“We’ve been concentrating on trying to get John(Salmons) going, for lack of a better way of phrasing it,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said last Saturday night. “Trying to get him in tune offensively, things like that. The other night, when John starts one for five or one for six, and then goes out, the thought process is, we’d like to get John back in there a little bit quicker than if John was four for six.”
Every man, and coach it seems, has his breaking point though. At some point, wins and team success take precedent over trying to get one player going. Milwaukee had been force feeding Salmons for some time, partly in order to apparently get him going, and partly because, with Luc Mbah a Moute playing the three, there just was no other option.
So while it was surprising, it made sense that Skiles seemed to have reached that point in a game he must have sensed was winnable Monday night. In Milwaukee’s 103-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Coach Skiles did something he rarely does unless an injury occurs: he changed his second half lineup. To the bench went Mbah a Moute and into the lineup came Chris Douglas-Roberts. CD-R was on the court when the Bucks saw a 20-point deficit shrink to just nine at halftime and gave the Bucks a creator on the opposite side of Salmons who struggled through a one for four first half. Finally, the pressure to do it all on the wing was off of Salmons. In addition, CD-R got an opportunity to shine.
And shine he did, scoring the first five points of the third quarter, a quarter the Bucks would win by 10. And just like that, Milwaukee had more than enough confidence in themselves to step toe-to-toe with the Mavericks, proud owners of a 12-game winning streak coming into Monday night. It’s amazing what a little confidence can do for a team.
While the Mavs could have been proud of their winning streak coming into the game, the Bucks had to be a bit embarrassed by their offense before Monday night, the worst in the league and one of the worst the NBA has ever seen. But they showed signs of life in Friday’s tiff with the Rockets and after a shaky first half against the Mavericks, recaptured that good form. The ball moved, players played crisp and, finally, shots went in. Milwaukee hit 47.6% of their shots and a sizzling, and kind of remarkable, nine of their 13 3-point attempts. Most importantly, the Bucks refused to get down after their own misses and rallies from the Mavericks.
After taking a one-point lead into the fourth quarter, Milwaukee trailed by five with 6:47 to go. Seemingly more unified and aggressive than ever, Milwaukee proceeded to outscore the Mavs 20-11 to close the game, with each field goal made either being a dunk, layup or assisted 3-pointer. The offensively challenged group that couldn’t make a shot or even get a good look looked like a thing of the past. When the Bucks move the ball and are hitting their shots, they bare little resemblance to that squad that skidded to start this season.
And a second half lineup that took some of the creating pressure off John Salmons played no small role in the success of the suddenly new look Milwaukee Bucks Monday night.
For once, Brandon Jennings was the passer everyone wants him to be again. Thanks in part to his teammates hitting shots and his own vision that isn’t always on display, Jennings tallied up 10 assists to go with 23 points on nine of 19 shooting (3-4 3FG 2-2 FT). Jennings certainly had hearts in Milwaukee pounding late in the fourth quarter though. After hitting an incredibly difficult step back jumper from long 2-point range to put the Bucks up five with just over 1:30 to go, Jennings settled for two more long twos as the game wound down, unsurprisingly missing both. The shots were a blessing and a curse.
It’s great that Jennings has the confidence to take big shots late in a game and everyone is more at ease with him shooting these shots when he’s having as good a shooting night as he was Monday, but long twos are not his forte, nor most other players in the league. With Andrew Bogut having fouled out and Tyson Chandler roaming the paint, it wasn’t going to be easy for Jennings to get inside, but Milwaukee won’t often outlast opponents if these are the best shots they get late. Even so, Jennings had a spectacular floor game and gave yet another flash of the player that could really help get Milwaukee to that next level they desire to be on.
- Playing against a veteran Dallas squad, Milwaukee’s bench stepped up in a big way. With Larry Sanders and Mbah a Moute too inexperienced (Sanders) or offensively challenged (Mbah a Moute) to be trusted with big minutes, four Bucks reserves saw 20+ minutes. Keyon Dooling responded with 16 points (including a three for four effort on threes!), CD-R totaled 14 points and five rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova dropped 12 points while posting a +20 plus/minus on the evening. Milwaukee needed everything out of their second unit and thrived when Ilyasova and CD-R joined the Jennings/Salmons/Bogut trio.
- Bogut must really like Dallas, because a season after tearing them up for 30+ points, he missed just two of his 12 shot attempts Monday. Bogut scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, despite seeing his free throw problems again rear their ugly head in a minor way (1-6 FT). Most impressive on the night for Bogut, at least offensively, was his perfect eight for eight effort at the rim.
It’s funny when the shoe is on the other foot sometimes. While many complained about Stan Van Gundy’s hacking tactics against Bogut, I’m sure many of those same people saw no problems with it when Milwaukee chose to put Brendan Haywood on the line in the fourth quarter. Having hit just nine of 34 free throws coming into the game, Haywood fared no better against the Bucks, missing each of his four fourth quarter attempts before leaving the game for good. But Milwaukee did not really need to rely on trickery to stop Dallas’ offense – just Andrew Bogut. Tyson Chandler may be getting a lot of love around the league for what he’s done in Dallas’ zone defense, but Bogut was the best defensive big on the court Monday by a long shot. His steal and breakaway dunk four minutes earlier may have looked cooler, but no play was bigger than the charge Bogut drew on Jason Terry with 1:25 to go and the Bucks nursing a five point lead.
- True to form, Milwaukee ran Dallas’ best shooters off the 3-point line all night, as Deshawn Stevenson failed to attempt a three and Caron Butler missed each of the four he tried. Opponents have shot just 35% on 3-pointers against the Bucks this season and Dallas came in well below that hitting just a quarter of their threes (5-20).
- When things looked their bleakest during the game, it was usually because Dirk Nowitzki was doing something awesome. Dirk scored 30 points on 12 of 24 shooting (3-6 3FG 3-3 FT) and it looked for a second like he was about to take the Bucks back in a time machine. His impossible looking fadeaway jumper beat the Bucks in overtime last season and he had an even better look to tie the game with :11 to go in regulation this season, but failed to convert on the 8-footer. The defense was there, but Dirk was shooting over and around every Buck all night. This time though, all he had left was a blank. For once.
It took most of last season until the Bucks finally got a road win they could hang their hats on, but here we are in early December and the Bucks have accomplished that task despite often being a very disappointing squad and inconsistent at home. It’s funny how things workout sometimes. I read something today that said more can be learned in a loss than in a win. In some ways, I get that. It’s easier to see what needs to be corrected when failure is attached to it. It’s hard to do the same thing over and over if the results aren’t what’s desired. But here are the Bucks, doing lots of the same things they’ve been doing and suddenly achieving drastically different results. We can certainly learn something from this win that’s the same thing we’ve learned in many losses: when the Bucks are making shots, they are a pretty good team.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather that lesson continued to be taught in wins.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).