One of the many keys to continued success the rest of the way for the Milwaukee Bucks was prominently on display Wednesday night at the Bradley Center. They need balance. A team that lacks a true star to begin with, the Bucks have needed to get something out of everyone all year, even before Andrew Bogut’s injury. Now, they need balance more than ever. And when they get it, good things can happen. Milwaukee was about as balanced as they could be in their 108-89 victory over the Nets Wednesday night – 120 minutes for the starters, 120 minutes for the reserves.
While the Bucks starters were outscored 64-59 on the night, the bench did their part and then some, out-scoring New Jersey’s backups 49-25. This shouldn’t have been surprising though. The Nets are 11-67 for a reason. They have some starters that are above-average players, but their bench is full of young, inexperienced and, as far as I could tell, relatively uninterested players. New Jersey certainly looked the part of the league’s bottom feeder. Everyone was hooting and hollering from the sidelines during a fast start by Devin Harris, but there was a clear sense of indifference as the game began to slip away. But hey, a job is a job, and if I had a stat at my work that said we’d only had a successful day 11 out of the last 77 times we operated, I’d be waiting for a vacation myself. But back to the bench.
Role player was a fitting definition of the Bucks reserves on this evening.
Jerry Stackhouse as “Low Post Scorer”
Upon signing Stackhouse earlier this season, Coach Skiles said he thought the veteran immediately became Milwaukee’s second best low post scorer. Occasionally the Bucks had been going to him in the post, but with the other options the Bucks had, Bogut in the paint and Salmons everywhere, Stack’s post game had been a bit forgotten about. Wednesday night it was front and center. Time after time Milwaukee found Stackhouse in the post with a smaller (and often much younger) defender on him that he was able to take advantage of. Stack finished with a much needed 18 points (6-9 FG 2-2 3FG 4-4 FT) after really struggling the last couple weeks.
“You get a couple drops here and there. I feel like I got an advantage over whoever guarding me,” Stackhouse said with a wry smile. “Guys know their role, they know what they do best, I think that’s what we have to do now. We have to do what we do and don’t try and do more than that and we’ll be fine.”
Dan Gadzuric as “Awkward Hustling Big Man”
Gadz was the big goofy jumper we all remembered from years ago once again Wednesday night. He can make you smile (eight rebounds in 17 minutes), he can make you cringe (a free throw line jumper … that went down smooth) and he can make you cry (never one to be outdone, he pulled a Brezec and fell down after a move by a Nets guard). Gadz was out there running around and doing his best to play to his strengths, namely rebounding and shot-blocking. He’s not getting to as many balls as he once did as a shot-blocker, but Gadz can certainly still grab some boards.
Charlie Bell as “The X Stopper”
While Bell is probably not as good a defender as his reputation suggests he is, he had another strong defensive outing against the Nets. Devin Harris gave Milwaukee fits in the first quarter, scoring 18 of his 25 points, but Bell proved very effective on him when given the chance.
Bell played the entire second quarter, helping to limit Harris to just one point on zero shots from the field. With Harris unaggressive, the Nets mustered little offense and were unable to build on the momentum of their big first quarter. I joked that Bell probably hadn’t been playing much lately because he was busy traveling the country and stopping Dwyane Wade from doing things given the talk about him being the “Wade Stopper” earlier this year. But Bell certainly played the role of top defender against the Nets.
Kurt Thomas as “A Different Kind of Center”
About the only thing Thomas does similar to Bogut is rebound. Thomas again rebounded the ball very well Wednesday, grabbing 10 rebounds in 27 minutes. In addition to his skills on the glass, Thomas showed he’s not going to hurt the Bucks offense. His 15-foot jumper looks as reliable as ever and is helping to create space for the Bucks inside.
The Bucks veteran role players have traveled this path before and know what adversity is like. Thus far, they’ve been shining examples on how the Bucks can keep the good times rolling without Andrew Bogut.
- John Salmons had 22 points (10-13 FG 1-2 3FG 1-2 FT). This feels redundant. In a good way. Not like when I used to think to myself, “why can’t Tim Thomas ever grab more than five rebounds or score more than 15 points?” That was the bad kind of redundant.
- He had a few points in garbage time to help pad the numbers, but Ersan Ilyasova’s points were on jumpers so smooth looking I wanted to grab them and put them in a commercial for milk chocolate. 15 points (7-12 FG 1-4 3FG 0-1 FT) and nine rebounds on the evening. The consistently stellar production out of Ilyasova lately has been a total joy to watch. It’s one thing to like having a player on a team, it’s another to have a player who is so much fun to watch on a team. Ersan is the latter.
Bell, Thomas, Gadzuric and Stackhouse, the role players, all did their part defensively. Stack had a breakaway dunk off a steal and that exceptional block you saw the highlight of above. The Nets got into Milwaukee right off the bat, shooting 65% in the first quarter. Obviously that wasn’t going to last and the Bucks made sure of it by holding them to 27% shooting in the second half. Their point totals were 38 in the first quarter to only 31 in the second half. Quite a difference a break makes.
I’d like to think it’s never easy for an NBA team and knowing the Nets are hungry for any wins they can get would make for a competitive game. But I never felt like the Bucks would drop this one. Even when the Nets were playing well, it seemed more luck than skill, save for Devin Harris. What was surprising is how ineffective Brook Lopez was. The Nets center has given Milwaukee fits in the past and with Bogut out, I thought he’d be the key to their whole game. Perhaps he was too willing to defer (seven assists to just six shots). Whatever the case may be, Lopez was hardly noticeable with just five points on 1-6 shooting. I can live with that and I can certainly live with another Bucks win. They’ll need all of them they can get to hold off Charlotte and stay in the top six.