With the Miami Heat emerging victorious (sadly and barely) from their last game of the season against New Jersey, clinching the fifth seed and leaving the Bucks to play the Hawks in the three-six matchup, it’s hard to get too excited about any of the positives that came from the Bucks Wednesday night win over Boston.
It’s merely evident now that Milwaukee’s jayvee plus team can defeat the Celtics freshman team. And I think that was probably a safe bet already. Milwaukee has pounded into us all season that they have good depth. From one through eleven, Milwaukee can plug different guys into different lineups and compete with most starters and defeat most benches.
Once again Wednesday night, Milwaukee got productive games out of Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse, Ersan Ilyasova and even …
*gasp* Dan Gadzuric?
Yes, under the right circumstances even old Gadzuric can look good again.
But the circumstances will be much different in the playoffs now. The Hawks have been a problem for Milwaukee all season. Hell, they’ve been a problem for the majority of the league all season. A group that’s been playing together for years now, Atlanta has the versatility, the star power, the defense and the offense to make a deep run into the playoffs and even scare the East’s top two.
If Milwaukee were about to embark on a playoff series with Boston, the questions would be how many games could Milwaukee win? Would the Celtics lose their cool during the series, specifically Rasheed Wallace. Could Milwaukee capitalize on any of those moments and gain some momentum? Basically, the questions about that potential series were full of hope and possibility. It would still be a long shot, but Milwaukee would at least be on the verge of a series that was going to likely have some give and take.
Now I can’t help but ask questions like, how is this series going to look any different than Monday night? Will Milwaukee shoot over 42% in any of the games? How many points is Joe Johnson going to average? My feelings of hope and excitement have withered away significantly. I know asking the big “What If” about Andrew Bogut won’t do any good, but it keeps coming back to me and gnawing at me.
But I guess it is what it is. The bottom line is that the Bucks are still going to be playing playoff games again this year, which is still a terrific feat. And I’m glad we got this final game of the regular season out of the way. Now, as Brandon Jennings so elegantly put it after Monday night’s game against Atlanta, we can just “lace ‘em up and let’s hoop.”
So, when defense takes a back seat, the Bucks are able to knock a few down here and there. That was a refreshing reminder on Wednesday.
Milwaukee shot over 50% for the first time since their April 7th victory over the Nets. As has often been the case all year, it was the bench that really keyed the Bucks in this one. Though, things were clearly different. Coach Skiles wanted to get his starters some rest and none played more than 22 minutes.
Leading the bench was Luke Ridnour. Ridnour didn’t miss a shot (6-6 FG 3-3 3FG 2-2 FT) on his way to 17 points and dropped eight assists to boot. Jerry Stackhouse finished off his season the way I’m sure he wanted to, hitting 7-11 shots in scoring 17 points. Stack actually really got it together over his last five games, shooting considerably better than he had been (24-48 FG 9-18 3 FG in his last five after a fairly brutal month of March: 36% FG and 27% 3FG). I’d argue that Stack’s contributions over the past five games have been the most positive momentum the Bucks can take into the playoffs. They’ll certainly need his fire power coming off the bench.
Ersan Ilyasova was as good as he typically is, his 15 points included a 2-3 showing from deep. But the surprise of the night was the line Dan Gadzuric finished with. 14 points (7-12 FG), nine rebounds and even two steals from Gadz? Really? Had Brian Scalabrine and Shelden Williams not played a combined 58 minutes I’d be pretty excited about this.
That the Celtics backups were able to shoot 47% against his Bucks probably wasn’t even the biggest issue for Coach Skiles after Wednesday’s game. No, it probably had a lot to do with Rajon Rondo owning the Bucks as usual. 21 points (7-12 FG 7-12 FT) and 15 assists for Rondo. He was able to carve up the Bucks defense on numerous occasions, having very little trouble getting to where he wanted to be.
But really, it was probably difficult for Milwaukee to muster much in terms of defensive intensity during this game. Seeing an opponent so brazenly lay down (and probably with valid reason, what did they have to play for after all?) can’t exactly inspire much fight out of a group, can it? I say no.
Overall, the Bucks won this game more on talent than anything else. With the Celtics resting their main men, Milwaukee simply had to show up and play like this game meant something and they were going to come away with a win. And with Scott Skiles as the coach, it’s not very often the Bucks won’t do that. But that’s not exactly the way this team envisioned entering the playoffs though. The Bucks still don’t quite look as crisp defensively as they have throughout the season, Bogut or no Bogut. And while it was nice to see them make some shots, there is still much to be desired from their offense. But I guess there was only so much time to adjust without the big man.
So ready or not, it’s playoff time.