Sometimes, the best basketball games are the ones that don’t require your full attention for 48 minutes, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ 102-81 thrashing of the athletically eccentric Washington Wizards was out of hand so early that you could’ve made a beer run in Wisconsin (liquor stores close at 9 p.m., FWIW) at halftime and made it back in time to catch the Bucks’ final act.
Don’t pay attention to the Washington Wizards’ 2011-12 29th ranked offensive efficiency (87.1). Or their 27th ranked efficiency differential of -14.89. Or Andray Blatche’s Freudian ego, JaVale McGee’s Tyler Durden intensity, and John Wall’s impending Nic Cage freak out.
For one shining moment, let’s pretend the Milwaukee Bucks’ astonishingly efficient victory over the Wizards came against a team known for more than its raw athleticism and Romper Room personalities. The three pointers were falling, Brandon Jennings shredded the defense with speed when it mattered most, and Ersan Ilyasova discovered his shooting stroke, circa early 2009.
The first half of Friday night’s game was what NBA dreams are made of; smooth, unselfish sharing, an abrupt snap when the ball passed through the bottom of the cup, and a typically aggressive opponent taken out of their own game plan.
The Bucks finished the first half shooting a blazing 61.5% on 38 shots, and knocked down 63.6% of their three pointers (7-11). Washington piled contested shot upon contested shot for a 34% fg and just three triples. Combined with a very un-Wizards-like 15 rebounds vs. an un-Bucks-like 28 rebounds, Milwaukee rode a 65-41 lead into halftime that would remain until the confetti streamed from the Bradley Center rafters.
Milwaukee finished the game with a 50-35 rebounding advantage, 53% shooting, and a normally poisonous 20 turnovers. Washington also used a 26-13 third quarter scoring advantage to whittle the lead down to nine, but the Bucks responded with a mirrored 24-14 fourth quarter, including a close-out performance from Jennings that continued his early season trend of finishing the game strong.
Nearly every problem the Bucks had in 2010-11 became a strength against the Wizards. The team that finished the year averaging 12 transition points per game out ran Washington to a 20-6 fast break point advantage. Milwaukee shared the ball on a borderline Communist-level, with 26 assists accounting for an absurd 67% of their total makes.
The Invisible Scorer
Five Milwaukee Bucks finished the game in double figures: Brandon Jennings (22 pts, 8-15 fg, 5 asts), Ersan Ilyasova (16 pts, 6-8 fg, 7 rbs, 4 asts), Carlos Delfino (15 pts 6-11 fg, 3-5 3fg, 6 rbs), Mike Dunleavy (13 pts, 3-4 fg, 2-3 3fg, 5-8 ft, 5 rbs), and Andrew Bogut (13 pts, 6-12 fg, 15 rbs). In case you didn’t notice, none of those names are spelled “Stephen Jackson.”
The team has proven early on that they can be successful without his 18 points-per-game on 16-18 shots. Jackson will obviously become a bigger part of the scoring offense as he gets healthier, but he has flashed most of his talent as a competent passer. His passing contributions are very welcomed and encouraged on a team that finished dead last in assists per game last season (18.8 apg).
Brandon Jennings: The Bucks’ John Axford
Once a predictably intense JaVale McGee ally-oop closed the gap to 78-69 with 11:47 remaining, Brandon Jennings flipped the switch and took the game into his own hands when it mattered most. Jennings nailed four of his final six shots over an 8:50 span in the fourth, paving the way for the treasured victory garbage minutes starving fans crave. Combined with 12 points against the Bobcats and nine points against the Timberwolves in the fourth quarter, Jennings has taken on a killer instinct as a closer that we’ve been waiting to praise.
Jennings was particularly impressive taking John Wall off the dribble, at one point Leaving Wall in the dust as he bolted around the top of the key and laid in an elegant wraparound layup to stretch the lead to 94-77. Although he led the team in scoring, it was perhaps the quietest 22 points of Brandon Jennings’ career. Throughout the game, Jennings outplayed, outpaced, and out-defended John Wall, further supporting the optimistic prediction that Jennings has started taking an expected step forward as an NBA-caliber point guard.
Halfway through the second quarter, Shaun Livingston cut right towards the basket, slid into his defender, and drained a wide open layup opportunity. The play itself wasn’t so spectacular; rather, the team’s movement off-the-ball and the threat of a good pass deserve recognition.
As Livingston moved within five feet striking distance, Andrew Bogut cleared out the area around the rim, opening up the opportunity for Livingston to pass Go and collect two points. The Bucks’ slick passing forced the Wizards’ defense to respect their ability and choose between following their man or helping a teammate. The fear of a good passer can often be as powerful as the fear of a deadly shooter.
Jon Leuer’s Defense
Towards the end of the third quarter, Andray Blatche got the ball on the left block, posting up the inexperienced and weaker Jon Leuer. When Blatche drop stepped inside towards the baseline, Leuer instinctively slid his feet and blocked Blatche’s very vocal dreams of getting to the rim. It should be noted that Leuer was technically spelling Bogut at center. Leuer’s defensive contribution won’t show up as a tangible stat, but it’s another reason to believe Scott Skiles may give him some more leash to learn on the job.