Wins over the Wizards and Cavaliers certainly were necessary, but did little to convince that the Bucks were really serious about this whole playoff push thing. After all, they’ve been saying for the better part of two months that, “now” was the time to start winning games. “Now” seemed to be something they couldn’t catch, but could only chase.
But suddenly, after a very convincing 102-74 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night, it’s worth considering if “now’ is, well, now.
This wasn’t the Bucks group that stumbled and struggled to a 25-38 record. This was a crisp squad, playing well against a hot Sixers team. Philly had won seven of nine coming into the Bradley Center Saturday night, but found a Bucks team not phased by their streaking ways. On the contrary, the Bucks looked determined to put down an opponent that had been nothing but trouble for them both times they had played earlier this season.
Milwaukee’s passes all seemed to have a purpose Saturday, some meaning behind them. When players caught, they did so with an idea in mind and acted, instead of aimlessly dribbling. Whenever Milwaukee’s been at their best this season, it’s been when they didn’t waste time dribbling to nowhere. That was the Bucks on Saturday night, the team that shot 56.4% in the first half and 52.6% for the night.
Brandon Jennings was a shining example of Milwaukee’s resurrected offense in the first half, just as he’s been a common scapegoat when the team struggles. Jennings made four of five first half threes, with all four coming off catch and shoots. The one miss Jennings had was a late in the shot-clock forced airball. Typical of their successes, typical of their struggles.
It’s funny how the Bucks defense is almost taken for granted at this point, but it’s been so reliable all season. Nothing changed against the Sixers in that regard. Milwaukee choked the life out of their opponent. But stepping on the opposition’s throat has been the problem for this team all season. If they can string together a few more offensive efforts like the one they had against Philly, suddenly it may not seem like such a challenge anymore.
One of the reasons behind the wandering nature of Milwaukee’s offense this season has been the health problems that have so often limited Andrew Bogut. Without a key cog in their offense, the players are operating with a much less assured nature than they were last season. Last season, so many plays started inside with Bogut and either worked back out to the perimeter or ended in a bucket for Bogut. Not so this season.
Bogut was able to get going on Saturday. After a rather run of the mill first half, Bogut broke out a bit in the third. At least when compared to his recent outputs. Bogut scored 11 third quarter points, including an alley-oop in which he skied in from what appeared to be well outside of his general dunking comfort zone. He kept the Sixers off balance with a number of the shifty post moves we grew accustomed to seeing last season. A sign that it’s been a while for Bogut and those moves was the four turnovers, including two travels and a three in the key that he had in the quarter. But the good outweighed the bad. Bogut finished Saturday’s game with 17 points and nine rebounds on seven of 12 shooting. He went three of five at the line.
- Always the contributor of “the little things” that really aren’t so little, Luc Mbah a Moute had a field day on the offensive glass against the Sixers. Milwaukee’s slender but sturdy power forward had six offensive rebounds Saturday and 12 rebounds total. Milwaukee was getting, and making, as many good shots as they have all season Saturday, but on the occasions in which they didn’t, it was usually Mbah a Moute there to bail them out.
- Four was the magic number for the Bucks bench. Each reserve that scored, Earl Boykins, Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Larry Sanders made four shots.
Milwaukee forced 21 Philadelphia turnovers on Saturday, resulting in 28 points. Coming into the game, the Sixers had averaged just 13 turnovers per game, a number they nearly eclipsed before half time when they fumbled away 12. This has actually been something of a trend for the Bucks of late. Milwaukee has forced an average of 19 turnovers per game over their past four games after Saturday. Earlier this season, Coach Skiles harped on his team’s inability to turn those opportunities into points. He was singing a different tune Saturday night.
“We’re making some better decisions,” Skiles said post game. “We’re trying to finish a little bit stronger, kind of taking the hits. Tonight we had some three-point plays, we went in a little bit more aggressively, a little bit more athletic. We’ve done a better job of that the past two or three games.”
- When a team is racking up all those turnovers, someone has got to be on the receiving end of more than a few, right? Right. Mbah a Moute and Carlos Delfino led the way with five and four steals respectively. This has become a bit more commonplace for those two lately. Over his last five games, Mbah a Moute has 13 steals, while Delfino has a whopping 16 over his past six. Milwaukee had 16 steals on the night as a team.
- Sanders five blocks were his most in a game since his famed eight block effort in Denver earlier this season. He’s now played in seven consecutive games and averaged better than 24 minutes per game over that stretch.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This game meant a lot more to the Milwaukee Bucks than it did to the Philadelphia 76ers, a team on the second night of a back-to-back with a firm hold on a playoff spot well ahead of their Saturday night opponent. Dinner for Philly was Boston on Friday, a win in Milwaukee would merely have been dessert.
It feels good to have watched Milwaukee string together three straight double-digit victories while the teams directly ahead of them blow game after game, but there is still much work to be done for these Bucks. They are on track, but they’ve gotten off so many times before this season. A win in Boston would be great Sunday night, but it’s not all together necessary. What Milwaukee needs is another strong performance, something to let them know they can do this.
Because it is suddenly starting to seem that way.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).