In between referee whistles and defender complaints Andrew Bogut stood tall on Friday night in one of those efforts that makes you say, “Oh, I can see why this guy was a number one pick.” Trading blows back and forth with Brad Miller like they were two aging prize-fighters, Bogut shook off a rough start to the second half to help the Bucks to victory. Mentally, emotionally, physically, vocally, offensively, defensively, however you slice it, Bogut took the reigns (with some much-needed help from Michael Redd) in a VERY chippy fourth quarter to lead the Bucks to a much needed victory Friday night.
Heading towards a loss just before a very difficult six game road trip to the West, Bogut helped regroup his teammates after a difficult fourth quarter stretch that left them down seven. With their (occasional) three-point shooting prowess, you’d think the Bucks would be the kind of team that can come back from a deficit, but that hadn’t been the case all that often over the past month for Milwaukee. Lately, when the Bucks took a shot to the mouth, it was easy to sense the panic coming over the team. Jump-shots would begin to fly at record pace and misses would usually end up the result.
But that wasn’t the case Friday. When the Bucks got down seven with eight minutes to go it was Michael Redd who continued to attack the basket, resulting in 11 straight points from the free throw line or paint. Attacking the paint to erase a fourth quarter deficit? A seemingly foreign concept prior to Friday night, but it was the rare answer for the Bucks.
- The Bucks were going to Bogut early and often Friday. Wanting to get him established and attacking more once he was, Bogut attempted eight shots in the first quarter and 13 in the first half, connecting on seven. Joakim Noah was unable to do much to alter the much stronger Bogut’s hooks in the first half, but in the second half it wasn’t quite as easy for Bogut. The Bulls started throwing some more double teams at Bogut and went more with Brad Miller to muscle up Bogut. Bogut on he and Miller’s battles:
I’m going to get a steak right now, maybe have a beer and put my feet up. He popped me in the head one time, knocked me down like a boxer. It’s always physical against the Bulls, Noah tries to be physical and then the brought Miller in, it’s a good one-two punch of centers.
After a 0-3 start to the second half, Bogut finished strong connecting on four of his last seven. He hit on four of five free throws in the final 4:05 and meant everything to a Bucks team that looked passive after a dust up resulting in technical fouls for Bogut, Hakim Warrick, Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich. His leadership on offense was never more on display than when he screamed at the ball sitting on the rim, waiting for it to fall in and for the Bucks to get a break on a shot at the rim. The team had already rode Redd back into it, but the confidence level only rose as Bogut was putting everything on display.
- Redd’s 11 straight were huge. Two layups and a five-foot “and-one” before his parade to the free throw line began. Redd attacked a number of times on the evening before the fourth quarter expecting to get a call to no avail. That seemed to strengthen his resolve to get to the line in the crucial moments of the fourth quarter. This was exactly the kind of performance the Bucks needed out of Redd. Redd’s final line included 24 points on 8-16 shooting, eight rebounds and one huge find that led to a Hakim Warrick tip slam that more or less sealed the game.
Around a minute and a half after Brandon Jennings had been trapped on the sideline forcing a turnover, Redd was faced with the same predicament. Using some smarts and strength, he gave one of the defenders on him a slight elbow hook to pivot towards the hoop and get an open passing lane. Charlie Bell wisely flashed to the middle of the paint where Redd could find him. With the shot and game clocks running down, Bell got off a four-foot floater in the lane that probably never really had a chance, but as it rimmed out Hakim Warrick flew in, capitalizing on the fact that the Bulls had the double team on Redd 25-feet from the hoop, for the big tip-slam. That’s the kind of play that wins games.
- Warrick’s fourth quarter play in general was inspired after his confrontation with the Bulls. After the technical’s, Warrick blocked two shots, grabbed four offensive rebounds and had the biggest dunk of the night. Warrick is generally not a strong rebounder and not the shot-blocker his reputation coming into Milwaukee suggested. But Friday he was all those things, as he was a man scorn.
- Bogut gets the lead here too. Six blocked shots and two charges on the evening, none bigger than when he correctly read Derrick Rose’s drive to the hoop in transition with 33 seconds left. Bogut’s own words on the play:
I blocked him the last two times I think, so I knew he was going to try and draw a foul. I thought he was going to try and take my body and go through it. Thankfully my feet were outside the restricted area. I did it more on feel and just hoped for the best. I thought, “If I’m in, I’m in.”
- The blocks were contagious on the night, Warrick had two, Bogut six and little Brandon Jennings had three. Jennings was doing his best to contest every time Derrick Rose got by him and three times was able to block his shots. On one of the blocks, Jennings corralled it, hustled down the court and left it for Warrick to complete the fastbreak with a big time dunk. It was one of those plays that maybe means a little bit more, at least to me it was. Jennings had a bad habit earlier in the year of always taking it himself on the break, even if a teammate may have been able to get an easier shot. To see him leave this one for his big man running with him was a very nice development.
This was obviously a big game to get for a number of reasons. Playoff positioning, the up-coming trip to the West, the bitterness after the skirmish and the Bucks penchant for blowing leads to Chicago all were in my mind at the end of the game Friday. For a Bucks team that has had confidence problems on numerous occasions this year, it would have been difficult to swallow this loss. Now the Bucks can feel good about Bogut, about Redd, about Hakim Warrick and about themselves in general.
The win was important, but the blending of Redd back into the team seems to be accelerating juuuuust a bit. A strong game against Oklahoma City and now another against Chicago sandwiching a win against New Jersey at least give the impression that he might be getting it together. The attacks to the rim were crucial signs of development Friday and the consistency with which Bogut received the ball in a game where Redd had it going at least a little was an even better sign. All that which ails the Bucks has not been cured yet, as evidenced by yet another 40 percent shooting night, but taking more positives than negatives out on the road with them has to feel good.