handful for the Bucks. 25/20 with four blocks on a number of different Buck defenders.
- NOTE: Howard shot two free throws (and made one) on a “foul Dwight Howard because he isn’t good at free throws” strategy move in the fourth.
- Thomas didn’t end up with terrific numbers against Howard, but what was he do to? He’s the oldest player on the Bucks and four to five inches shorter than Howard who’s 10x more athletic too. The fact that Howard was forced into five turnovers by Thomas is impressive in itself. Thomas stood his ground and fought as hard as he could against the monster known as D12. His effort served as inspiration to his teammates who in turn refused to back down to the rest of the Magic.
Recent struggles on the road are making home games THAT much more important, so valiant efforts against top tier teams that end up as marks in the column marked with an L don’t help for this season. But we’re looking beyond this season. Bucks management can look to games like this as a blueprint on what the Bucks need to become contenders. A bulky power forward to help with rebounding. Someone, anyone who can defend the perimeter when it matters, a center who can take up space and keep other great centers off the boards in crucial spots. A big two who can shoot it, create for himself and get to the free throw line. These are a few of my favorite things (and things the Bucks need).
Not to say the Bucks have none of that. When Andrew Bogut and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (NOTE: saw LRMAM after the game, still wearing a boot and had a limp in his walk. I don’t expect he’ll be back Monday, but crazier things have happened right?) return the Bucks can attempt to cross off the perimeter defender part and the center part. If they can stay healthy for a year or two then the Bucks get to cross those things off. It’s beginning to look like they don’t have that shooting guard on the roster, whether Michael Redd is healthy or not. He returned to the inactive list with soreness in his knee or inability to perform running through the rest of his body, it wasn’t totally clear which was the case. Redd was brutal in the last three games and the Bucks again looked better without him. Unfortunately, the Bucks and Redd need each other if they want to rid themselves of the other, so for the good of the franchise’s future development let’s hope Redd’s back soon (and much better than he was in the last three games) and this isn’t another case of further injury.