- Friday night: the Bucks lose their second game in a row due to a failure to execute in the fourth quarter. No real reason to worry.
- Saturday night: the Bucks beat the hottest team in the NBA 107-98 and panic spreads like a forest fire in a national park.
I’d say injuries are quite the game, ahem, season changer.
There are a lot of rumors going around about Andrew Bogut and his devastating elbow injury he suffered Friday night. I’m not going to react to those as fact. Until the Bucks and Bogut himself confirm the prognosis on his injury, I’ll refrain from jumping for joy or off a bridge. That’s right, I’ll do no jumping. You hear me, no jumping! Not yet anyway.
With the Bogut issue being what it is, it’s hard to get as excited as a Bucks fan should be over the big win over Phoenix.
And it was a very big win. I wouldn’t say the Bucks were reeling after two closes losses on the road to very good home teams, because I thought they actually played pretty well and the losses were more fluke than anything. But Milwaukee certainly needs all the reassurance that they can get right now that they’re a good team. Think of them as teenagers who’ve just hit puberty.
They think they’re on the right track, but each loss is like a zit that’s appeared out of nowhere and makes them a little unsure of how they look. Teenagers need to be told it’s no big deal and it’ll go away before they know it, just the way the Bucks need to get past close losses and realize they won’t win every game. A loss doesn’t mean they’ve fallen completely off track, it just means they lost one game. The wins are reassurance, confidence boosters. And a team that’s growing and figuring out just how good it can be needs all the confidence boosters it can get. The wins pound home the point, “yeah, we are a good team. We can beat anybody on any night, at any arena.” And that’s the attitude a team wants to take into the playoffs.
Of course, teams also want to take their best player into the playoffs too.
(Whoops, I said no more Bogut talk. That’s the last time. For a little while.)
Teams have been defending the Brandon Jennings pick and rolls differently as the year has gone on. Initially, Jennings had little problem finding his big man, typically Bogut, cutting to the basket with a crisp pass. But as Jennings has proved less capable as a shooter and finisher, it seems like teams have gone out of their way to make him beat them, rather than allow a pass to the cutter. Pregame, Coach Scott Skiles said he thought Brandon Jennings needed to be a little more aggressive in the pick and roll game.
“Brandon’s gotta be more aggressive. Sometimes he just brings it off and automatically throw it back to Ersan (Ilyasova) filling in or whatever.”
Jennings’ numbers certainly implied a greater aggression on Saturday, as Jennings finished with 23 points (7-15 FG 1-5 3FG 8-10 FT). Be it the Bogut injury (Jennings scored 20 of his 23 points after) or something else, Jennings had a much bigger role Saturday than he’s had in a few games. And that’s something that Milwaukee desperately needed. Too often it’s been John Salmons and Bogut running the Bucks offense with little help. They need a third wheel and Jennings is the most logical candidate.
- A night after getting just 15 points off their bench, Milwaukee saw three reserves spring for double digits. Ersan Ilyasova led the charge, as he’s prone to do, with 12 points, while Kurt Thomas and Luke Ridnour chipped in 10 apiece. The trio combined to shoot 13-20 from the field, grab 14 rebounds and dish out eight assists. Balance is the name of the Bucks game and they had it tonight.
- In a game they never trailed, the Bucks managed to shoot 53.8%, good enough for their second best effort all season. And the best effort was against Minnesota, so can we really value it the same?
Phoenix shot just 36.1% in the first half, which was probably the result of good defense from Milwaukee, a bad shooting night from Phoenix and the typically blah performance teams put forth in their last game of a road trip. Milwaukee definitely caught Phoenix on the right night. Steve Nash played just 21 minutes and scored just 10 points while passing for only five assists. The five assists matched his five turnovers very well. This was not your typical virtuoso Nash performance.
Amar’e Stoudamire wasn’t his usual dominant self early either, shooting just 4-13 from the field in the first half. The Bucks kept hands in his face all night and allowed him very few dunks – at least until the third quarter. Amar’e went 5-6 in the third to give him a respectable 9-19 evening, but sat out the fourth quarter with the rest of the Suns starters. The Bucks had built too big of a lead for the Suns to waste their starters’ energy the rest of the way.
Milwaukee certainly caught Phoenix at the right time, but ultimately, lady luck may have abandoned the Bucks at the wrong time. We’ll see how the next few days shake out, but the Bucks season largely hangs on the edge right now. After a disastrous, injury riddled mess of a season last year, you’d think the Basketball Gods owe the Bucks something this season. Hopefully, we’ll find out Sunday that they do.