Another sign that the Bucks are moving in the right direction as the playoffs are nearing was Scott Skiles’ post game reaction to a question about whether or not he was happy with the team’s effort in a Wednesday night loss to Cleveland.
“It’s not that I don’t care about that right now, but we should have won that game. We gave them that game.”
Moral victories no longer have a stall in the Bucks locker room, be it on the road or at home. These days, the Bucks are only interested in actual, real life, concrete victories. Citing a botched layup attempt rather than a dunk attempt and a missed open three, Skiles was clearly annoyed and it may have had to do with more than just his players’ execution.
The Bucks have had problems with allowing free throw attempts all year, but those numbers reached a new low Wednesday night. The Cavs attempted 45 free throws to the Bucks nine. The Bucks previous largest free throw attempt deficit this season was 22. An exhausted and exasperated John Salmons looked none too pleased about it after the game.
“It’s a discouraging stat. Nine to 45? That’s got to be a record. I don’t want to lose my money.”
Part of Salmons appeal to the Bucks has been his knack for getting to the free-throw line and he was at it again Wednesday, finishing 7-7 from the line. The problem was the two free throws the rest of the team attempted.
The foul differential was silly, but I’m hesitant to throw out the “BOO STERN OMG THEY FIXED IT FOR LEBRON OMG!” card. Milwaukee is generally a team that doesn’t attack the hoop a lot, except for Salmons. And Salmons got his from the line. Andrew Bogut scores the majority of the Bucks points in the paint and he is constantly drifting away from the hoop on his shots. Most post scorers get tons of points from the line, but while Bogut is a classic post-up scorer, he doesn’t rely on fakes to get into his opponents. His superior touch allows him to glide across the lane moving parallel with the hoop, this doesn’t leave defenders crashing into him very often.
Milwaukee worked for everything they got and while it was valiant effort, they came up short. Two years ago that would have been exciting, a year ago it may have been acceptable, but now it’s just a disappointing loss. Welcome to the top half of the conference Milwaukee.
As lopsided as the free-throws were, the Bucks still had some chances in the last minute. But a turnover by Salmons off his knee after a strip and a pass to Lebron James by Luke Ridnour with the Bucks down three in the final seconds sealed the deal. The Bucks have been so successful of late largely because of their sharing of and taking care of the ball. Oddly enough, it was a carelessness that undid them in the end on Wednesday.
But honestly, if you give Lebron a chance at the end of the game, he’s going to make the most of it more often than not. The Bucks were up three with two and a half minutes left when Bogut botched a layup attempt that could have made it a two possession game and had the Bucks in the driver’s seat. Naturally, the Cavs scored the next four points and took the lead. They are far too good a team to be given opportunities with the game on the line.
- Salmons was once again a load: 28 points (9-16 FG 3-7 3FG 7-7 FT) seven assists and five rebounds. It’s funny that in a game hyped up as a bit of a revenge match for a team that talks too much for some people against a rookie that talks too much for some people, the best player was the quietest guy on the court. Salmons goes about his business, rarely complaining and never puffing out his chest, but he keeps getting it done for the Bucks. He’s been as reliable as it gets as a half court scorer and creator that can get to and finish at the rim.
- Bogut was close to matching Salmons production with another strong night: 19 points (9-17 FG 1-2 FT) to go with 12 rebounds and three blocks. Unfortunately, the Bucks were unable to get consistent production out of a third source on Wednesday. Sure, they got some scoring out of Ersan Ilyasova (13 and five), Kurt Thomas (10 and seven) and Luke Ridnour (13 points and 11 assists), but didn’t have a consistent third wheel to turn to. The Bucks are operating on all cylinders when Brandon Jennings is that third guy, but he was shaky at the start and Ridnour got the call down the stretch again, as has been the case when he’s played well.
- On Sunday, the Bucks broke out the Thomas and Bogut frontcourt tandem for the first time this season and we saw it again against the Cavs. I’ve envisioned this to be a top-notch defensive team, but against Cleveland they were a very good scoring combo inside. The problem comes when Bogut tires. It didn’t happen against Cleveland, but the fear of playing them together is that it makes way for a Primoz Brezec or Dan Gadzuric sighting. That’s always a frightening thought.
The Bucks were lucky that Cleveland is such a poor free-throw shooting team. Of their 45 free-throws, Cleveland hit just 29. James found a wall of Bucks defenders everywhere he went, often starting with Charlie Bell (who put up a better fight than I expected) who had Bogut, Thomas and/or Ilyasova behind him. James shot just 7-17 to get his 23 points and only made 9-13 from the free-throw line. No, James wasn’t the biggest issue for the Bucks on Wednesday, it was his supporting cast that stepped up against the Bucks.
The Bucks Killer Delonte West had another 12 points against Milwaukee, continuing to find ways to punish Bucks defenders and Mo Williams rediscovered his jump shot in scoring 21 points on 6-12 shooting (2-5 3FG 7-8 FT). When it wasn’t those two, it was Antawn Jamison (12 points) or J.J. Hickson (14 points) chipping in. There was a lot of Cavs finding the bottom of the net.
As cool as this win would have been, it wasn’t the most important game of the week even. That would be Friday’s game against the too-close-for-comfort Charlotte Bobcats. A win in Cleveland would have been a terrific boost heading to Charlotte, but it was just not meant to be. Tough as it may be to do, Milwaukee needs to get past this game quick, because Charlotte isn’t going to be any easier or more friendly.