Down 91-90 with 18 seconds left against the Orlando Magic, the Milwaukee Bucks called a timeout to regroup and prepare for the go-ahead play off an in-bound pass.
“They won’t get a shot off,” opined Bucksketball’s Ian Segovia. The sad part was I believed him. That still didn’t make what happened after the timeout watchable.
With Dwight Howard anchoring the middle, the Magic smothered the Bucks around the perimeter, causing a Brandon Jennings turnover that ricocheted off his leg and out of bounds.
After two successful Jameer Nelson free throws pushing the Magic lead to three, Milwaukee was given 10.8 seconds to execute a game tying three pointer. It was another chance they were determined to squander. The Bucks were met with Magic hands everywhere, eventually settling for a bizarre sequence of tips around the rim until the final buzzer.
MVP: Brandon Jennings/Ersan Ilyasova
Brandon Jennings turned on his bulldog mode in the fourth quarter, leading the Bucks with 8 points (4-7 FG). Jennings hit a go-ahead runner to put the Bucks up 90-88 with 30 seconds left, and chewed on a lot of shot clock with zig zags all around the court until a seam split open. Jennings was also hitting a good number of corner step-backs, showing his comfort with shots between 10-15 feet.
Ersan Ilyasova was more Anderson Varejao than Kevin Love, grabbing nine offensive boards (15 overall) and scoring 15 points on 6-15 shots (0-4 3FG). Ilyasova led the team in +/- with +9, and continued making a strong case as the Bucks’ best mid-season trade chip (should the season reach that point).
LVP: Scott Skiles
After last Wednesday’s loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Scott Skiles was asked how much of a factor coaching played in the team’s inability to get a shot off before the buzzer. He responded with a sarcastic, “100%,” implying the coach is always the first one to the guillotine when a team underperforms.
Skiles is a very good NBA coach, and doesn’t deserve a greeting from a mob of pitchforks and torches when he exits the Bradley Center parking lot. However, he has to be held to some degree of accountability for the Bucks’ consistent failures in close games. It’s not all coaching, but it’s not all execution, either.
This should delight you: Larry Sanders’ offensive weakness is his defensive strength
The Bucks mostly have Larry Sanders to thank for holding Dwight Howard to 11 points and five turnovers in the second half. Despite accruing four fouls, Sanders stuck to Howard like Yoda on Luke Skywalker’s back, using his freakish length to prevent dunks that came so easily for Howard in the first half.
Sanders’ Devin Sawa hands showed up at inopportune times, including a late pass out of bounds with Milwaukee up two and a couple similar fumbles under the basket. However, seven of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive end, and with the exception of one 18 foot jumper, Sanders confined his offensive contributions to put backs and lay-ins at the rim (5-9).
This should enrage you: No ‘shot’ quarter
It’s one thing to miss last second shots. It’s something more disturbing to miss out on the chance for a final shot.
Throughout the past three seasons, Skiles and the Bucks have constantly had issues with game-ending plays. Other than Andrew Bogut’s Dec. 8, 2010 tip-in against the Indiana Pacers (admittedly, a pretty cool play call), most of Skiles’ game-defining plays have fizzled like a water-doused Roman candle.
It’s possible Skiles’ offensive shortcomings as a coach carry over to crunch-time play calling. It’s also possible the Bucks’ lack of athleticism and a true shot creator (sorry, Stephen Jackson) makes it easy to contain Milwaukee’s plethora of spot-up shooters to the perimeter.
Short of existing Bucks becoming better scorers and/or building massive leads that render the final five minutes irrelevant, there is no quick fix to this problem. It’s here to stay as long as the team is constructed in its current form.
Final verdict: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
It was the Bucks’ third loss in 10 days to the Magic, and third February loss where Milwaukee couldn’t even release a game winning/tying shot. The Bucks have played moderately competitive over the past two weeks (five of their last six losses were by less than 10 points). But realistically, close losses don’t mean much at this point.
There are no small victories in losses this season, beyond a few developmental steps from the Bucks’ youngest players. There is only frustration and concern that every loss creates more uncertainty about the future of the Milwaukee Bucks.