Fortunately, the NBA doesn’t decide standings with a poll that measures the strength of each win.
No, in the NBA, every win, regardless of who it’s over, the margin of victory or the location of the game, counts just the same. So if anyone tells you that the Bucks wins over teams missing their star players (the Hornets without Chris Paul, the Heat without Dwyane Wade and now the Cavs without Lebron James) don’t mean anything, you can simply point to the Bucks current position in sixth in the Eastern Conference and inform them of their error.
A Cavs team sans James, Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Illgauskas is a significantly weaker opponent than one with those three, or any of them for that matter. In two weeks, Shaq will still be out, but James will surely be back in the lineup, Illgauskas will be back and the Cavs will again be a force to be reckoned with. But that’s not important today. What’s important right now is that the Bucks won another game and even better, it’s one that not many people had penciled in a day or two ago. It’s important the Bucks are now two games up on Chicago for the sixth seed, it’s important the sold out Bradley Center had plenty of reason to cheer all night long Saturday and, most of all, it’s important that Brandon Jennings’ mojo finally returned.
For just the third time since February 1 (17 games), Jennings topped 40% shooting, finishing 6-14 from the field and 5-7 from behind the arc. Jennings finished with 25 points and had a season high number of “three-point monocles.” Popularized in last year’s playoffs by Ben Gordon, the “three-point monocle” is an especially braggadocios celebration of a three-point shot. Seeing Jennings break it out was especially joyful for me for a number of reasons. First, it’s good to see Jennings having fun out on the court again, especially in light of his recent comments about packing in his shot for a while. Second, I just love the trey monocle. Jennings explanation:
I did a little mocking, a little dancing for (Lebron). Hopefully (Lebron) caught that, I think it got his attention.
That being said, it would have been nice to see just where the Bucks measure up against the NBA’s best team, especially with Jennings having it going.
All game long, the Bucks looked very springy and active. Each catch seemed to matter to each player; when a Bucks player caught the ball, he was immediately shooting into a triple threat position or moving it to a teammate. It’s that unselfish attacking mindset that’s got the Bucks wins lately. Milwaukee played like a team with something to prove, but not with a bunch of players who have something to prove. This isn’t something I’ve seen very often in the last few years, but this collective group has bought into themselves as a unit capable of winning every game.
That’s what has me buying into this group as being one that won’t lay eggs and this uptick in wins as being legit. Andrew Bogut talked about this after the game, “Closest thing we had to an egg was Washington at home, and we still won by 13,” Bogut said. “That’s a good sign. We spoke about that after the game that we didn’t play to well that game and still grinded out a 13 point victory. So, if we can keep doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”
- Early in the game, Carlos Delfino struggled with his shot. Delfino bobbled away a scoring opportunity as the clock expired on a first half in which he finished 1-6 from the field and 1-4 on threes. But, like shooters do, Delfino kept shooting in the second half and turned things around. Delfino went 4-7 in the second half and his three of his four three point attempts. His rebounding was strong all game, as he finished with a career best 13 boards.
- Every Bucks player hit either five, six or two shots. I just think that’s cool.
- The Bucks aren’t a slow team, but they don’t often get out on the break and get easy baskets. Saturday was different. Milwaukee outscored Cleveland 18-5 on fastbreak points. The Bucks used three fastbreak scores early in the third quarter to help stretch their four point lead out into a 13 point lead that would prove insurmountable.
While Andrew Bogut continues to swat away shots like a pregnant woman fanning away smoke (three more blocks), Jennings is making great strides defensively. I Tweeted during the game that when Mo Williams breathes later Saturday night, Jennings is going to come out of his mouth, because he was up in him all night. Williams finished 3-17 from the field and rarely had a good look (though he missed when he did anyway). Jennings attributed some of it to Williams having an off night, but had more to say about the defensive end. “Man, I’m just playing with a lot more energy now,” said Jennings. “I think I’m playing harder now that it’s the second half of the season and we’re winning and trying to do something big.”
Scott Skiles had a similar take, “He’s gotten a lot better as the year’s gone on,” Skiles said. “He’s gotten better pressure on the ball, he’s gotten a better understanding of the angles and where he’s got to be to cut somebody off. Obviously he’s taken a couple laps around now so he knows the players in the league a little better.”
- Certain games have much more of a defensive element than others … it was safe to say this was one of them. With James out, the Cavs looked like they wanted to win this one on grit and defense, as it was going to be difficult for them to outscore the Bucks. They were trying to post Delonte West early and often and be physical with the Bucks. But Milwaukee didn’t back down. They came right back at the Cavs and wouldn’t be bullied. Aside from West and the occasionally scorching Antawn Jamison, Cleveland couldn’t get much going and had only those two in double figures.
This four game homestand starting with Cleveland, including Boston and Utah and finishing with Indiana was supposed to be the biggest test the revamped Bucks would face. But now it turns into yet another big opportunity for the team. The surprising victory over Cleveland gives them a great shot to finish at .500 and a realistic shot at winning three games on the four game homestand.
Winnings in front of a sellout crowd was icing on the cake. If the Bucks can just draw a few thousand more fans every game, they have a terrific homecourt advantage and could surprise any team that thinks the Bucks of now are anything like the Bucks of old.