Oh, what a tease.
After months of injuries, underwhelming performances, failures to execute, missed shots and fourth quarter collapses, most people feel like they have a pretty good handle on this Bucks team. But Wednesday night’s 104-98 victory over the Toronto Raptors certainly didn’t fit the profile that’s been established.
Recent gruesome losses featuring very poor fourth quarter performances were still fresh in the minds of Bucks fans when Toronto turned a 85-80 deficit into a 88-87 lead with 4:48 left in the fourth quarter. But this time, the Bucks were able to use the same fight they had against the Bobcats and mix in enough made shots to flip the script. 35 seconds and three offensive rebounds after an Andrea Bargnani layup would put the Bucks behind, Carlos Delfino responded with a three from the corner to conclude a possession in which the Bucks went one for four with three offensive rebounds. It wasn’t so unlike the final possession against Charlotte, but it was TOTALLY unlike that final possession, in that the Bucks found a way to finish it out.
Milwaukee would feature plenty of Drew Gooden to hold the Raptors, as Gooden’s touch from long range was alive and well, but the Bucks even mixed in an Andrew Bogut right-handed hook from the paint to keep the Raptors at bay. Multiple players making shots when the Bucks needed them to be made? This group didn’t resemble the Bucks of the past week.
That’s the beauty of playing Toronto though. Milwaukee’s victory left them with a 3-0 lead over their Canadian counterparts this season. In each game Milwaukee’s offense was able to do virtually as it pleased. So when I say this game seemed a bit of a tease, I keep the Bucks-Raptors series this season in mind. The long since banished to the end of the bench Corey Maggette logged a double-double in the Bucks first trip to Toronto, a game I think of when I see Gooden score 22 points and grab 11 rebounds. Will Gooden always get looks good enough to end up six of eight from 20-feet out? Probably not, even though he’s been a good shooter on long two’s this season (45% from 16-23 feet).
So forgive me if I see this game as less proof of what a healthy Bucks team can do and more an indictment of just how bad Toronto is. That said, it’s still fun to see a victory and a team that’s working hard get a reward for their efforts.
It’s done. It has happened. Brandon Jennings has finished the month of March with a shooting percentage better than 40%. After a 25 points on eight of 18 shooting night, Jennings finished the month of March as a 40.9% shooter. This marks the second month of Jennings’s career in which he’s shot better than 40%. As the Bucks either gloriously streak towards the playoffs or humbly bow out and play out the schedule, Jennings progress is likely the most important development to pay attention to for Bucks fans. Milwaukee’s young point guard was equal parts orchestrator and scorer for the Bucks Wednesday night, mixing seven assists in with his team high point total. But the key for Jennings will be consistently finishing in the paint and knocking down open threes. If he continues to progress in those two areas, he’ll be just what the Bucks need going forward.
- It was a fairly quiet night for John Salmons, he made just two shots and attempted just six, but his drive and dish game was good as ever, and his teammates rewarded his efforts. Salmons dished out seven assists, tying Jennings for team lead on a night in which the Bucks handed out 26 helpers. Milwaukee’s a very unselfish team and that generally doesn’t change whether they are hitting shots or missing them. Wednesday night just happened to be one of those nights in which they were making their shots again, allowing their assist totals to rise.
- Michael Redd caught a pass on a kickout from Earl Boykins. Redd found Gooden, who made a sharp bounce pass to the corner back to Boykins who quickly kicked back out to an open Redd waiting on the left wing. Redd let loose on a three 447 days after he last scored a point in the NBA and once again, could find a number at the end of his line in the box score, as it dropped through the net. Redd finished two for two, scored five points and probably felt as good as anyone in the locker room at the end of the night. Congrats Mike.
- While Gooden’s offensive contributions shouldn’t be overlooked on this one night, it’s his rebounding that may matter even more. Gooden isn’t always going to be so threatening a weapon on offense, but his skills as a rebounder will likely be on display most every night when he’s healthy. It’s here that the differences between he, Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman are most glaring. Gooden’s ability to keep possessions alive offensively and close them out on defense should not be undersold. He certainly can be an effective player in the Bucks rotation going forward, for this reason alone.
An Indiana victory leaves the Bucks still three games back for the final playoff spot. The losses to Sacramento and Charlotte look worse with each passing day, especially when a look ahead at the Bucks schedule brings back-to-back road games with Orlando and Miami in sight. But yes, the Bucks cannot look so far ahead. They can only look to Indiana on Friday, the must winniest must win this season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).