This is a team that refuses to be predictable. One night after a discouraging effort in Portland, Milwaukee marched into Los Angeles and bullied around the Lakers like they were the Clippers.
And, in theme with the absurd premise of the Bucks beating the Lakers on the road, the lead bully was 5-foot-5, 135 pounds.
Earl Boykins led Milwaukee with 22 points in their 98-79 win over the Lakers, but this was done by an ensemble cast, not a man alone. Milwaukee harkened back to the brighter days of last season, moving the ball constantly (19 assists on 37 makes), hitting 3-point shots (8-14 3FG) and getting contributions from all over (four players between 15 and 22 points). And while playing as well as they had all season offensively, Milwaukee continuously stifled the vaunted Lakers offense, keeping them from the customary runs during which they pull away from opponents.
The Bucks making shots? Boykins and Keyon Dooling aptly manning the point? Kobe Bryant called for a charge and ejected on his home court? The whole night felt about as bizarro as bizarro gets.
Yes, the Lakers had just returned from a road trip and yes, they may be looking ahead to their Christmas Day matchup with the Heat, but there will be no less gleam on this gem of a game the Bucks turned in.
Obviously Boykins was a huge difference Tuesday, but he didn’t beat the Lakers all by himself. Milwaukee was committed to getting the ball to Andrew Bogut early and got some terrific results. Bogut dropped in a hook on his first possession and blew by Pau Gasol on his second for an easy dunk. He was locked in and ready to go from the tip to the final buzzer, not something that could have been said about him in Portland. Initial reaction when Jennings was gone was that Milwaukee could survive so long as Bogut played as well as he’d been playing lately. Then he struggled in Portland and I feared the worst: that Bogut without Jennings wasn’t all that great. That doesn’t appear to be the case though. Bogut still for whatever reason, occasionally has nights in which he simply doesn’t have it. That was the Andrew Bogut that came to play in Portland, the one that played in Los Angeles was the one Milwaukee will need on most nights with Jennings out.
- Ersan Ilyasova was sharp all night long, sinking long range jumpers and crashing the offensive glass. Ilyasova finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds (six offesive!). Here’s a fun stat: in the seven games Drew Gooden has not played in, Ilyasova is now averaging 13.4 points and seven rebounds per game. In the 20 games in which Gooden has played, those averages fall to 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. In the games Gooden plays, Milwaukee is 6-14. In the games Gooden sits, Milwaukee is now 5-2. Hmm.
- After a strong second half against Portland, John Salmons delivered again against the Lakers. Milwaukee’s shooting guard scored 20 points (6-14 FG, 1-3 3FG 7-9 FT), dished out six assists and helped keep Kobe Bryant from lighting up the Bucks. Salmons was relied on heavily, as Milwaukee at times featured him in lineups with the likes of Boykins, Jon Brockman, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders, but he stepped up to the challenge. Everything gets a lot easier for the Bucks when Salmons fills his role as the team’s primary perimeter threat.
Coach Scott Skiles told Charles F. Gardner after the game that the defense Milwaukee played in the second-half may have been the best defense they’ve played all season. And the stats certainly support his theory. The Lakers were held to just 33 second-half points and limited the Lakers to 79 total points, the new low-water mark for the Lakers all time against the Bucks. To have that sort of effort against a team that was the first to score 100 points in regulation against the Bucks earlier this season, is simply incredible.
- As it often does on the perimeter, Milwaukee’s defensive effort began with Mbah a Moute. While Salmons handled the Kobe duties early, it was Mbah a Moute who played a big role in frustrating the Lakers star into his ejection with roughly two minute remaining. Bryant tried time and again to bait Mbah a Moute into jumping into pump fakes or jab steps, but Mbah a Moute held his ground and patiently waited for Bryant to make an actual move. Against someone like Kobe though, luck must play a factor in stopping him. Milwaukee was the beneficiary of some good luck when Salmons fell down guarding Bryant on one play, but still stole the ball as Bryant attempted to dribble over him. The play left Bryant livid and the Bucks in control of the ball.
- Gasol is one of the league’s finest bigs, possibly the best the Western Conference has to offer. But Bogut played him to a virtual standstill Tuesday night. Gasol finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds on six of 12 shooting, while Bogut scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds on seven of nine shooting.
Now, with Sacramento on tap Thursday and three days to rest before a home and away back-to-back against the Hawks and Bulls, suddenly things don’t look quite as dreary for the Bucks. Having lost to the Lakers would have left the Bucks seven games under .500, which, as my colleague Alex Boeder at Brewhoop noted, would have been Milwaukee’s low point in the Jennings Era. Instead, Milwaukee has reason to believe they can survive, and even thrive, without Jennings.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).