Stopping Steve Nash was at the forefront of Scott Skiles mind before the Bucks game Friday night against the Phoenix Suns.
“You gotta stop Steve,” Skiles said. “That’s the main thing you gotta do. You gotta commit to getting him stopped. Steve has a way of getting in there, dribbling around and finding somebody.”
For one half, the Milwaukee Bucks succeeded at slowing the future Hall of Famer. Alas, things changed in the second half. Milwaukee could not prevent Nash from penetrating and drawing defenders, allowing his teammates to spot up around the arc with open looks. Time after time, the Suns converted on their open opportunities while the Bucks faced the same struggles that have plagued them all season long on the other end.
“We were okay in the first half, we had pretty good active hands,” Skiles said after the game. “In any NBA game, if those two things are happening at the same time if you’re going 11 or 12 possessions without a basket and you’re also kind of caving in on the other end, it’s going to be disastrous.”
A 19-0 Phoenix run that spanned longer than six minutes would ultimately be too much for the Bucks to overcome. Milwaukee saw a 48-45 halftime lead turn into a 76-63 deficit after three quarters and finally, a 102-88 loss in the end.
After one quarter, know that the point guard matchup was firmly in favor of the Milwaukee Bucks. Brandon Jennings outscored Nash 11-0, while committing zero turnovers to Nash’s five. The game appeared so promising for Milwaukee at that point, and especially so for their young point guard. The narrative would soon take a swift and unpleasant turn. While Jennings could do little else than miss shots of all sorts, Nash orchestrated a potent Phoenix offense that took control of the game in the third quarter.
At the end of one half, Jennings had 13 points and one assist without committing a turnover. Nash had two points, five assists and seven turnovers.
At the end of the game, Jennings had just 16 points and one assist with two turnovers. Nash finished with eight points, 13 assists and those same seven turnovers he had from the first half.
- It was one of those weird nights for Larry Sanders. This isn’t necessarily a terrible things. Some nights aren’t weird for Sanders, they are just bad. That’s the kind of night he had against the Bulls last Saturday. He was pushed around, out of place and ineffective. It’s not that he didn’t have those moments on Friday against the Suns, he just didn’t have them as often. Sanders was able to get in by the rim for a few dunks and showed off his passable mid-range jumper with fair results. His action was limited largely to the first half after some foul trouble. He finished with 10 points on five of 10 shooting and five rebounds.
- Earl Boykins again sparked the Bucks late. He chipped in eight points, three assists and two steals in the game’s final quarter. He’s likely Milwaukee’s best shooter and when he gets in space is very effective. He isn’t always great at setting teammates up, but he seemed to be especially decisive and quick with passes Friday night. He finished with 14 points and three assists on the night.
- Since the Suns scored a lot of points, it seems likely they probably killed Milwaukee on the fastbreak, eh? Not so. The Bucks outscored the Suns 16-5 in fastbreak points, largely because of all of the turnovers Milwaukee forced in the first half. The Bucks scored 11 of their fastbreak points in the first half, as the suns turned it over eight times.
The Suns made it look so easy in the second half, but a lot of that had to do with how willing they are to share the ball. It’s not all just Steve Nash. While he often starts their offense, his teammates make quick passes to open guys and know it could come back. There’s not much dribbling and there is a lot of shooting. Milwaukee just wasn’t quick enough to follow that ever moving basketball on Friday.
- As is the case with his aforementioned offense, Sanders doesn’t quite have all the answers on defense just yet either. He struggled with both help defense and the Nash/Channing Frye pick and pop. He helped into the paint looking for blocked shots a bit too often early, leaving Frye to bomb away from the perimeter. Once Frye had established himself as a threat, he used some pump-fakes and jabs to get Sanders off balance and allow himself open shots. Frye finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
The Suns put on a clinic in ball movement and making shots, so at least the Bucks got to see those things are possible. Milwaukee had just 13 assists on 35 made shots, while the Suns managed 26 on 38 makes. As the Bucks dribbled and dribbled, the Suns moved the ball fluidly throughout the court. That alone is a good explanation of why one team is closing in on a playoff spot in a deep conference and why the other is treading water in a shallow one.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).