Stuck on the Bench: Atlanta Hawks 97, Milwaukee Bucks 92

The Bucks fell flat with Drew Gooden as their late-game center. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Joe Johnson scored 28 points — 14 in the fourth quarter  – as the Atlanta Hawks finished the game on an 18-9 run to vanquish the Bucks, 97-92, at the Bradley Center.

Scott Skiles elected to start the fourth quarter with a quintet of Brandon Jennings (the lone starter), Mike Dunleavy, Stephen Jackson, Ersan Ilyasova, and Drew Gooden.  They pulled out to a pair of four-point, fourth quarter leads:  one at the 7:10 mark on a pair of Gooden free throws, and another at the 3:30 mark when Ilyasova and Dunleavy coverted a two-man, three-point play (Ersan was fouled away from the ball).

At neither time did Skiles bring back his starters.  In fact, for the entire duration of the fourth quarter, Skiles went with the same five players.

“We were getting a little bit of a hold on the game”, Skiles commented after the loss. “And if you wait so long, and you bring other guys in, it’s kind of unfair to them at that point. I thought we were doing a reasonably good job of defending Joe (Johnson).”

Problem is, the Bucks weren’t doing a good job defending Joe Johnson.  While it’s true that Stephen Jackson played physically and stayed with Johnson, from a team defensive standpoint, it was a mess.

When the Hawks went to the pick-and-roll late, the Bucks scheme fell apart.  Too often, Milwaukee had both pick-and-roll-defenders chasing the ballhandler from behind, with Gooden coming up halfheartedly from the front.  In reality, three men guarding the ball was as good as zero; none were close enough to impact the play.

Drew Gooden also giftwrapped the Hawks two technical free throws on a pair of defensive three-second calls.  Atlanta converted both opportunities.

The motivation for milking an entire quarter from Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy is also an unexplained mystery.  Despite savvy offensive play, Dunleavy struggled with his shot (3/9 FG in the 4th quarter), the athleticism of the Hawks (couldn’t defend without fouling), and a lack of conditioning after missing three weeks with groin injury.

For his part, Jackson gave a game effort on defense, but if his role in the offense is going to amount to passing the ball on the perimeter, then Luc Mbah a Moute should have been in the game wearing Joe Johnson like a mink fun shawl.

MVP: Ersan Ilyasova

Ersan in the Bucks’ ugly gray minivan.

Of course, no one wants an ugly gray minivan.  It’s unsightly, it gets zero style points, and people would mock it mercilessly except for the fact that they’ve usually forgotten about it first.

But that eyesore is big.  It runs well in all types of situations.  It works with any number of passengers.  And when insipidness turns into invisibility, it’s not hard to get away with a few minor traffic/speeding infractions.

Ilyasova was relentless on the boards, contesting every Atlanta rebound (even if he went over their backs a time or two).  He nabbed 11 rebounds, and had a countless number of tips to his teammates.  His energy stood out among the Bucks players.

As easy as it is to look to a future of Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, or (gulp) Drew Gooden, the Bucks often play their best with Ilyasova standing tall in the paint next to Bogut.

LVP: Stephen Jackson

Normally, when a 6’8″ forward manages only a single rebound in 28 minutes of action, it’s an area of concern.

However, it’s less of an issue when that same player also fails to score a single point.

Over the past eight season, Jackson has seen 20 or more minutes of action in 487 games.  In those games, his previous low number of field goal attempts was five.  Last night, against a very ordinary Hawks defense, he took one.

Is that a suspect sandbagging on the heels of his missed shootaround (and subsequent fine and benching)?

Yes. Yes, it is.

This should delight you…: Jennings played another solid, efficient second half.

Scott Skiles routinely uses Brandon Jennings for all 24 minutes of the second half.  It works on some nights, and it fizzles on others.

Tonight, it succeeded, despite the loss.

For the half, Jennings tallied 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a pair of steals.  He maintained a ridiculously high energy level throughout.  He his 3 of his 6 three-point attempts.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best strategy in every and all situations.

Can he play the entire second half when the Lakers come to town next week? Absolutely, because guarding old man Derek Fisher isn’t an aerobic obstacle.

Should he be doing it he faces Kyle Lowry and Derrick Rose in the next two games?  No.  If they sit in the second half, he should be sitting simultaneously.  In the few instances when he gets fatigued, he loses his legs on his jump shot and develops a tendency to reach and gamble on defense.  He can’t afford that against the more athletically demanding point guard assignments.

…And this should scare you: Bogut shot 3-10 from the field and his hook shots get uglier with each game

The Bucks only have one center.  They only have one low-post threat.  If he doesn’t pan out, the season won’t, either.

Even on his successful scoring nights, Bogut gets a few dunks or layups early, then flips up blind hook shots the rest of the night.  Some go in; most do not.

Those little flips and hooks are taken from close range, and it’s startling how some of them miss by such a large margin.  He looks rushed when he makes some of these moves — it appears like he’s taking shots before even glancing in the direction of the rim.

Is he afraid of getting his shot blocked?  As a shot blocker himself, is he perhaps too aware of that side of the game?

Of the 15 NBA centers averaging 25 or more minutes per game, Bogut is taking the greatest number of shots from 3-9 feet (5.5 per game), and making the smallest percentage of them (an absolutely atrocious 20%).

Final ruling: Find a Rotation

With Dunleavy, Udrih, and Mbah a Moute returning, the Bucks find themselves with lots of players and no idea whatsoever what the “usual” rotation should resemble.

They are searching, and they didn’t find the answer last night.

Topics: Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova, Scott Skiles

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