Prior to last night’s game, when Scott Skiles was going over the Bucks defensive woes for roughly the 100th time in the last 30 days, he pin pointed opposing point guards as a problem.
“We’ve allowed pretty much every team’s point guard to penetrate us the whole game right from the beginning of the season,” said Skiles. “That’s been a huge problem. In part because our point guards on defense and in part because our bigs not stopping the ball. Basket protection at the end of the play has been an issue as well. We haven’t been very physical.”
Watching the first few minutes of last night’s Milwaukee Bucks game was watching the perfect illustration of Skiles’ point. Brandon Jennings aggressive defense led to more opportunities for Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday than Milwaukee.
I say aggressive not as an endorsement or condemnation, just as an observation. Over and over he hounded Holiday up the court, even temporarily stripping him just as the Sixers point guard passed half court early in the first quarter. But his aggressiveness often back fired. Holiday used Jennings’ momentum against him and was able to sneak by for a couple of easy looks at the basket in the first quarter.
Jennings eventually reeled himself in later in the game and did an admirable job against Lou Williams in the second half. Williams still got his, the scoring guard ended up with 26 points, but Jennings battled against him and refrained from reaching.
The last meaningful possession of the game was a great example.
Williams measured Jennings with a few cross over dribbles and prepared him for one big move. He pulled over a very hard crossover, but lost control of it and nearly fell as he tried to prevent the ball from bouncing into the hands of a Bucks defender. When Williams did corral it, Jennings immediately was in the space of the Sixers guard.
Then Jennings reached again. Williams drove by him and was free to take an 8-foot jumper. He missed the shot, the Bucks got the rebound and all was good. But the gamble freed up Williams and put the Bucks at risk of watching yet another fourth quarter lead escape them.
Skiles took note both of Jennings’ effort defensively and his propensity to go for the big play.
“The thing that Brandon always has to battle is going for a steal,” Skiles said. “‘Cause he can steal the ball. He had him all bottled up, six, five left on the shot clock and he went for a steal, Lou went to his right hand and shot a dotted line jump shot. He’s still working on it, he’s just got to battle the urge to gamble when it’s just keep my man in front of me. He battled him hard.”
As a whole team, Milwaukee’s second half, when they limited the Sixers to less than 30% shooting, was a breath of fresh air. After years of defensive work that landed them among the league’s finest, the Bucks have fallen off considerably this season. The strong performance against the Sixers was even more surprising considering Luc Mbah a Moute, largely considered one of the top defenders in the league, was inactive. What was different yesterday?
“Nothing other than the guys actually going out and doing it,” Skiles said. “It’s not magic, there’s no magic dust sprinkled on anybody or anything. They put their foots down a little bit.”
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.