Defense can’t pick up where offense left off: Lakers 118 – Bucks 107
What’s the difference between me and you? You talk a good one, but you don’t do what you supposed to do. – What’s the Difference, Dr. Dre
Tuesday night, in their 118-107 loss to the Lakers, Milwaukee absolutely did not do what they were supposed to do.
Against a team as talented as the Lakers, Milwaukee would have had to play one of their better defensive games to win, and, despite being the number one rated defensive team in the league coming in, they didn’t. It wouldn’t’ be so bad if it were a case of the Lakers coming in and knocking down one difficult shot after another. Kobe Bryant certainly did his fair share of that throughout the night, but that’s just something you expect when the Lakers are in town, that wasn’t the issue.
One wide open shot after the next? Those were issues. Repeatedly in the fourth quarter, Shannon Brown sunk open threes, either shaking off a closeout that was far too hard or soft or catching on skip passes with no defender rotating over.
After a stunning offensive start (Bucks shot 63.2% in the first quarter), it was unrealistic to expect them to continue to play so well on that end of the court. An eventual defensive surge was expected, but never came. One game after holding the Warriors to 72 points in four quarters, the Bucks allowed 118 to the Lakers, the first opponent to score 100+ points on them in regulation this season.
As much as Milwaukee’s offense faltered in the third and fourth quarters (they shot just 35.7% in the second half) and for all the points they left on the free throw line (Milwaukee missed 11 free throws, eight of them from Andrew Bogut), it was their defense that really let them down.
For once, the Bucks just couldn’t get stops when they needed them most.
So often Milwaukee stands around, desperate to get the ball back to Brandon Jennings at the top of the key. As I left the arena last night, I called my father, a nightly ritual for me after games. The one thing that’s stood out to him about this team more than any other has been the fact that no one can create offense outside of Jennings. Every player on the roster seems to either force action into the middle or pump fake and pass when they catch a pass on the outside. Often, everything seems so forced, never easy for the team offensively. Last season, when Milwaukee was at its best in the second half, John Salmons took a lot of the pressure off Milwaukee on offense. He created, he drove and kicked, he was effective. So often now, he’s reduced to a guy who can’t get all the way to the rim and second guesses himself when he catches outside. He’s still pump faking and creating shots for himself that are difficult in-between looks.
Jennings was amazing in the first three quarters Tuesday, scoring 24 points on 10 of 17 shooting while hitting four of his eight 3-pointers. But he couldn’t maintain his offense in the fourth quarter. I can’t put any blame on him, it’s hard to score with a team resting on your shoulders. Even as he struggled to make two of his nine fourth quarter shots, the offense still revolved around him. He was the only one penetrating with a purpose and finding teammates. Until someone else can step up and start creating some sort of offense, Milwaukee’s struggles will never improve.
- Bogut’s hand and elbow certainly looked like an issue against the Lakers. He struggled with a few passes and shot just two of 10 at the free throw line. A spill over Corey Maggette in the fourth quarter that landed Bogut on the ground hand first had everyone holding their breath. He didn’t come out of the game immediately, but he was icing down his elbow and not looking too hot in the locker room post game. His touch with the left still looks okay, but he looked more one dimensional than ever against the Lakers. Teams are pushing him to his right and abusing him with double teams that he’s struggling to pass out of. When he’s effective and Milwaukee can run their offense through him, the Bucks are a completely different team than when he’s off. Whether his elbow will allow him to be healthy enough to be effective more often than not this season looks to be in question though.
- In the past four seasons, Drew Gooden hit exactly two 3-point shots. Last night, in the first quarter no less, Gooden took and made two 3-point shots. Perhaps he spoke with Paul Milsap some time this week. Whatever the case may be, the long bombs were a sign of things to come from Gooden, who made eight of 11 shots on the night, scoring 22 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. His effort on the offensive boards was nothing less than maximum all night and perhaps would explain how he was limited to just 34 minutes. Many players who get tagged “energy guys” aren’t very talented, but Gooden was an energy guy and an offensive force against the Lakers.
If nothing else, Milwaukee spent the game doing a fairly good job of keeping the Lakers off the offensive glass. LA scored 17 second chance points, and that’s largely because they have such a good offense. They only attempted nine second chance shots, the problem is they made six of them. The Bucks controlled the boards in large part though, winning the battle 47-40. A bigger issue on the night was points in the paint. The Lakers were getting baskets from Pau Gasol inside obviously, but it was all the dunks, layups and cuts inside that led to scores that were a bigger problem. LA was 17-26 at the rim one game after the Warriors were just 10-24 at the rim against Milwaukee. The Bucks weren’t able to contest many Lakers shots at the rim and it cost them.
- Perhaps this wasn’t the most important thing, but Milwaukee could use a lot of work on defending fast breaks. On at least three separate occasions and possibly more, the Bucks committed the cardinal sin of fouling on a fast break, but not preventing the layup. That’s three and-1’s that should just have been two points. On the very first Lakers bucket of the game Salmons nicked Kobe, later Jennings did the same and against Shannon Brown, Maggette made the error. Last season, Luke Ridnour was a machine in this area. If an opponent was going against Ridnour on the break, he wouldn’t have a chance of scoring. Ridnour was putting them on the ground, and making sure the ball went with them. He never did anything dirty, he just was an expert in hard fastbreak fouls. The Bucks are lacking one of those right now.
From The Stands
Bucksketball contributor Brian Matzat was in the crowd Tuesday night and picked up a few quotes from those around him.
- “Drew Gooden just pulled the Big Dog yank”
Gooden hit a step back mid range jumper at one point, shocking everyone and apparently reminding some fans of Glenn Robinson. This was certainly a more diverse offensive game for Gooden. He made four of six 16-23-foot jumpers on the night to go along with his two threes.
- “I’m holding my breath overnight for Bogut”
Bogut’s health is probably going to be a concern all year for Bucks fans. Whenever he falls, the arena gasps in unison. Whenever he misses a free throw, everyone thinks about the pain his hand must be in. And it’s a situation that can’t really be avoided. He won’t be much healthier this season and there doesn’t appear to be an obvious solution for what ails him on the horizon. Best case scenario is that he simply isn’t re-injured and he can continue to impact games defensively and with his rebounding.
What stung most about this game was that the Bucks weren’t really in the game for much of the fourth quarter. There were moments when it appeared that they had life, sure. Down seven points, Jennings appeared to have drawn a foul on Steve Blake on a 3-point attempt, but no call was awarded, and the Lakers answered with a three of their own, putting the Bucks back down 10 in the fourth quarter. That was the way things went. When the Bucks seemed to have life, the Lakers put their foot on Milwaukee’s neck. That’s just what the champs do. If Milwaukee wants to get to that level, they’ll first need Carlos Delfino and Chris Douglas-Roberts back and playing productive minutes, but they’ll also need to avoid any more let downs defensively. This is a team built around its defense, not one that can afford a night where the opponent scores 124 points per 100 possessions. Against the very best, Milwaukee needs to be the team it was the first 10 games of the season defensively.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (to the right).