(Head on over to NBAPlaybook for a breakdown of Milwaukee’s last play)
Just like that, the Bucks can now head quietly into the night. A night filled with meaningless basketball for a half month.
Everyone has spent a great deal of time focusing on Milwaukee’s questionable final 30 seconds of their 89-88 loss to the Indiana Pacers Friday night. First, Coach Scott Skiles opting not to foul with the Bucks down one with 26.7 seconds left and second, Milwaukee’s final shot, a desperation Drew Gooden three as the buzzer sounded. If you’ve watched these Bucks under Skiles for some time though, the decision not to foul shouldn’t be a surprise. So long as there is time to get off a shot, he’s rarely fouled in situations like these during his Bucks career. That didn’t leave time for anything more than a quick shot, regardless of who was going to take it, but it really isn’t even worth debating. That’s just how things will be here.
But there were far more damning aspects of Friday evening’s game.
Take the entire second quarter for example. After an okay start combined with an abysmal one from the Pacers, Milwaukee had an incredible opportunity coming into the second quarter. An eight point lead and the chance to tack some more on to try and blow this thing open before halftime. But the Bucks came out bumbling once again, making just six of 25 shots in the quarter while playing ineffective defense. They dropped the second quarter 32-17 and faced a seven point deficit going into halftime.
After the starters gave up six quick points in the third quarter, Coach Skiles went desperate, bringing in Corey Maggette, Earl Boykins and Gooden to attempt to spark a lifeless club. Regardless of how you feel about the minutes Maggette has received over the past couple weeks and your general feelings on Boykins, this was a terrible sign. In a game the Bucks absolutely had to have, Milwaukee resorted to the end of their bench minutes into the third quarter because its starters were so outplayed by an average Pacer team.
In the most important game of the year.
The game the Bucks had been talking up the past few days and had really been on everyone’s mind all week, was apparently no cause for improved play among the Bucks starting five. The group that had regularly been seeing 40 minutes a game, lost their coaches confidence minutes into the third quarter of this game.
As much as anything, THAT sums up this season. Not that last unfortunate, erratic Gooden shot or Skiles stubborn decision making with the game on the line. It was the Bucks never failing ability this season to be inexplicably incapable offensively at any and all times, be it the second game of the year against the T-Wolves or the last important one against the Pacers.
Kudos to Maggette for being ready though. As painful as it is to watch him hurl his body into defenders, the veteran saddled with as many DNP-CD’s lately as he’s probably had in his whole career was ready when called on Friday night. Maggette logged 22 minutes, made four of six shots, one three on one attempt, four of six free throws and scored 13 points, all coming in the second half. As much as ever, Maggette did his thing Friday. And as usual, the Bucks lost while he did it. Of course, he has been on the bench and the Bucks have been losing as much as ever recently anyway, so it’s probably not fair to blame Maggette.
- Andrew Bogut spent part of the day with an IV in his arm getting fluids thanks to a flu bug that was bothering him. But he responded to the challenge in front of him Friday night, scoring 16 points on seven of 11 shooting before fouling out in the fourth quarter. With Bogut sitting the majority of the second quarter, Milwaukee’s defense fell apart and its offense did the usual awful things it does at least once a game. When Bogut entered with 5:48 to play in the quarter, the Bucks sat down one after having established an eight point lead.
- Brandon Jennings made just four of 12 shots in the first half, but it seemed like he was playing a better game than that. After a benching in the third quarter for what seemed to be poor effort defensively, he returned and balanced the numbers to match his play. Jennings finished eight of 18 from the field, with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Gooden takes a lot of heat. It may be because in 30 minutes a game, his flaws are on display as often as his strengths are. But as a 20 minute or so player, there is certainly some strong upside to Gooden. As usual, Gooden was very active on the glass Friday night, grabbing a team high eight defensive rebounds and 10 overall. Yes, he shot three for 11 as that smooth jumper he displayed Wednesday abandoned him Friday, but Friday was more an example that there probably is a spot on this roster for Gooden. Just not the one his pay may indicate.
Playoff talk can now officially stop. Mathematically, no, the Bucks aren’t eliminated. But practically, they are.
So let the debate reign about whether it was injuries or the group itself that torpedoed the Bucks chemistry this season and stopped their season before it ever got started.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).