It was tough to watch the Chicago Bulls dominate the Milwaukee Bucks down the stretch last Saturday. But hey, that’s what the Bulls do. They are the best defensive team in the league and have the leading MVP candidate on their side. Beating them is a tough task for any team, even one throwing everything it had at them simply to stay in the playoff race. After that loss, it seemed like the Bucks may still be trending positively. Giving the Bulls all they could handle seemed like a good thing, even if the offense imploded in the end again. But that had a lot to do with that stingy Bulls defense, right?
Wrong. When the offense stalls for the Bucks, it still has a lot more to do with the Bucks than it has to do with any other team. Milwaukee reminded us all that much down the stretch of their 87-86 loss at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night.
The Bucks missed their final 11 shots and failed to score over the last 3:51. But if you’ve kept up with the Bucks this season, none of that will surprise you. Finding someone to score late in the fourth quarter when defensive intensity picks up has been a problem for the Bucks all season. Once reliable John Salmons has vanished, and without him, the Bucks have been lost. Monday night, it was Brandon Jennings’ turn to take on the late game scoring responsibilities. And his heartbreaking final 15 seconds aptly summed up his entire fourth quarter performance.
In the fourth quarter, Jennings made two of 12 shots, scored seven points and led the Bucks right out of the playoffs. Do I blame him for this? Not really. It shouldn’t be on a 21-year-old, second year, moderately talented point guard to lift a franchise into the playoffs. Jennings took responsibility during the game because that’s the kind of player he is. Don’t think for a second Jennings didn’t think he was going to make each and every shot he took in that fourth quarter. He was trying to will his team to victory, that’s a great quality to see in a young player.
Obviously his performance wasn’t on par with his mentality. But that’s to be expected of a developing player. The true tragedy in yet another Bucks collapse was that the team had to rely on Jennings because his fellow guards are so unreliable. 73 games into the season and Milwaukee still isn’t sure where it can go when it needs a bucket. Forget the injuries, forget scheduling, forget the first few quarters, that’s the most damning thing about these Milwaukee Bucks.
The question that can be asked after the Bucks blew their nine point fourth quarter lead though is a big one: What happened to Andrew Bogut? Milwaukee’s center was feasting on an undersized Bobcats front line throughout the game. After three quarters, Bogut had 26 points on 13 of 17 shooting. With no Kwame Brown, DeSegana Diop or Joel Przybilla, the ‘Cats were forced to sick the slender Tyrus Thomas and the portly Boris Diaw on Bogut. And, as he should have, Bogut dominated. Until the fourth quarter.
Bogut attempted just two shots in the fourth, as the Bucks stopped riding him. Why? Perhaps Jennings got a little shot happy. Perhaps Bogut’s free throw issues this season make him an unreliable late game option. I have no idea. But seeing Bogut attempt just two shots in the fourth quarter was a bit gut-wrenching in this match-up. Bogut finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
- He’s back. After much speculation on when Michael Redd would return, the one time All-Star played his first game in over a year against the Bobcats in Charlotte on Monday. Coach Scott Skiles had been non-committed on exactly when Redd would get back in a game, only saying it would depend on the flow of each game. After Milwaukee’s guards did little off the bench Saturday against the Bulls, Redd was the first guard off the bench, entering the game for Salmons with 9:53 to play. Redd looked spry and shocked a nation by failing to hit a shot, but passing out four assists. It will be more than a little interesting to see how Redd’s situation plays out over the next few weeks. If he somehow shows the ability to be a reliable late game scorer again, that would be a fitting end to a spectacularly bizarre season.
- Despite Redd’s return, the Bucks again got very little from their bench. Bucks reserves scored just nine points on four of 18 shooting. Drew Gooden, playing in his first game since late January, made just one of six shots, grabbed four offensive rebounds and eight rebounds total. How does that work out, you ask? Despite those offensive boards, four of Gooden’s six attempts were from beyond 17-feet. He missed all four.
As usual, Milwaukee’s defense gave them a chance to win. Charlotte scored 14 points in the paint in the first quarter, but Milwaukee used their significant size advantage and made them earn it from outside after that, allowing just 18 more points in the paint the rest of the way. That size difference came in handy on the glass as well, as the Bucks out-rebounded the ‘Cats, 46-37.
- But late, the Bobcats made their shots. Gerald Henderson scored Charlotte’s final seven points, including back to back jumpers off pin down screens that Milwaukee simply couldn’t stop. Henderson caught and shot immediately after coming around screens on his last two jumpers that put Charlotte down one and then up one. There was no hesitation or doubt in Henderson’s mind. It’s great to see that out of anyone, but it’s better when they combine that with a made shot. Charlotte did that, Milwaukee didn’t.
Three games out of the playoffs, nine games to play.
Three games out of the seventh pick in the draft with nine games to play.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).