There was a game before that final play. Before Luc Mbah a Moute’s soccer style pass. Before Brandon Jennings screen. Before the celebration that sure had the Bucks looking like a unit that got along plenty well (it’s funny how wins do that, isn’t it?). Before Andrew Bogut finished off a very finely drawn up and well executed inbound play with a tip in to give the Bucks a 97-95 win, there was an entire basketball game played.
Just not a very pretty one to watch.
Then again, no one has ever accused Ersan Ilyasova (or this season’s Bucks team in general) of playing pretty basketball. Not blessed with the athletic gifts so many of his NBA counterparts are, Ilyasova survives by crashing the glass, pump faking to free up space and anticipating his opponents next move on defense before trying to take a charge. When he’s on his game, he uglies up the game around him. It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective basketball.
So it’s fitting that, in Milwaukee’s victory over the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, one of the uglier games the Bucks have played this season (and that’s saying a lot) it was Ilyasova who played a prominent role.
After what seemed like a breakout season last year, Ilyasova has looked unsure of himself and unsure of his role on the Bucks by and large this season. Ilyasova has chucked one unsuccessful rainbow jumper after the next at hoops all over the country this season, as he’s gone from a 33.6% 3-point shooter last season to 29.8% this season. His struggles from deep have had him pump faking when no one is around and could be the cause of his lack of aggression in getting to the offensive and defensive glass. Many players lose focus when they lose themselves offensively.
So it was surely a welcome site for the Bucks early on Wednesday when Ilyasova was up to his old ways again. With Larry Sanders saddled with foul trouble, Ilyasova played seven first quarter minutes, scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds, three of them coming on the offensive end. His play meshed well with his motivated teammates. Milwaukee owned the glass in the first quarter, grabbing 20 total rebounds with a whopping 12 of them coming on the offensive end. As usual, there were plenty of offensive rebounds to be had by the Bucks, as they shot just 37.9% in the first quarter (11-29 FG) and 36% for the game. That sort of shooting percentage meant that offensive boards would be available all game and Ilyasova didn’t leave it all out on the court in the first quarter. He had some gas in the tank later.
His rebounding prowess bailed the Bucks out in the fourth quarter. After a missed shot by Bogut with under a minute remaining and the game tied, it was Ilyasova who was there for the offensive rebound. Ersan wasn’t able to put it back in, but he did draw the foul and, as he’s actually been doing very well all season, made two free throws. Ilyasova finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on the evening in a fairly efficient manner (7-14 FG 0-4 3FG 7-8 FT).
And finally, after Bogut’s incredible tip-in following a Roy Hibbert missed jump shot, the Bucks were able to topple the Pacers. Yeah they had to go down to the wire to do it, but you know the saying. If at first you don’t succeed … bully your opponent in the paint and crash the offensive glass and win at the buzzer. Or something like that. That appeared to be the motto for the Bucks on Wednesday. Scoring 97 points rarely will be less pretty than it was for the Bucks on Wednesday, but Milwaukee was wise to follow the lead of one of their least pretty players by getting ugly Wednesday night.
It feels even longer ago than it actually was that Brandon Jennings was predicting a double digit assist average for himself this season. The train of thought went, with all the talent around him offensively 10 assists would be a feasible task.
Just how laughable is that now?
Jennings was once again in attack mode on Wednesday, as he’s so often been in his young career. The hope that Jennings and Bogut may have rediscovered something in the pick and roll last Saturday seems a distant memory too. Jennings went back to ignoring rolling big men, preferring instead to look for the pull-up jumper or opportunities to take the ball to the hoop. The results weren’t bad, Jennings scored 22 points on the night while hitting six of 16 shots (1-2 3FG 9-13 FT), but he did little to create anything for his teammates. This has often been the problem for the Bucks this year and doesn’t look like one that will be going away any time soon.
- Speaking of Bogut, his field goal percentage remained an issue (just five of 14 from the field), but he seemed to have figured things out a bit from the stripe. The same guy who shot just five of 16 on free throws against the Magic hit on seven of 10 against the Pacers Wednesday night. Obviously things aren’t going to go so well every night, but at least there is some hope that Bogut can be effective at the line. We’re not dealing with a Shaq type situation here. Bogut finished with 17 points and was a big part of the offensive rebound parade, with four of his 11 rebounds coming on the offensive end.
There’s been quite a momentum push behind the whole, “Roy Hibbert is really good” thing. And hey, he’s having a nice little season. But Bogut is the best defensive center in the NBA not named Dwight Howard, and don’t you forget it. Hibbert didn’t do the high post work that he was so successful with against Milwaukee when the Bucks visited Indiana, he didn’t do a lot of scoring and he did virtually no rebounding. Bogut played no small role in limiting Hibbert to 13 points and five rebounds. So let’s all just pump the brakes ever so slightly when talking about Hibbert being better than Bogut like it’s some foregone conclusion.
- Milwaukee won the rebounding battle 50-37 (19-5 OREB). Ilyasova attributed the rebounding differential at least partly to the Pacers double teaming Bogut. “When they start to double team Bogues (Bogut) in the post, they are short on the glass and I try my best when I step out on the floor,” he said.
There’s always the school of thought that a win like this one, an emotional buzzer beater that unifies a team in celebration at the end of a game, means more than the average win. I’m not so certain that there is much substance behind that belief, but at the very least, it feels good to look at a Bucks team that has now won two out of three games against teams with winning records coming in. No, the Magic didn’t have four of their rotation players and yes, it took a tap in at the buzzer in a home game to down the Pacers, but for a 7-13 … ahem … 8-13 team, a win is a win. Even if it only counts as one.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).