(Squad Six made the trip to Indiana tonight. They were amazing and I know because they let me tag along. I’ll have more on that on Monday.)
Milwaukee allowed 40-points in the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers Friday night. Predictably, things changed after Scott Skiles had a few words with his crew at halftime.
The Bucks allowed just 30 total points in the second half and used their defense to create something they haven’t had very often this season: easy offense. Milwaukee topped the Pacers for their first road win of the season, a hotly contested 94-90 victory. A scrappy, undersized Bucks crew used their speed and quick hands to really bother the Pacers, forcing them into four turnovers in the game’s final six minutes alone.
With starting center Andrew Bogut nursing a migraine and not with the team, the Bucks flourished in the fourth quarter with an undersized group featuring Ersan Ilyasova battling 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert at center and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at power forward.
Turnovers were a problem for the Pacers all night, specifically those of the unforced variety. Indiana turned it over 19 times in all on Friday, and a number of them came on outlet passes thrown too far or dribbles clumsily lost. Milwaukee took advantage of the Pacers miscues, scoring a season high 28 points off turnovers.
Despite the Pacers seemingly eager attempts to give the game away, Milwaukee couldn’t put the game away until the final seconds were ticking away. An Ilyasova jumper gave the Bucks an 86-86 lead with 4:13, after the teams traded leads five times in the fourth quarter. The Bucks have yet another poor shooting performance to thank for the close finish.
Milwaukee shot just 38.6% for the game, a sign that they’ve still yet to completely right the ship offensively, even if they’ve put together consecutive strong games in a row. This one came without Bogut, so it’s safe to say Milwaukee would likely have fared better had their star center been in, but Milwaukee still needs to figure out how to generate more offense. The points off turnovers were an answer tonight, but that hasn’t been typical of the Bucks this season.
Everyone knew it was going to happen eventually, at least everyone hoped it would happen, either way, John Salmons finally broke out a little bit. Salmons finished with 22 points (6-12 FG 2-5 3FG 8-10 FT) and was the go-to-guy the Bucks have been looking for at the end of the game, scoring seven points in the final six minutes. Everything gets a lot easier on offense for the Bucks when Salmons is playing well and if Milwaukee can combine a consistent Salmons with a (relatively) healthy Bogut, they might be able to recapture the magic they had last season.
- Effectively deploying the Corey Maggette weapon has always been a problem. Everyone likes that he gets to the free throw line a lot and shoots a good percentage, but it’s always a question whether or not he’s really benefitting the team. Friday night, he definitely was. The fourth quarter saw Milwaukee begin down six, but two Maggette free throws and two more Maggette jumpers sandwiched around a Delfino three saw the Bucks tie the game. Salmons came in for Maggette to close it out and Maggette had officially had a positive night by most accounts. His final line had 10 points (4-11 FG 2-4 FT) and seven rebounds. It would have been nice to see him not take a few shots he took earlier in the game, but with Maggette, you live with the good and bad. Friday was certainly more good.
- Brandon Jennings finished with 18 points and was very effective at keeping his dribble alive while weaving through the paint and opening up the court for his teammates. Jennings is still struggling with that floater that no one was really sure about last season, but he continues to do well finishing at the rim. He was just 7-19 from the field (1-3 3FG 3-4 FT), but kept his turnovers down to two on the evening in 33 minutes.
Ilyasova may have been giving up a few inches and plenty of pounds to Hibbert, but that was all he was giving up. The Bucks backup power forward gave the Bucks a huge boost off the bench tonight and for once, it wasn’t in the form of scoring. Ilyasova played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and helped keep Hibbert scoreless in his 10 fourth quarter minutes. He wouldn’t give up an inch when pushing into Hibbert’s back on defense and got low and strong when boxing him out on rebounds. It was hard to tell who was the real center and who was the one moonlighting out of position; very impressive since Hibbert had 14 points coming into the quarter.
- If we take away the scorching Pacers second quarter, Indiana shot just 32% for the game, a credit to an energetic and lively Bucks defense. Carlos Delfino and Maggette did their best to keep Danny Granger from getting to the rim and the Bucks (little) bigs made Hibbert work all night, he shot just 4-11 from the field (6-7 FT).
The Bucks have now put together back to back very strong efforts, including this one that came without Andrew Bogut. Coach Skiles is weary whenever anyone brings up whether or not games are all that important to his team and he makes a good point.
Each game is its own entity. How big is this win if we lost 12 in a row afterward? It only has to do with the next game. Maybe later on in the season because you can look back and say, you know, that was a big win because we did this afterward. It’s a good win, we’re glad to have it.
We’ll find out soon enough whether or not these two were the games the Bucks will look back on fondly.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (to the right).