Was it or wasn’t it?
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Okay, it probably was. The reality is though, that’s not a call most officials are willing to make. They want players to play the game and decide their own fate. Fate may not have been on the Bucks side on the final play, but once again, Milwaukee played like a team that wasn’t worried about fate, or anything else, for most of the second half. Confident teams don’t have to worry.
So while Manu Ginobili‘s jumper sunk the Bucks at the buzzer in San Antonio 92-90, Milwaukee can hold their heads high as they return home. When heading out to Texas, this was a group that looked like they may have been on the verge of something. Coming back to Milwaukee is a team that knows they can compete with the best. Their record may read one win and one loss this week, but this is no .500 team.
At least the team that dominated the second half is not. As they did in Dallas, the Bucks dug themselves quite a hole against a formidable opponent. Lacking ball movement and acceptable shooting, the Bucks stumbled into halftime down 16 points and staring at a box score that showed they made just 35.7% of their shots. This was certainly not the group that had snapped the Mavericks 12-game winning streak on Monday, despite some familiar faces. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ersan Ilyasova and Keyon Dooling, all Monday heroes, were inserted into the starting lineup Wednesday, CD-R and Ilyasova due to performance and Dooling due to a John Salmons injury. Given Milwaukee’s rough first half performance, it didn’t begin as smooth as they had hoped.
Patience would prove virtuous though. Ilyasova’s jump shot was on active duty, keeping the Spurs honest and CD-R provided the offensive boost he was acquired to provide. Each scored nine in the third, including threes that cut the lead from a too big a mountain to climb 18 to a more manageable 12. Their presence around the perimeter opened up Milwaukee’s offense for Brandon Jennings to operate in the fourth quarter. Three of his seven assists came in the final quarter, as he and Drew Gooden alternated picking and rolling with picking and popping to get one open look after the next. Gooden thrived in this role with Jennings, playing his best ball since the pre-season in the fourth quarter. Gooden scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and almost did enough to get the Bucks over the edge against the team with the league’s best winning percentage.
But it was not to be. Milwaukee botched their final possession and saw the Spurs execute on theirs. Fate may not have been on their side on that final shot, but at least the Bucks gave fate a run for its money.
As long as this isn’t the first recap of mine you’ve ever read, you’ll notice that I’m for the very first time placing defense ahead of offense. Well when a player makes the kind of impact down the stretch defensively that Andrew Bogut did, this is the kind of thing that happens. I won’t even try and use one word to describe the work Milwaukee’s foundation did when the game was on the line, just know that if the people who show highlights ever wanted to see what clutch defense looks like, they would be wise to watch the tape of this game.
After a Tony Parker run out for a layup off at turnover with 4:48 to go, the Spurs would not again score in the paint. Bogut blocked their next three of their next four layup attempts and was the victim of a 50/50 call gone the way of the Spurs when he attempted to take a charge on a driving Ginobili. He was everywhere on the block late in the game. On the night, Bogut blocked seven shots, but was only able to grab seven rebounds as the Spurs shot an above average 52.2% from the field.
- As good as Bogut was defensively, Corey Maggette was bad. Okay, he wasn’t quite that bad, but he sure didn’t help his case for more minutes. In just four minutes of playing time, Maggette was ravaged on a back door cut and allowed Richard Jefferson an easy lay-in off a post up. Jefferson was kind enough to miss the bunny, but was rewarded with two free throws on a week Maggette foul. Believe it or not, he didn’t return after one stint on the floor.
Gooden came on late, but CD-R took advantage of his opportunity to start from the get-go. He is sure looking like he’ll be a great complement at the small forward position to Salmons (or in Wednesday’s case Dooling) at the two. 10 of his 21 points (8-15 FG 2-3 3FG 3-3 FT) came in the first quarter and he’s looking more and more like a player capable of making any shot on the court. Even if they are a bit unorthodox. If Stacey Augmon was the Plastic Man, then CD-R looks like something of a Rubber Man. He bends and contorts his body in all sorts of different ways around the rim to make up for a lack of off the charts athleticism, but often finds a way to get the ball through the hoop.
- Milwaukee’s best offense still runs through Bogut though. The big man made seven of his 11 shots, dropping in hooks with either hands over a number of Spurs defenders, Tim Duncan included. Better yet, Bogut’s back to making the right decisions quickly on passes inside too. He found Ilyasova inside with one particularly nice assist early in the second half and finished the game with four total.
- Having played so well offensively in the second half, it was almost criminal how poorly Milwaukee’s final offensive possession went. Milwaukee wanted to go inside to Bogut, but he was being very aggressively played by the Spurs. Jennings was forced to dribble around, seemingly out of other ideas, until he made the mistake of picking up his dribble without a plan in mind. He had to dump it off to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute with the shot-clock winding down and Mbah a Moute missed a prayer of a shot from the short corner with a defender draped all over him. It was an unfortunately indecisive finish to an otherwise crisp half.
This early in the season, a loss like this can still go down as a learning experience. Milwaukee’s rotation players are finally appearing to understand how they can best function on the court together for long stretches at a time, but there are still breakdowns now and again. Unfortunately, the Bucks have now had breakdowns in the final minute of back-to-back games. They got away with one in Dallas, as Jennings missed 20-foot jumper didn’t cost them the game with the lead, but were less fortunate in San Antonio. That’s something they’ll all think about on the way back to Milwaukee now. The question for the team becomes, what must be done to close out games successfully and play more consistent throughout a game? And that’s a much more fun question than the one they were asking a week or two ago: is the the worst offensive team of all time?
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).