If I remember my Sour Patch Kids commercials correctly, sour always comes before sweet. So was the case for the Milwaukee Bucks in their 97-93 tightrope walk to victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The game started promising (19 points for Brandon Jennings in the first quarter) quickly acidified (19 Brandon Jennings points in the first half), and sweetened in the Bucks’ favor as the final 16 minutes ticked away.
Milwaukee found themselves in a rare defensive situation with the shot clock blackened, rising to the occasion when Lou Williams clanked a runner off the back of the iron and into the outstretch arms of – who else? – Ersan Ilyasova.
Down 67-59 at the 5:19 mark in the third, Brandon Jennings orchestrated a 15-0 run between the late third and early fourth quarter. Third quarter success has often defined losses for the Bucks, but this was one of those rare occasions where Milwaukee’s aggressiveness trumped that of a much more athletic opponent.
Like Super Mario running through a hidden coin level, Ilyasova collected 9 of his 18 rebounds (4 offensive) in the third quarter, and the Jennings/Drew Gooden tandem combined to score one less point (15) than the entire Sixers team (16) in the same span.
“We talked about some stuff at halftime and got some things straightened out with our coverages, and we went out and executed in the second half,” Mike Dunleavy said. “We just really scrapped and clawed. There wasn’t anything to it other than a little bit more attention to detail and a little more effort.”
MVP: Brandon Jennings
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Or maybe it’s how you start and finish, and the middle is just the middling details.
Jennings scored all of his 19 first half points in the opening quarter, slashing in and out of mid-range territory like a sushi chef slicing through a California roll. He drew fouls (5-6 FT) and hit a couple triples (2-3 3FG), before going completely cold in the second. He finished with 33 points (11-23 FG, 4-8 3FG), 7 assists, and 4 rebounds in essentially three quarters of play.
Likewise, Jennings was Gorilla glued to a hot Lou Williams (16 fourth quarter points) on the Sixers’ final possession. Cutting back and forth along the perimeter in isolation, Williams was only able to break free when Jennings gambled on a steal attempt.
Indeed, good Jennings was back…for now.
LVP: Evan Turner
None of the Milwaukee Bucks played particularly awful, and the ones that noticeably struggled offensively (Ilyasova) were vital in other areas. That leaves but one player worthy of the LVP distinction: Evan Turner.
Turner shot an incredibly underwhelming 1-12 from the field, despite pulling down 12 rebounds. He’s well on his way towards joining Darko Milicic, HasheemThabeet and Michael Beasley as borderline role players not worthy of their silver medal draft slot.
This should delight you: Second half carnage
Swarming defense, crisp ball movement, limited mistakes, balanced scoring. The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers usually win putting these philosophies into practice, and both have similar problems when they can’t do so.
The Bucks Master Locked the Sixers into frustrating submission for most of the second half. Milwaukee limited Philadelphia to just 13-49 shooting (26.5%) and crashed the boards in contrasting Mr. Hyde (-5 Sixers advantage in first half) and Dr. Jekyll (-1 Sixers advantage in the second half) personalities.
“If you’re playing good, physical aggressive defense, and contest a shot and they miss, and you do it again, and do it again, all of a sudden, when they get an open shot, teams tend to miss,” Scott Skiles said. “It’s what happens. Teams can be almost a little surprised they got an open look. That’s what all good defensive teams have done.”
This should concern you:That painted area
The Sixers held a 46-32 advantage in the paint by game’s end, further supporting the argument that it’s not healthy to have a starting center prefer the tanned hardwood just inside the arc.
Philadelphia was playing without their best post player (Spencer Hawes), so things could’ve gotten really ugly really fast if the Sixers weren’t forced to play so many small lineups with Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young defending inside.
Final verdict: No Roman Holiday…yet
Milwaukee still has a very outside chance of making the playoffs, and this week serves as a major litmus test for their viability as a spoiler this season. It’s reasonable to be slightly optimistic considering the Bucks rose above early setbacks to beat an athletic team; one that historically gives them fits.
However, it’s hard to be overly enthusiastic about individual wins when a team needs eight of them just to climb back to a .500 record. The Bucks’ problems are the same today as they were yesterday; the gap between the left and right numbers in the standings is just a little smaller.