Nothing is shocking when you’re used to being shocked.
Howard Stern lovers know what they’re going to hear when they turn on the radio. Fans of the Saw film franchise expect torture boundaries to stretch far beyond the edge of mainstream acceptability. When you live on the fringe, every possibility carries some weight of probability.
The Milwaukee Bucks have been a psychological nightmare all year, beating contenders twice in a week’s span (Miami Heat) and getting run over by a team incapable of losing by fewer than 10 points (Detroit Pistons). Tuesday night’s last second 107-105 loss against the Phoenix Suns was the team’s biggest mind trick this season, yet somehow it felt normal.
Milwaukee trailed by at much as 21 and gave up 67 first half points for the second game in a row; that’s not surprising if you’ve been masking taped to Bucks television for the past few years. Steve Nash (18 pts, 8-13 FG, 2-4 3FG, 11 asts, 3 rbs) and Marcin Gortat (21 pts, 8-12 FG, 5-5 FT, 9 rbs, 2 asts) picked, rolled, picked, rolled, picked apart, and then steamrolled the apathetic Bucks defense throughout the half.
A bench-dominant lineup led a 31-9 second half surge that reclaimed the lead for Milwaukee four minutes into the fourth, after the Bucks trailed for 33 minutes and 39 seconds. Stephen Jackson (12 pts, 4-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 4 asts) played a major role in the comeback, as did the energetic physicality of Ersan Ilyasova (17 pts, 4-9 FG, 8-8 FT, 12 rbs), while Brandon Jennings sulked in the middle of the Bucks’ bench.
However, birthday boy Steve Nash tear-dropped a floater through the net with two seconds remaining, and the Suns’ defense responded by suffocating Stephen Jackson just beyond the arc, preventing any chance for a Bucks retaliation. Giving up a game-winning shot, calling a timeout, and then wilting without so much as a prayer shot attempt: it could not have ended in a more Milwaukee Bucks way than that (unless Jackson had made the game-winning basket for the Suns).
Oh, and Michael Redd scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half of his Bradley Center return, making 6-10 shots in 10 minutes. He eventually cooled to finish 1-4, but for a fleeting moment, Redd lived it up 2006 style, hitting a couple turnaround jumpers, and blowing past Beno Udrih for an explosive lay-in at the rim.
MVP: Mike Dunleavy
Mike Dunleavy (17 pts, 5-7 FG, 4-5 3FG, 3-3 FT, 3 rbs, 3 asts) and Shaun Livingston (11 mins, 9 pts, 4-6 FG, 2 rbs, 2 asts) are clearly the two best role players on the Bucks. That isn’t to say they are the most skilled contributors; rather, both players are rarely turnover-prone and almost never take more shots than their final point totals.
Dunleavy played that role Tuesday night, draining 4-5 threes and 5-7 shots overall (3-3 FT). Ten of his 17 points came in the second half, including a pair of early fourth quarter threes that reduced the deficit from seven to one.
LVP: Brandon Jennings
One point guard played on a below .500 team (10-14), turned 38 on Tuesday, put up a double-double (18 pts, 11 asts, 8-13 FG) and tear-dropped the game-winning floater on the second night of a back-to-back.
Another point guard also played on a below .500 team (10-13), is 22 years old, coming off two days of rest, is garnering some momentum for a possible All-Star berth, didn’t take a shot until seconds before hearing the first half buzzer, and finished with a paltry 3 points (1-4 FG, 1-3 3FG, 5 rbs, 4 asts).
After the game, Brandon Jennings didn’t make any excuses for playing up to Steve Nash’s age while letting Nash play like he had drank from the Fountain of Youth. In fact, Jennings didn’t say much, which only sprouts more questions than it answers. His Twitter feed wasn’t much of a revelation either.
Interesting footnote: until last night, Brandon Jennings had only one career game with 4 or fewer FGA: on January 29, 2011, playing 11 minutes in his first game back after breaking his foot.
This should please you: A resurgent bench
The bench primarily led the 33-9 second half charge, and collectively outscored the starters 54-51. Other than Drew Gooden, who somehow managed to mitigate his solid 25 points by giving up 2,437 points in 20 minutes defending Marcin Gortat, no starter made it to double digits in scoring.
A five-man bench unit that plays well together is a plus during the regular season, especially when the starters and main playmakers are not living up to their reputations. However, that depth did most of their damage against Phoenix’ very average second unit, and it was only a matter of time before the Suns’ starters returned for vengeance.
This should concern you: First half lag, second half drama
“We need to come out with a better sense of urgency from the start,” Dunleavy said. “Most of our games the last week or so, four or five games, other than the Miami game in the second half, we’ve been real bad at getting going right from the jump.”
Ignoring the insanely high 48-22 points-in-the-paint disparity, as well as the Bucks’ efficiency edge in all shooting categories, Milwaukee played an abysmal first half. The Bucks closed out on Phoenix shooters as if they were carrying the weight of cinder block shoes, deferred when they should’ve shot, shot when they should’ve deferred, and generally looked content playing at the Suns pace.
The team roared back in the latter half, but all the storylines after the game centered on Jennings, coach Scott Skiles, and Jackson, who answered a Howie Magner question about his desire to play in Milwaukee with, “I can’t answer that. You’re trying to get me fined.” Not good.
Final Verdict: I’m speechless, I’m without speech
I’ll just let Mike Dunleavy field this one:
“I think we’re past the point of taking things away from losses,” Dunleavy said after the game. “It’s just disappointing. We got a stop there with 24 seconds left, but couldn’t secure a rebound to give ourselves a chance to win it. So it’s a tough way to go, but we have to bounce back tomorrow night (against the Toronto Raptors).”