When glancing at the final box score from the Milwaukee Bucks 110-95 victory over the New Jersey Nets Friday night, it’s easy to be deceived. Seeing a typically punchless offensive team like the Bucks suddenly put up 110 points on 56.8% shooting is strange. Seeing Brandon Jennings tally 10 assists isn’t a common sight. It would be very easy to look at this box score and think the Bucks did some very different things against the Nets.
It would also be very wrong.
Virtually the only thing that separated the Bucks of Friday night and the Bucks that scored 56 points in a game less than a week earlier was the ability to make shots and turn the corner while running pick and rolls.
The leading shot makers on Friday were Carlos Delfino and John Salmons. Delfino spent most of the evening camped out in his two favorite spots, the left and right corners of the court, and made the Nets pay for sagging off of him to help on penetration or being late to rotate on ball swings by hitting eight of 11 three-point attempts, a new career high. When Delfino wasn’t getting looks from the corners, Salmons was doing a lot of what he’s done all season, with one difference.
Salmons took the same difficult looking leaners and pull-up jumpers he’s taken all season while mixing in a few strong drives all the way to the basket. The big difference for him against the Nets was that the shots that have been rimming out so often for him this year found the bottom of the net. Salmons made 11 of 16 shots, scored 25 points, handed out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds. Milwaukee improved to 12-6 when Salmons hands out at least five assists.
It hasn’t been rocket science trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Bucks. The team shoots a league worst 42.7% from the field. When Milwaukee makes shots, it transforms from a bottom tier team to a moderately dangerous one. And that’s what the Bucks were Friday night.
When Delfino and Salmons are making shots, it certainly makes Jennings look better. Not that Jennings’ 16 points on seven of 14 shooting wasn’t important, but when the Bucks offense is operating at its best, it’s often when the wings are carrying the scoring load. And it boosts those lagging Jennings assist totals. This was the fourth game this season in which Jennings had 10 assists and in three of those games, Delfino has made five threes or more. Given Jennings role in the offense, swinging to a shooter is often his best bet to tally an assist. Though it doesn’t hurt when big men roll to the basket with a purpose on pick and rolls.
On back to back possessions early in the fourth quarter, Jennings began the play awaiting a Luc Mbah a Moute screen, penetrated off of it and found a rolling Mbah a Moute for a layup. Jennings can make these passes, but it’s important that the Bucks bigs get themselves in a position to receive them. That’s not always the case.
- All five Bucks starters shot better than 50% from the field and scored in double figures. I won’t be so bold as to say that’s the first time that’s happened this season without doing the research, but I will say that hasn’t been a common sight in Milwaukee this season.
It was a night when the Bucks didn’t need as much defense as they usually need, which was good, because the team didn’t play as much defense as it usually plays. The Nets tallied 95 points and shot 44.3%, both totals a bit on the high side for Milwaukee opponents. But the main focus for Milwaukee was slowing an injured Deron Williams, making sure he didn’t combine great scoring with great facilitating. And Milwaukee succeeded there. Williams was just four of 13 from the field and while he dished out nine assists, he was forced into five turnovers as well. The Bucks largely kept him out of the paint and unable to kick out to shooters.
- Brook Lopez had a very Lopezy game. 25 points on 11 of 21 shooting and just four rebounds. In his defense, there weren’t many rebounds to be had with the Bucks shooting so well, but it seems like he has a tendency to be drifting away from the hoop when he shoots on offense, possibly limiting the offensive rebounds he could accumulate.
That was one the Bucks had to have, and one they expected to get. Milwaukee has now defeated the Nets on eight consecutive occasions. There is no prize for such domination of one team, but it’s another possible morale booster in a season without many of those. Whether or not the team will be able to carry their shot making over into Sunday’s battle with the Knicks will likely determine that outcome and the relevance of this game as well.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).