Having had their collective backs up against the wall for most of the second half of the season, the Bucks have nightly been faced with two choices: come out fighting or find a way to move that wall back just a bit further. Unfortunately for Bucks fans, the second option has often been exercised. Tuesday night was different though. A height, experience and scoring deficient Bucks team responded to the circumstances challenges and defeated the Detroit Pistons at home, 92-90.
Without Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee was forced to rely on the inexperienced starting combination of Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman. Both played to their strengths in contributing to the win. Sanders, the prolific shot-blocker, rejected three shots while grabbing eight rebounds (seven defensive). While Sanders manned the defensive glass and patrolled the paint, Brockman was more active on offense than usual. The 6-7 power forward grabbed seven offensive rebounds and scored eight points around the hoop, including one soaring dunk that demonstrated some of the athleticism we haven’t often seen from him.
Matching Brockman’s rarely seen hops, was Milwaukee’s rarely seen fight. While the Pistons and their famously grouchy veterans largely remained nailed to the bench or slow to get up to embrace teammates or life in general, Milwaukee appeared to be a team that still has a little hop in their step, losing season or not. The difference in veterans was evident.
While Tracy McGrady watched the game with a disinterested smirk on his face and no worries about having to play, Keyon Dooling was, as he always is, the first guy out on the court during timeouts to high-five his teammates and quick to be up off the bench after big shots to celebrate. For all the talk about whether or not Coach Scott Skiles has lost his guys once again, they certainly didn’t seem like a group that had been lost, especially when contrasted to a group that certainly has.
Maybe that was the difference Tuesday night, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe Milwaukee just finally made some shots and everyone felt good about it. It could have been playing without so many key figures once again that kept the group together and gave them some energy. Whatever the case may be, Milwaukee picked up a win and, at least for one night, appeared to pick up their spirits.
It wasn’t hard to tell Milwaukee was missing some of its primary finishers at the rim on Tuesday evening. The Bucks made just 14 of 36 shots in the paint against the Pistons, good for 28 points. Meanwhile, Detroit tallied 52 paint points, easily winning that battle. Milwaukee can be credited for their ability to keep misses alive at the rim though. One possession in particular stood out. After an Earl Boykins missed layup in the second quarter, Brockman and Earl Barron combined to go one for four with four offensive rebounds on one possession. The effort was there, if not the execution. Only twice this season has Milwaukee scored fewer points in the paint in a victory.
- Brandon Jennings’s biggest play of the night came on the defensive end, but he also led the team with 21 points on eight of 19 shooting. The young guard mentioned after the game that if he was going to publicly ask for the ball, he’d have to deliver, and while the jury is still out on whether or not 21 points on 19 shots is delivering, he did more good than bad in a win. That’s all the Bucks can ask for at this point.
- Inconsistent three-point shooting has been a problem for Milwaukee, but inconsistency means there will be some better effort. Tuesday was a better effort from deep for Milwaukee. The Bucks made nine of 23 three-pointers, while Detroit connected on just four of 16.
Maybe if Will Bynum had pump-faked from the corner with 16 seconds left, we wouldn’t be talking about a Bucks victory. But Bynum loaded up from deep on an offensive rebound and tried to give the Pistons a lead, without hesitation. Jennings ran him down, leaped and rejected his shot into the stands. Given the speed Jennings was going on, there’s little doubt he would have flown by on a pump-fake, but that never appeared to be an option for Bynum. The Pistons would miss again and Jennings would seal the the game at the free throw line.
- Bogut’s absence meant there would be rebounds to be had. Brockman and Sanders each grabbed eight and Carlos Delfino chipped in with 10 of his own. Newcomer Barron made the most of his minutes as a rebounder, grabbing nine rebounds (five offensive) in 16 minutes off the bench.
A loss to the Pistons in early February seemed to signal the end of any serious playoff hopes the Bucks would have this season. This win, while satisfying as any other win, does little to change things in regard to the playoffs. It’s fun to see the Bucks win again, but the most substantial impact this game honestly has, is that it separates Milwaukee from Detroit with regard to the lottery picture. That’s the honest truth. Maybe it doesn’t matter all that much if a team is drafting 7, 8, 9 or 10, but chances got a little better, wherever the Bucks are drafting, it will be after the Pistons.