(UPDATE: Easy baskets were hard to come by in last night’s Bucks-Bulls game, so Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook takes a look at the play that swung the game in the Bucks favor. A Brandon Jennings to Ersan Ilyasova fastbreak basket.)
It’s a celebration. Take it away Kanye (more accurately, some kid lip-syncing Kanye).
Now everyone can take a breath. The worst case scenario cannot come to pass. The Milwaukee Bucks are officially going to be in the playoffs.
It was fitting the Bucks clinched in a game filled with errant jumpers, ball-control, defense and anything else that’s unsexy about basketball. After all, this is a team that’s second from the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, has turned the ball over the fifth fewest times and has the third highest defensive rating. “Fear the Deer” has been the team’s calling card of late, but Tuesday’s victory was certainly more the “Work Hard, Play Hard” variety.
Certainly, sub-40% shooting (36.4% on the night for Milwaukee) efforts will not strike fear into the hearts of future Bucks opponents. But right now Milwaukee is anything but a finished project heading into the playoffs. As nice as it is to sit back and enjoy the clinch, Milwaukee still has a considerable amount of work ahead of them before April 17th. Near the top of that list is figuring out how the remaining pieces fit together.
Milwaukee tried out some different lineups Tuesday and they’ll likely do some mixing and matching again Wednesday. The playoffs will not wait until the Bucks are comfortable in their new roles, so there is no time for Milwaukee to wait to figure out who’s going to need to do what.
I’m often asked what I think Ersan Ilyasova’s ceiling is. Sometimes I say it’s probably not much different than the average persons, but that it’s likely higher considering he’s 6’10. Occasionally this gets a chuckle; more often than not it gets an eye roll. The rest of the time I say it’s nearly impossible to tell. Coach Skiles has said he thinks Ersan will end up closer to a 37 or 38% shooter from behind the arc rather than hang around his current percentage which hovers at 34.5. There’s no reason to think that improvement would remove his desire to get inside and do dirty work though.
Ilyasova is a very unique player. That’s probably what makes him so difficult to project. Any time I think I’ve got him down, he has games like the one he had Tuesday. Simply put, Ilyasova was everywhere. 17 points (7-14 FG 1-5 3FG 2-2 FT), seven rebounds, a block and drew at least one charge. As per usual, he kept a few other balls alive that teammates grabbed and spread peskyness all over the court. Ers looked legit.
I knew increased minutes would mean more production for him, but this was more than that. He looked like a much more confident player than he has at times this season, he looked like someone really coming into his own Tuesday night. His pump fakes seemed to have purpose and his drives more decisive. If this is the Ersan Ilyasova we’ll be seeing from here on out, then maybe this Bogut injury was not without its plusses. Already apart of the Bucks plan, the increased everything surrounding Ilyasova could make him a much bigger factor next year.
- As much as I thought Ilyasova looked better on Tuesday, I was glad to see the familiarity of John Salmons getting buckets. 26 points (8-19 FG 3-6 3FG 7-8 FT) are all in a days work lately for Salmons. As evidenced by his eight free throws, Salmons was the Buck taking it to the hole when shots weren’t falling.
The Center Report
Kurt Thomas filled in admirably for Bogut on Tuesday, grabbing 14 rebounds in just 30 minutes. That sounds about right as far as minutes go for Thomas, especially for the rest of the regular season. Come playoff time, all bets are off, but I’d think Coach Skiles would want to make sure he’s not wearing out the vet down the stretch. Fortunately he hasn’t taken too much of a toll on his body this season.
As much as everyone (me included) makes fun of Dan Gadzuric, one thing is clear: he can rebound. He’s awkward looking and often slaps balls out of bounds trying to keep them alive, but Gadz is a pretty good rebounder (four rebounds in 11 minutes). His rebound rate actually eclipses Ersan Ilyasova’s (16.1-15.4), even if he can never stay on the floor. Gadz’s 11 minutes weren’t a disaster, despite the fact that a pass hit him in the back while he wasn’t looking and he allowed the Bulls a 5-4 defensive possession while he hung back to tie his shoe that had come off. Aside from that, I think I can live with everything else Gadz did.
After the heartbreak of Bogut’s injury, I’m sure this win puts the players’ collective minds at ease a bit. It’s hard to take the foot off the gas at any point in time during the NBA season, but making the playoffs is still a big deal for this team. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a very loose group at the Bradley Center Wednesday night against the Nets. It’s possible some of the Bucks poor shooting Tuesday had something to do with the clinch on the line, the injury fresh in their minds and a crucial part of their identity watching the game at home.
But that can all be put to rest. The Bucks know they can beat a good team without Bogut, they know they can shoot better than they did Tuesday and, most importantly, they know they won’t be going home early this year.