John Salmons isn’t a very emotional basketball player. You’ll hardly ever see him crack a smile on the court and when he’s vehemently protesting a call, as he sometimes does, it’s only when he swears he was fouled. This side of Salmons carries over into the locker room before and after games as well. He’s a thoughtful guy, but typically speaks in a hushed voice while refraining from getting too high or too low with his comments after games.
Things were a little different after Wednesday’s heartbreaking, and possibly back breaking with regards to the Bucks playoff hopes, 97-90 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
After a three of 14 shooting effort that produced just eight points, Salmons remained in uniform, sitting in front of his locker as the media entered. Teammates moved about the room, heading towards the showers, returning from them, dressing. But Salmons just sat. He stared straight ahead, awaiting the throng of questions regarding his and the team’s poor performance. Often players look like the last thing they want to do is answer questions after games, but that didn’t seem to be what was on Salmons mind. His look was more of the devastated variety.
As us reporters ticked off questions, Salmons grew quieter than usual. This wasn’t just a man whose team had lost a game, this was a man who looked defeated.
“We didn’t play with enough intensity and enough urgency like we have been,” he said. “I think we thought we could just flip the switch on this team. They kept playing hard, they kept hitting shots and we couldn’t get stops at the end. I don’t think they came out with a lot of energy, it’s just, we didn’t.”
Salmons then took a deep breath, gathering any remaining air that hadn’t been knocked out of him with it and responded to a questioner asking how perplexing it was that the team had such little fight in it given the enormity of Wednesday night’s game.
“It’s a shame.”
Despite his disappointment, Salmons wasn’t ready to turn off the lights on the season.
“We not gonna give up. We got a lot of character guys on this team, so we not gonna give up. Too close to give up, you never know what can happen.”
Salmons wasn’t the only member of the Bucks back court to struggle. In fact, Salmons three made shots were the most of any guard on the Bucks Wednesday night. Brandon Jennings finished two for seven from the field, missing all three of his three-point attempts on his way to a six point night. Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins combined to make three of 13 shots off the bench. The lack of production from Bucks guards was damning when compared with the Kings. Sacramento’s starting back court of Marcus Thornton and Beno Udrih combined for 52 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds. Salmons and Jennings combined for 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
- But for as bad as things went, Milwaukee still had a chance late. Down two with 43.9 seconds left, Milwaukee prepared a Jennings/Andrew Bogut pick and roll on the right wing, as they had so many times before. Only this time, things went wrong. Bogut was called for a moving screen, much to the dismay of Bucks fans. While the turnover didn’t put the Bucks out of it (an offensive rebound by the Kings on the next possession would do that), it was another uncharacteristic turnover for the Bucks. They finished with 14.
- The last thing on anyone’s mind after the first quarter, was a Bucks loss. Milwaukee made 65% of its shots in the first, jumping out to a 32-25 lead over their visiting opponents. Carlos Delfino scored 12 in the first and had 22 at half. During a dormant Bucks third quarter, Delfino attempted just one shot, while failing to score. He’d pour in eight more in the fourth and finish with his second career 30-point effort and second in as many games. Delfino made a career best 12 shots from the field on 20 attempts and five of nine threes.
- Bursts of energy didn’t come often for the Bucks, but Larry Sanders was behind many of them. Earlier this season, Scott Skiles said he wanted to see Sanders make more than one play. He was too often making one nice play, then feeling good about himself and maybe not getting into the right position or making the right play the next time down the court. So it was encouraging to see Sanders’ run from 2:53 to 1:05 in the third quarter. Sanders crashed the offensive board to tip in a shot, grabbed a strong, two-handed defensive rebound, made an 18-foot jumper and then stole a pass, went coast-to-coast and finished while absorbing contact on the break. Over this stretch, the Bucks went from down six to up one. The lead wouldn’t hold, but Sanders progress showed.
And here was the real problem for the Bucks. We know the Bucks can play some defense, we’ve seen it all season. But if Wednesday night was anyone’s first exposure, they would have thought the Bucks were a finesse group, hell bent on out shooting teams. Milwaukee allowed 17 Sacramento offensive rebounds and watched the Kings make 44.6% of their shots on the night. Sacramento got into the paint and finished with dunks and layups time and again, out-scoring the Bucks 54-34 in the paint.
- Thornton can play. Sacramento’s mid-season acquisition was all over the court, making jumpers, threes and getting to the basket for dunks and free throws. One particularly noteworthy play from the 6-foot-4 guard came on a break away. With Larry Sanders trailing, ready for a block, Thornton cocked back and threw down a hammer dunk, ensuring there would be no block and that the Kings were serious about winning this game. More often than not, Thornton appeared to be the best player on the court. He finished with 27 points on nine of 19 shooting.
With the Indiana Pacers having won, the Bucks now sit three games back from the final playoff spot with 12 games to go. Milwaukee travels to New York for a game Friday and then takes on conference leading Chicago Saturday night. Each game is as important as the next the rest of the way out, as the Bucks have an awful lot of group to make up in a short period of time. The team says they’ll keep fighting, but all the fight in the world may not make a difference now.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).