I was driving home to get ready for the game Friday night when I couldn’t help but find myself thinking of my prediction for the evening. I had the Bucks losing by one. The Jazz had been so good as of late and the Bucks seemed to be due to drop one. But it was gnawing at me a little bit. I couldn’t help but think of the number nine. The Bucks had only lost nine home games coming into their tilt with the Jazz Friday night, and the number nine is even a little bit deceiving.
The Mavericks (Dirk), Lakers (Kobe) and Kings (Tyreke Evans) all barely escaped the BC with wins early in the season thanks to last second heroics. Milwaukee was in position to win and got unlucky at the buzzer. The Magic came to Milwaukee while Andrew Bogut was down with a leg injury and won by two. That’s four losses that don’t really bother me.
So coming into Friday night’s game, 63 games into the season, the Bucks had five legit home losses, each coming before the arrival of John Salmons and after the clock had struck midnight on Brandon Jennings great start.
But Salmons is here, Jennings has gone from prince to pauper to pro and the Bucks showed me the error in my thinking. This was a very good home team early in the season, but now I’ll be shocked when (if?) they drop another in Milwaukee. The fans had the BC as loud as it’s been in years Friday night and the Bucks rewarded their loyalty by closing out the second (or third) best team in the West.
The home locker room in Milwaukee seems to have the obligatory quiet confidence (well, loud confidence in Jennings’ case) in their group to know they won’t be losing at home the rest of this season. To be honest, they know a lot more about the team than I do, so who am I to argue?
I dropped my laptop bag coming out of the game and before it hit the ground Ersan Ilyasova caught it. Okay, that didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if it did. Ersan was all over the loose balls Friday, just like he always is. It was his offensive rebound and putback with 27 seconds left that gave the Bucks the game’s final lead change. I’d be remiss not to mention the pounding the Jazz big men put on the Bucks bigs down low in the battle for each and every free throw that Ersan fought through all night and the jump ball Carlos Boozer won that ended up in Ersan’s hands, just because he does that kind of thing. It was a dirty kind of night, perfect for Ilyasova.
- I can get used to these 40% shooting nights from Jennings. Jennings is up to 45% in his last three games, a three game number most of us had ruled out this season. Even better, Jennings has played consecutive games over 40 minutes, in his 63 and 64 games of his first season I might add, and turned it over just four times total in his last two games. His floor game hasn’t slipped, his defense has improved every week and he’s hopefully getting his shooting touch back. It’s no wonder the Bucks have been so serious in their last three. Jennings finished with 23 (7-16 FG 3-7 3FG 6-6 FT) and six assists.
- It’s fitting that John Salmons seems to have these quiet 24 point nights (8-14 FG 2-3 3FG 6-8 FT), as he’s the quietest dude on the team. Night after night Salmons is playing stellar defense, hitting open threes, getting to the basket, shooting a high percentage on free throws and finishing among the Bucks leading scorers. That’s a whole lot of positives.
- It’s been the norm lately for the Bucks and Friday was no exception: high assist-low turnover basketball. The Bucks had 21 assists and just 10 turnovers, while Utah’s numbers were 18-16. The ball movement that’s been the hallmark of recent Bucks play was there. Carlos Delfino was having an off night shooting (4-14 FG 1-5 3FG), but chipped in eight assists and found Jennings with a couple particularly nice passes.
Boozer and Mehmet Okur did work on the Bucks inside. Time and time again, especially early in the game, Deron Williams was able to get inside and drop off passes for Boozer to finish. Okur had his way with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, exploiting his huge size advantage and doing work inside. The Jazz big men finished with 46 points and 25 rebounds while shooting a combine 57%. So how’d the Bucks win?
- The Jazz didn’t make a three. 0-10. The Bucks may have been getting hurt inside, but they weren’t giving up a lot of open looks on the perimeter and when they did, the Jazz couldn’t connect.
- Deron Williams: 11 points (3-12 FG 0-3 3FG). Two games ago in Chicago, Williams had 28 points and 17 assists. Games like that are the reason many think he’s the league’s finest point guard. Jennings had trouble staying with him on the perimeter early, but it seemed to me that D-Will got a little frustrated by the second quarter and tried to force the issue a little without success. He’s not going to have a bad shooting night very often, but the Bucks defense didn’t give him anything easy either.
A 4-0 home stand would be pretty sweet and shouldn’t be much of a problem, as the Pacers come to town Sunday. One can’t help but wonder, what would the Bucks record be if they had this squad all year? Would 50 wins be a total, or is it possible this would already be a 50 win squad? It probably works to Milwaukee’s advantage, their record doesn’t accurately reflect the talent they have and there’s still an element of surprise in their victories. But that’s fading with each win and each news story ran on the surprising Bucks.
I can’t help but keep thinking about how loud the Bradley Center was on Friday night with a crowd shy of 15,000. If you’re a fan, and you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t, make sure you get to a game before the end of the year. And then make sure you get to the playoffs and make sure your friends do too. If the Bucks are beating teams like the Jazz and the BC gets that loud without even being sold out? I’ll just say I wouldn’t want to be whichever team has to come to Milwaukee in April.