The Milwaukee Bucks put on another offensive clinic Saturday night, the way they did so many times as the 2011-12 season wound down. As you may expect from a roster very, very similar to that one from March and April, there were lots of consistencies between last year and Saturday. The consistency most fun to watch? Mike Dunleavy’s shooting stroke.
“Mike was very, very good. One of those nights, we’ve seen them now, last year more than a few times, where he just gets in a zone like that. You feel like every time he lets it go, it’s going to go in,” Scott Skiles said after his sixth man’s 29-point, 13 rebound, six assist effort. The 29 points were pleasant and surprising, but hardly unheard of for Dunleavy. With his 3-point stroke, it just takes shots aligning with one of the nights when he’s REALLY hitting for him to log some big scoring numbers. But the rebounds surprised some. Not Skiles so much though.
“Mike’s a sneaky defensive rebounder, he always has been,” the Bucks coach said after the game. “If you break down all of the off the bench threes in the NBA, Mike is always up there in defensive rebounds per minute. He’s got a good nose for the ball, he knows where its’ coming off, he reads the flight of it and puts himself in position to get it.”
Dunleavy made 10 of 12 FGs and was six of seven on 3-pointers. All 10 of Dunleavy’s makes were assisted baskets. 32 of the Bucks 41 makes total came off assists actually. 30 assists was a hallmark of the Bucks victories near the end of last season and it looks like it could again be the benchmark of a fluid Bucks offense in 2012-13. An offense that saw little drop off from starters to bench last season and may be on track for more of the same this one.
Dunleavy and Beno Udrih didn’t exactly lead the way last year as a pair of sub-30 minute reserves, but they certainly kept the team moving forward when stars Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis had to come out. The contrast between the offensive forces of each lineup is actually very interesting. Dunleavy and Udrih are a pair of ball moving, 3-point shooters. Efficient, if not flashy. Whereas Jennings and Ellis combine their speed and athleticism with a penchant for mid-range jump shots. Saturday was no different. Jennings and Ellis combined were 13-33 and 2-10 on 3-pointers for 36 points. Mike D and Udrih: 15-22 FG, 7-9 3FG for 40 points. Efficiency!
I don’t cite those stats to start some sort of, “BENCH JENNINGS AND ELLIS!” campaign. Everyone has a role to play and the starting guards were good enough against the Cavs. There’s a place for their brand of play, just as there is one for Dunleavy and Udrih. And if those two thrive off the bench, that’s where they should keep thriving, all year hopefully. Dunleavy and Udrih were playing against what might be the worst second unit in the NBA on Saturday and Milwaukee hopes those two can consistently give them an edge when the first quarter winds down and the second one gets started. The Bucks bench outscored Cleveland’s reserves 62-15.
That all being said, Milwaukee’s starting guards could pick up some pointers from Milwaukee’s second unit. You could see Jennings and Ellis still working to iron out some of their offensive decision making when the game was still up for grabs.
On back to back possessions late, the Bucks attempted long threes, both of which failed to so much as hit the rim. Jennings was first, with 1:07 to play and the Bucks up four. A defensive stop got Milwaukee the ball back and another possession ended up with a bad shot, this time an Ellis three with :37 seconds left. Even if his shot had enough power to not be an airball, still would have been an airball because it was that far from the hoop.
“We had a couple of possessions where we kind of went dribble crazy and we took bad shots, so we need to execute better,” Skiles said.
Milwaukee had a lead and clock was being run down so those possessions were probably more aberration than rule for the both of t hem. For the most part, the Bucks we saw Saturday night did resemble that crew that closed out last season. Lots of ball movement, a fervent insistence on pushing the ball and a potent offensive bench. The team looked fun, full of different options and mismatch opportunities. Must be a coach’s dream, right? At least fun?
“I don’t know if I’d call it fun,” Skiles said. “It’s only fun if the Brandon makes the shot at the end and we win the game. If we go to overtime and we get beat, that’s not fun.”
If nothing else, Skiles can never be called a man removed from reality. Kudos, coach.