A level playing field: Bucks 99 – Mavericks 87
Finally, the injury bug bit an opponent of the Bucks, and not just the Bucks.
A Dallas team already without Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion saw Caron Butler go down in the first quarter and was unable to ever get over the hump against a competitive Bucks group that was finally making a few shots. There’s some sort of code in sports where no one is allowed to use injuries as an excuse for failure, even if they are clearly a primary culprit, but on night’s like this one in which they balance out a bit, it’s interesting to see the effects.
Milwaukee was matching up their reserves with Mavericks reserves repeatedly on the evening and that was clear in the play. Reserves are on the bench for a reason. Sometimes it’s because they are specialty players, other times it’s because they are unable to be consistent and Dallas trotted both types of players out all night. Aside from JJ Barea (29 points), Dallas’ reserves and fill-ins offered little.
Steve Novak, for as much as Milwaukee loves him, isn’t exactly striking fear into the hearts and minds of anyone around the league. Sure, he hit a three, but he also let Milwaukee wings blow by him a couple of times. Jason Terry made only three of 15 shots and big men Brendan Haywood, Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi combined for 21 largely useless minutes.
As he’s done a number of times lately, Earl Boykins led the way for the always hurting Bucks. On a collection of floaters and free throws, the guard provided the Bucks the offensive spark they needed, scoring a season high 26 points. Combined with another strong effort from John Salmons (21 points, 9-15 FG, 2-4 3FG) Milwaukee’s back court had one of their very best efforts of the season in a game that initially looked like it would be especially challenging.
Boykins and Salmons efforts were needed, as Dallas made it their goal to prevent Andrew Bogut from having much of an impact at all offensively. Dallas was often in a zone and when they weren’t, they were doubling Bogut aggressively. The Bucks center made just four of nine shots, but had a season high five assists. Typically when centers are getting assists, they’re on kickouts for open threes, but Bogut’s came in a number of different ways. One behind the back pass to Ersan Ilyasova underneath the hoop for an open layup was particularly nice, but others allowed players open shots in the paint and arc and his teammates were shooting with confidence and quickness.
- In making two of four threes Saturday, Salmons was able to boost his 3-point percentage up to 40% for the year. For a guy who has struggled as much as Salmons on a team that’s struggled as much from deep as the Bucks have, that’s a pretty big number. His shooting has been more and more reliable as the season’s gone on. The Bucks hope this a sign that the rest of his game will be taking off soon too.
- Aside from a rough stretch to close out the second quarter, Corey Maggette’s impact was generally positive, as he rebounded well (six boards) and was able to effectively get to the free throw line (5-6 FTs). One area where he’s still surprisingly struggling is at the rim. Maggette was just one of four at the rim. He’s hitting just over half his shots at the rim this season, despite traditionally making closer to two thirds of those attempts. If Maggette was able to flip this percentage closer to his typical numbers, things could turn around for him quickly.
Ilyasova grabbed a career high 17 rebounds, highlighting an impressive 51-31 rebounding edge for the Bucks. Milwaukee did a very good job of keeping on the Dallas shooters to prevent them from getting hot from outside for the majority of the evening. 3-point shooting kept Dallas in the game early, as the Mavs hit six of 13 in the first half from deep, but they hit just three of 19 threes in the second half and Milwaukee prevented them from getting many reloads.
- Dallas isn’t a huge fastbreak team like they once were (just 13.7 points on the break per game), but Milwaukee limited them even further, to just eight points on Saturday. With Jason Kidd, they always have that option available to them, as he’s a very good rebounder and can transition quickly. With so many guys hurting, Dallas could have been tempted to try and take things up a notch in transition, but the Bucks wouldn’t allow much in that regard.
Eventually Milwaukee would have to play a team as dinged up as they were, right? Maybe the Blazers were when the Bucks traveled there late last month, but Milwaukee had yet to adapt to losing Brandon Jennings at that point. Now that the Bucks have been without their point guard for a couple weeks, they know a little bit more about who they are without him and how they can be successful. Earl Boykins has picked up the majority of the slack and, on nights like Saturday, can occasionally leave the Bucks feel like they aren’t missing out on much.
For a team that’s been missing a lot all season, that’s quite a relief.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).