Box scores can be a very funny thing.
The Milwaukee Bucks held the Kings (rounding out their only back-to-back-to-back of the season) to a very Bucks-like 4-21 beyond the arc (19% … look familiar?), shot 51% overall compared to Sacramento’s 40%, added a very respectable 47.4% clip on triples, cared to share the ball (26 assists on 39 buckets), and were efficient scorers in transition (19 fast break points).
Oh, did I mention they lost? Let that previous paragraph sink like a big drag off a cancer stick before we move forward.
What Happened? (In 140 words or less…)
The second half played out in such a surreal way that it felt more like someone decided to abandon their controller in the middle of an NBA 2K contest because they were so confident in a seemingly insurmountable 23 point lead at the break.
Milwaukee entered the locker room at Power Balance Pavilion sporting a 21 point lead, thanks in large part to a 28-12 second quarter advantage that started with a very pass-happy 16-4. That lead atrophied slowly through the third, and capsized with :18 seconds remaining after Tyreke Evans sunk consecutive free throws thanks to a Stephen Jackson foul.
Every season has its share of collapses, and when your best three point shooter (Mike Dunleavy), best perimeter defender (Luc Mbah a Moute) and overall most important fulcrum (Andrew Bogut) are absent, bad things can happen.
MVP: Brandon Jennings
Just when we start losing the faith, Brandon Jennings turns in his best game of the season (31 pts, 12-23 fg, 6-10 3fg, 7 asts, 3 rbs, 5 stls). All but one of Jennings’ makes came from beyond the arc or within 9 feet of the cup (3-4 at the rim, 2-6 from 3-9 feet).
Four of Jennings’ six three pointers were assisted. Coach Scott Skiles has praised Brandon Jennings’ ability to move without the ball in his hands, and it appears that most of his shooting success comes when he takes the time to set his feet and prepare for the incoming ball. Imagine that.
Of course, Jennings could very easily end up in the segment below by 11:00 p.m. tomorrow night, but let’s just enjoy some potentially fleeting success in a loss for what it is.
LVP: Stephen Jackson
Just when you thought the Bucks dumped enough sawdust on that pile of basketball vomit that was John Salmons (7.98 PER, 8.1 ppg, 35.2% fg, 30.8% 3fg, 3 rbs, 1.1 spg), Stephen Jackson shows up and ralphs all over the Gravitron (6.95 PER, 12 pts, 33.3% fg, 22.6% 3fg, 3.7 rbs, 3.3 asts, 4.2 TOs).
Of course, Jackson’s supposed strength lies in the intangible and defensive sides of game, but ranking fifth in the NBA among players that receive 30+ mpg kind of defeats the purpose of those “immeasurable” skills.
As a team, the Bucks committed 20 turnovers, of which the Kings obliged with 24 points. Jackson was responsible for seven of them, as well as the highly questionable final shot that left Jon Mcglockin flabbergasted. So far, he’s being outplayed by Salmons this season in all areas except assists, rebounds, and free throw percentage.
That is not a good sign for a player expected to shoulder the burden of 30+ minutes each night as the possible third scoring option.
Stat of concern: Rebounds
The Bucks have reached the Three-Fifths Compromise of their season-long five game road trip, and through those games, Milwaukee has been demolished on the boards by a 154-117 margin. Thursday night’s digressing loss to the Kings was the worst of them all.
Sacramento’s 21st place rank in total rebound rate didn’t stop Tyreke Evans (10 rbs), pouting child DeMarcus Cousins (15 rbs), and the “more valuable than Amare Stoudamire at one crazy point in time” JJ Hickson (11 rbs) from mopping the floor with Milwaukee’s depleted front line. The Kings had one less offensive rebound (23!!!) than the Bucks had off the same backboard (24 defensive rebounds).
I think I hear a Bye Bye Birdie chorus of “We Love You Andrew” rising out of the cold in Milwaukee…
Stat of commendation: 26 assists
When the outside shots are falling, the inside opens up. Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders each had one miss inside, otherwise 13 of the Bucks’ 18 makes at the rim were assisted (18-21, 85%), thanks in large part to a much improved team-wide emphasis on ball movement. Twenty-six of the Bucks’ 39 total baskets were assisted as well, and the end result was a rare appearance of triple digits next to Milwaukee in the box score. Unfortunately, good passing doesn’t compensate for missed shots (second half scoring favored the Kings 66-42).
Overall takeaway: The silver linings
Allow me to offer a breathmint or three to cleanse your garbage-infested basketball palate:
- This is the Bucks’ longest road trip of the season in their toughest month of the season. Two of their five opponents (Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz) have not lost to Milwaukee at home in 10+ years, and the Bucks have traditionally struggled playing in the two hour time difference on West Coast. January is far and away the sharpest gauntlet on their schedule, so keep that in perspective as a reason to step away from the ledge…for now.
- Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Although Milwaukee is 0-4 away from the Bradley Center so far this season, they have been in a prime position to pull a victory out in the waning minutes in three of those losses. The team’s failure in the clutch early on could be the difference between making and missing the postseason later, but the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks had similar road problems in the infant stage of that season, and things ended up falling together once 2010 hit. It’s better to deal with adversity now and bet on the Bucks gelling in a positive way later (when the schedule lightens up).
- Injuries, injuries, injuries. Yes, this is an old excuse, but it’s the brightest silver lining around the Bucks’ early road failures. Milwaukee has no answer to DeMarcus Cousins when Bogut isn’t on the court, and the Utah loss showed just how valuable a proven, smart shooter like Dunleavy can be when chipping away at a lead.
The Milwaukee Bucks could very easily come back to the Bradley Center with an 0-5 record on this trip, and there’s no way of spinning that as a good development for a team that cannot rely on a consistent star to bail them out when things get rough. Just remember that things get a lot easier in a couple weeks.