Sometimes when Milwaukee has won this season, it hasn’t really felt like a win. I’ll point to a 79-72 victory over the Golden State Warriors at home as a prime example. Milwaukee didn’t play well that night, they just didn’t plays as bad as the Warriors. A win is a win, but that felt hollow and no answers to the Bucks problems emerged from it.
Saturday night at home against the Charlotte Bobcats though, the Bucks looked like they had won. No question about it. They out-executed, out-shot and just generally out-played the Bobcats. Given the way things have been going this season, that is no small feat. And given that Milwaukee was without Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, it was really impressive.
Until the last three minutes and five seconds at least.
Milwaukee spent that final three minutes blowing an 11-point lead and seemed sure to be headed for a tie game with 7.1 seconds to play after Gerald Wallace was fouled heading to the rim in a two point game. Unfortunately for Wallace, he was injured on the fall, leaving him out of the game and the Bucks free to pick his replacement.
Obviously, they picked Kwame Brown. Yes, that Kwame Brown.
Brown, a 57.1% career free throw shooter, stayed trued to form and missed one of two. Brandon Jennings was fouled on the inbound, made two free throws and the Bobcats allowed the Bucks to breathe easy by missing a desperation three at the buzzer.
The pick and roll between Jennings and Milwaukee bigs hasn’t been working out so well this season. So often, Jennings is left going nowhere and a big man rolls to the hoop with no hope of receiving a pass. Saturday night though, primarily in the first quarter, Milwaukee effectively was able to use John Salmons as a screener with Jennings. After screening, Salmons could roll away from the hoop, either opening something up for Jennings or getting himself the ball off a Jennings pass with a mismatched defender on him. Salmons was able to get some post-ups against smaller players and better looks at the basket. I’ve document Salmons struggles virtually all the time this season, so I’ll give credit where it is due, he was very effective and had everything to do with a 29-point Milwaukee first quarter, hitting five of six shots and scoring 10 points. He finished with 16 points, but wasn’t forcing the issue as often (though he did a bit in the fourth quarter), and further cemented the theory that when he plays well, the Bucks play well.
- Jennings wasn’t so shabby himself. When he wasn’t picking and rolling with Salmons, he was catching passes from teammates while planted firmly outside the 3-point line and hitting open threes. In Milwaukee’s losses they’ve shot just 23.7% on 3-pointers as a team. Jennings has been particularly bad, hitting just 12 of 52 threes in losses. On each of his four first half makes on Saturday though, he had time to set himself and take a balanced, consistent jump-shot. Things weren’t so smooth in the second half, as the Bobcats stayed a little closer to him and he was forced to rush more often than not, but he still finished a respectable six of 13 from three. Overall, he finished with 32 points on 10 of 21 shooting and tossed in seven assists against just two turnovers. This was definitely Good Jennings.
- Ersan Ilyasova got his first start of the season with Bogut still dealing with some back soreness and Jon Brockman not bringing much to the table and he responded. Milwaukee ran a number of plays through him in the high post and he was quick in making decisions, whether he was trying to force passes into open baseline cutters (resulted in two turnovers) or kicking it out to an open Jennings (see all those 3-pointers Jennings hit). Ilyasova had a surprising six assists in the game. That didn’t prevent him from doing some old school Ilyasova things though, as he hit three of six 3-pointers en route to 17 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds, three of them offensive. That’s the Ilyasova we all want to see every night.
- Pre-game, Scott Skiles was worried Chris Douglas-Roberts was a little too out of it to make much of an impact, having not gone through a full contact practice yet. Funny how things work out. His connecting on open jumpers was a sight for sore eyes and, before making a stupid foul to give Charlotte a 3-point-play on the next possession, seemed to have sealed the game with his own 3-point-play late in the fourth quarter. Mental mistake and defensive struggles aside though, CD-R’s apparent ability to make open shots and score is a very, VERY welcome addition to these Milwaukee Bucks. He finished with 11 points on four of six shooting.
Milwaukee shot 67.7% in the first half, made 13 of 16 free throws, had 17 assists on 21 made shots, made five of nine threes …. and had just a seven point lead. Why? For the second consecutive game, defense was a bit of an issue. In the games first 24 minutes, The Bobcats shot 50% themselves and converted on 16 of 19 free throw attempts. The defensive issues continued into the third quarter, but Milwaukee did just enough offensively to keep their defensive issues at bay until the defense returned to form in the fourth quarter. At least it returned to form until the free throw parade started. Milwaukee allowed the Bobcats to go 14 of 16 from the stripe in the final quarter, turning a blowout into a nail-biter. For the game, the Bbcats made 35 of 41 free throws.
- While the Bucks still struggled in the third quarter to keep the Bobcats shooting percentage down, they countered that by forcing five turnovers. The Bucks won the turnover battle 15-12 in the game and even did a good job of capitalizing on Charlotte turnovers, scoring 21 points off them.
- In place of the ailing Gooden (plantar faciitis) Larry Sanders made his first start and results were generally positive. He hit a couple open looks, he finished at the hop with a powerful dunk against Tyrus Thomas and he made his presence known defensively with a shot-clock violation inducing rejection. Sanders can still make his biggest impact defensively by coming off the ball and blocking shots in that way. Rebounding is still a work in progress for him, as after grabbing 10 against the Pistons he managed just three against the Bobcats, but it’s exciting to see him progressing, if only ever so slightly.
This one came more from 225, by the Bobcats bench. A gentleman seemed to be particularly mesmerized by Bobcats coach Larry Brown’s insistence on standing to coach his team for the majority of the game.
“SIT DOWN, LARRY BROWN!”
It kind of made me think of Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, or maybe just Charlie Brown in general. Though it wasn’t effective in getting Brown to sit down, it was rhythmic and amusing.
This certainly wasn’t the 3-0 week many were hoping for last Sunday. Blown opportunities in Cleveland and Detroit matched an awful effort against the Thunder last Saturday and Milwaukee was staring at a sixth straight loss before Saturday’s game with a brutal schedule ahead. Aside from the toll losses like recent ones take on a team’s record, Milwaukee had gone a long time without having felt good about anything they accomplished. Players aren’t robots, that kind of thing hurts a lot. A win against another struggling and under-performing Eastern conference team isn’t a long term remedy, but it’s a small mental boost for a team that sorely needed one.
And with the four games Milwaukee has coming up, it’s possible they won’t have anything else to feel good about for a while.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (to the right).