For the Bucks to score consistently and be a good offensive team in general, someone different has to step up every game. That was the line on the Bucks earlier this season. Since then, things have kind of went awry and rather than having someone step up every night, more often than not, no one has.
That’s the drawback to the Bucks model. Players that aren’t stars won’t be as consistent about getting it done every night. But with so many options, the theory went, everyone wouldn’t be off every night and that would balance out the inconsistencies. But there has been no balance. Just a lot of missed shots all season.
But Wednesday night? Wednesday night was a little bit more like the Bucks expected this season. It seemed to be the exception to a season long funk. But then reality set in. At about the same time it always does for the Bucks. Late in the fourth quarter.
With 4:22 remaining, Milwaukee scored points 85 and 86 on a John Salmons jumper. That would be their final field goal. Only one Andrew Bogut free throw down the stretch prevented the Bucks from going scoreless, as they blew a lead that was as large as five points in the fourth quarter in a 94-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night.
Milwaukee missed its final 10 shots as the Nuggets slowly pulled away. The Bucks saw their shooting percentage plummet from 44.3% to their final total of 38.8%. It was a scene all too familiar to Bucks fans, even though the rest of the game seemed to be a revolution.
Brandon Jennings and Bogut were unable to find their form early, at halftime, late or ever, but players around them rose to the challenge. Salmons in particular seemed to seize the ESPN spotlight before Milwaukee melted down. Salmons finished with his highest scoring total as a member of the Bucks, 33 points.
At about the same time he seems to do so annually, Salmons has begun to look like the guy the Bucks traded for last February. Against the Nuggets, all those shots that had been rimming out earlier this season found the bottom of the net. The more they did, the more confident Salmons looked. There was no hesitation by the fourth quarter. He attacked the hoop not worrying about anyone on the Nuggets impeding his progress and, most importantly, he finished. At least until the finish.
Like his teammates, Salmons couldn’t find the touch down the stretch. He finished his strong game by missing his final four shots in the last four minutes. Prior to that, Salmons combined solid defense on one end with correct basketball plays on the other.
And when the correct play was to pass it off, the ball often found its way into the hands of Corey Maggette. As it so often does. And as he always does, Maggette knew what to do with it. The Bucks forward scored 16 points off the bench in his return from a back strain that held him out of Milwaukee’s victory over the Clippers.
Thanks to the heavy lifting from Salmons and Maggette, Milwaukee was able to stay close and hold a lead for a large part of the game, even though their two stars didn’t shine. Ultimately though, Milwaukee will only go as far as Bogut and Jennings take them. The building blocks combined to shoot just two for 18 from the field, scoring seven points and turning the ball over four times. All season the Bucks have been waiting for players to step up, and on a night when two did, the two guys the Bucks most rely on took a step back.
That about sums this season up.
Once again, the ball freely moved throughout the Bucks offense. So often this season, the Bucks offense has been bogged down with too much dribbling and not enough movement. But the Bucks crisply passed the ball from strong side to weak side, corner to corner, all over the court on Wednesday. And as they did against the Clippers, the made shots followed along for the majority of the night. This may make Bucks fans quiver, but it was Earl Boykins at the controls when the Bucks were playing their best. Jennings re-entered for Boykins with 3:16 remaining and the Bucks up one. He was unable to direct the offense as effectively as Milwaukee’s third string scoring guard.
The directing problem was most evident when Jennings spent the majority of one possession dribbling, before firing up a fadeaway jumper that missed everything as the shot-clock expired.
- Despite making some shots, the Bucks failed to make many threes. Milwaukee finished just 3-23 from distance.
No team in the NBA wants to let a scorer like Carmelo Anthony get going early. Unfortunately, the Bucks allowed just that against Denver. With Ersan Ilyasova out nursing an eye injury, Luc Mbah a Moute was forced to slide on down to the four, largely keeping him from manning up with ‘Melo early. And the big scoring forward took advantage. He scored 12 points in the first quarter and 21 in the first half.
By the fourth quarter, Maggette slid down to the four on defense and Mbah a Moute was back hounding ‘Melo as he always does. But a scorer like Anthony will get his if he’s allowed a good start. Anthony finished with 38 points and 12 rebounds (seven of which came in the fourth quarter)
- So Bogut was awful on offense, we have established that. But the big man still did his part on the defensive end and on the glass. Despite scoring just those three measly points, Bogut finished with 20 rebounds, his third 20+ rebounding game this year. In some ways, this game from Bogut was a perfect game to summarize this Bucks season on national television. He looks like a legit defensive player of the year candidate very often, just like the Bucks look like one of the league’s best defensive teams. But, um, he is a center and made one of seven shots and scored three points. That’s often going to be the difference between winning and losing.
Milwaukee’s playing better basketball right now than they have for most of the season. That’s a good thing. They aren’t good at closing out games and haven’t been all season. That’s a bad thing. The All-Star break is here and the Bucks are 13 games under .500. That’s a bad thing. Milwaukee lost eight of 10 heading into the break. That’s a bad thing. Separately, players have been talking for some time about “now” being the time when they need to make a run. That “now” started after a home game against San Antonio last month and has now extended to Wednesday evening. At some point “now” will pass the Bucks bye.
It may already have.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).