Depleted opponent be damned, this game was about the Milwaukee Bucks. No one in the home locker room Saturday night was feeling bad for their flu-stricken counterparts from Orlando. Only 19 games into this young season, the Bucks have seen Andrew Bogut, Carlos Delfino, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden all miss games with injury. They’ve been out of sync on offense, sometimes incapable on defense and one of the league’s biggest disappointments.
Milwaukee was sorely in need of a performance that could give them some hope going forward. I’m not talking about one of those hollow wins like they got against the Warriors or the short-handed but more impressive win against the Bobcats. Milwaukee needed a win that gave them a formula they could replicate. With a lineup that’s as healthy as it’s been since the seventh game of the season, something needed to happen for the Bucks on Saturday night that would allow them to believe they could be the team everyone expected them to be before this season began.
Essentially, the Bucks needed the old Andrew Bogut back.
That wasn’t exactly what they got, but they’ll take the one who scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in their 96-85 victory over the Orlando Magic.
For as much as Milwauke’s offensive struggles fall on the shoulders of John Salmons and their off-season acquisitions, they fall on Bogut’s too. Not only the center, he’s the centerpiece of the franchise. Milwaukee didn’t add the Gooden’s and Maggette’s of the world to carry the load offensively this summer, they brought them on to complement their go-to-guy: Bogut. If The Elbow Explosion left Bogut incapable of progressing and being the all-star everyone hoped he’d be this year, Milwaukee’s offense wasn’t ever going anywhere, not for more than a game or two at a time at least.
Saturday though, Bogut was all he used to be and more. He started the game with his patented left-handed hook shot, and followed that up with a running layup at the hoop. After one more lefty hook came the moment of truth. He established deep position against Marcin Gortat on the right block and turned towards the baseline rather than towards the center of the court. It was time to give it a go with his right hand on a hook. Previously this season, never was it more evident that Bout was in pain than when he tried this move. He’d fail and fail, eventually shelving it and relying just on his left. Saturday though, he brought it back out and hit hit first one against Gortat, dropping the ball in gently without it touching the rim.
Bogut’s fourth quarter free throw troubles should still give fans pause, he was 5-16 in the game from the line thanks largely to a fourth quarter in which he shot just three for 10 when Magic coach Stan Van Gundy employed a foul strategy. Going forward that could be a problem that won’t go away so easily, as he’s now shooting just 42.1% on the season.
It’s a concern, but tonight is not a night for concerns. Just one for hope.
Floaters are a scheming, elusive mistress. Bogut showed a mastery of them last season in his fifth year in the league, but that was his first consistent reliable floater performance for a season. He didn’t come into the league with that shot, but he is 7-foot tall and his floaters are as much baby hooks as they are floaters. It’s not as if he’s launching himself into the air and hitting them on the run. That would be a very difficult shot. That’s the shot Brandon Jennings attempts frequently. That’s the shot that kills his shooting percentage.
And oddly enough, that’s the shot he had working for him on Saturday night. In Jennings’ better performances this season, he’s often started away bombing from deep, largely getting open 3-point looks off drive and kicks by teammates. Saturday was different. He hit two mid-range jumpers early and then connected on three floaters in the first half without missing a one of them. Down the line, it’s possible Jennings will be able to do this on a consistent basis, but that shot certainly isn’t one that he can reliably be counted on to make this season. It’s fun when he makes them though, because he’s going to attempt them either way. Not often does Jennings have strong shooting games when he isn’t hitting a good percentage of his threes, but that was the case Saturday. He finished with 27 points on 10 of 20 shooting (6-10 FT 1-5 3FG), seven rebounds and six assists (including two rare ones on the pick and roll with Bogut. A good sign).
- Bogut’s return to offensive relevance seemed to take some of the pressure off Salmons. Or maybe he was just making shots. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any indicator as to when Salmons is going to play well or miss 10 shots. He didn’t seem to be doing much different and the numbers don’t indicate that he took any shots that he doesn’t usually. He finished with 16 points on seven of 15 shooting and grabbed four steals to boot.
TWIN TOWERS!!! … but not really. Yes, Milwaukee started two players with some center-like qualities in Bogut and Larry Sanders, but can we not do this? Let’s just refrain from evoking Tim Duncan/David Robinson or Hakeem Olajuwon/Ralph Sampson memories over a fresh faced rookie and a yet to be all-star just because they are tall. That being said, the Bogut/Sanders front line has some possibilities. Coach Scott Skiles assured that Gooden would start again when he’s healthy, but more playing time for Bogut and Sanders together seems like it would be a good thing. They out-rebounded Orlando’s front line 23 to 17 and limited their shooting percentage to a collective 33% (seven of 21 FG).
- Orlando was very backup looking on Saturday. Given that four of their rotation players were at home in Florida, that makes sense. Aside from Vince Carter, everyone on Orlando had a fairly forgettable evening. I was worried about Rashard Lewis getting hot from the outside with the not-so-aware Sanders covering him, but that proved to be just a worry and not an actual problem. Lewis didn’t take advantage of what seemed to be a very good opportunity for him, shooting just six of 17, one of seven from three, in scoring 13 points.
- Whenever Milwaukee is playing the Magic, they always try and key in on the 3-point shot. They know if Orland is getting open looks they’re going to do work from the outside. Orlando was second in the league in 3-pointers attempted coming into the game Saturday and had connected on 37.5% of them. The Bucks were able to run the Magic off the 3-point line often and when they weren’t, they did a good job contesting. Orlando hit just six of 22 threes and before the fourth quarter, had only made one.
As I mentioned earlier, this wasn’t about just finding a way to win over a hurting Magic squad. Milwaukee needed to find themselves a bit and what better way to do that than by playing a team missing four of its best players. If this is the Andrew Bogut that can be expected, everything changes for Milwaukee. And it’s not out of the question to hope that Bogut can be at least a facsimile of what he was against the Magic more often than not. This is essentially the player Bogut was last season; ambidextrous on baby hooks and floaters inside 10-feet and a finisher around the hoop.
If that player takes the floor for the Bucks every night, suddenly we aren’t looking at one of the worst offensive teams of all time. That 46.8% Milwaukee shot Saturday night could become a lot more common.
And so could winning.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).