The Milwaukee Bucks were close enough to touch the carrot dangling in front of them, but too far to rip it off its string.
Never falling behind by more than 9 points, the Bucks stuck with the Chicago Bulls until the bitter end, when Derrick Rose (30 pts, 8-22 FG, 0-5 3FG, 14-14 FT, 11 asts, 8 rbs) decided to hit a long jumper he was consistently missing the entire night and send a very Bulls-centric crowd home with a 106-104 victory.
Both Brandon Jennings (11 pts, 4-18 FG, 1-4 3FG, 6 asts) and Scott Skiles said they weren’t allowing Rose any space to cut inside, meaning they were justifiably willing to concede a 23 foot jumper. The possession played out as expected (Jennings handled the reigning MVP’s ankle breaking moves admirably) and Rose sunk the shot anyways.
The win extended Chicago’s winning streak to eight and kept them in possession of the NBA’s best record and the Eastern Conference top seed. Rarely is there a consolation prize for losing in professional sports, but this was undoubtedly the Bucks best effort in a loss this season.
Defensively, Milwaukee applied constant pressure, and turned 17 Bulls fumbles (including 12 steals) into 25 points the other way. They fought through the expected barrage of Bulls screens, and worked so hard for every loose ball that it was surprising no one lost a knee cap.
Offensively, the Bucks crisply moved the ball (29 assists, including four players with five), converted on second chances (19 pts, 8-14 FG), and turned their interior weakness into a mid-range strength (a combined 59 points from Ersan Ilyasova/Drew Gooden).
The fact that it came down to a last second shot, and the Bucks’ frontcourt was scoring in every situation except post-ups, says more about the Bulls’ shortcomings than it does about where the Bucks are headed. That’s somewhat depressing, but we wouldn’t be living in pro sports reality if the losing team got a silver medal.
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova
Ersan Ilyasova (32 pts, 14-18 FG, 2-3 3FG, 10 rbs) was the Bucks’ biggest weapon down the stretch Wednesday night. That should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched this team over the past month. Ilyasova scored 13 of his career-high 32 points in the fourth quarter, mixing a few spot up jumpers with timely offensive put-backs.
The Ersanator’s stock has never been higher, which will soon force GM John Hammond to make one of two choices: Keep Ilyasova and hope he’s open to an extension, or trade him at the peak of his value and concede his impending departure as inevitable.
LVP: Carlos Delfino
You know the drill. Carlos Delfino (8 pts, 4-11 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5 asts, 4 rbs, 3 TOs) was stone cold, has been for some time, but will inevitably heat up for a few games in the near future. Buffer, rinse, repeat.
This should delight you: Drew Gooden
Say what you want about the quirky aesthetics of Drew Gooden (27 pts, 11-21 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6 rbs, 2 stls), but don’t question the man’s effort. We’ve covered Gooden’s quiet soldier-like acceptance of a role he was not born to play, as well as his suspect defense, but he deserves constant credit for always playing hard despite the occasional indifference around him.
Gooden continued to hit long jumpers, clean up ever-present missed shots, and stay physical on defense, despite his limbs’ uncoordinated efforts.The Bucks’ collective frontcourt played its best game this season, thanks in no small part to Gooden.
This should concern you: Word hard for half the success
The Milwaukee Bucks had to work their asses off the keep up with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls just had to use half their ass to stay ahead. This difference in leadership, talent, and depth occupies the yawning chasm between the roads traveled by these two teams.
Final verdict: Best loss of the season
That’s like bragging about having walked out of your best colonoscopy, but considering the team’s previous showing against the Bulls, this was easily their most entertaining game this year.
I have no idea what’s in store for Friday’s matchup against the reeling New York Knicks (you mean Jeremy Lin isn’t actually Magic Johnson?), but the Bucks have a good chance of beating a lot of decent teams if they could replicate Wednesday night’s effort. The question is always a matter of consistency, something that has eluded this Bucks team throughout the season.