Okay, so maybe you’re not a Clinton Sparks fan. That’s fine. There are other ways to “get familiar.”
The Milwaukee Bucks finally looked like they had gotten familiar with each other Friday night against the Houston Rockets in their 97-91 victory. Better yet, they re-familiarized themselves with each other. A team that had looked so lost offensively for so long this season, finally resembled the cohesive group that shared the ball and scored inside and out last February.
As they often were last season, Milwaukee was led Friday night by the inside/out duo of Andrew Bogut and John Salmons. Bogut destroyed the Rockets front court trio of Chuck Hayes, Jordan Hill and Brad Miller and Salmons was able to play off his big man effectively. Bogut tallied a monstrous 24 point, 22 rebound evening while hitting on 11 of 20 shots and Salmons filled in the gaps, scoring 17 points (7-12 FG 1-1 3FG 2-4 FT), dishing five assists and grabbing six rebounds. Often in Bucks losses this season, either Bogut or Salmons and often both have left something to be desired offensively. Friday night, they carried the load late for Milwaukee.
Bogut and Salmons combined for 26 of Milwaukee’s 50 second half points. Bogut in particular had second half numbers that many centers would love to have for an entire game (15 points, 12 rebounds). This may have been a sign that the chemistry between the two is returning.
“Right before Bogues got hurt last year, I feel me and him really got into a rhythm playing with each other,” Salmons said after the game. “And I feel like today we had a similar feel. He’s like … he’s a monster out there right now.”
So long as that monster is around and Salmons reminds the world how he earned the extension he received this summer, the Bucks could continue this miniature upswing they are on. And then things will begin to feel really familiar.
The Bucks shot 48.1%, which for most teams, is a fairly good evening. For the Bucks? It’s cause for a massive celebration. The city of Milwaukee may shut down tonight. The Bucks have only shot a better percentage twice this season, eclipsing 50% in back-to-back wins over the Knicks and Hawks. Milwaukee didn’t do a lot of things differently than they have done for most of the season … except for actually making shots they’ve previously missed. The aforementioned Salmons and Bogut led the way, but Brandon Jennings had his way as well, hitting seven of 16 shots, including three of five from three en route to 19 points.
- Oddly enough, Milwaukee had one of their worst performances with regards to turnovers this season in their third best shooting performance, turning the ball over 16 times on the evening. Coach Scott Skiles wasn’t thrilled with some of what he deemed to be mental errors. “We need to play smarter,” Skiles said post-game. “We got an offensive rebound with a full shot clock, had five guys on us and tried to force it up and shoot it. Then we got one with three seconds on the clock and tried to dribble it back out. Those are the kinds of plays that we’ve got to be much smarter with the way we’re playing in order to be a really serious, competitive winning team.”
- Unpredictable has been the way of the Bucks bench this season, but they produced at a high level on Friday. Ersan Ilyasova built on his strong effort against the Pacers with a 13 point effort and Corey Maggette seamlessly fit in as he’s rarely done this year with 10 quiet, but effective points.
Prior to the game, Skiles had some nice things to say about Bogut’s defense. “I don’t really have any issues with him on that end of the floor. Such a high percentage of the time he’s in the correct place defensively for us. He’s known as a shot-blocker now and sometimes people steer clear of him a little bit.” Bogut was often in the right place on Friday, as he blocked five shots and played a role in limiting the Rockets front court to a combined 11-29 effort between Hayes, Scola, Hill and Brad Miller. Nothing was moving for the Rockets in the paint, as they shot just 21-45 in the colored area of the court and lost the battle inside the paint 56-42.
- The Rockets shot just 40.7% for the game. Bucks players have often said if they can just get their shooting percentage into the 40s and score more than 90 points, they’ll have a chance to win every night. Both missions were accomplished against the Rockets and the win they expected was delivered.
- Larry Sanders seemed as if he’d have his hands full with Scola before the game thanks to the Argentinian’s array of fakes and moves, but he did a good job of staying on the ground and not doing too much. He even took a charge after getting in the right position on one possession. Sanders finished the game with three blocks and, despite a poor offensive effort, held his own.
So long as we’re on the theme of being familiar, I can’t help but think back to when it seemed as though the Bucks found themselves last season: against the Rockets on the road. Maybe Friday’s game wasn’t the game that gets Milwaukee over the hump and playing well again, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. If Milwaukee can start to string together a few more strong efforts from Bogut and Salmons, everything else will fall into place.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).