Dec 17, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Milwaukee Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) shoots from the corner in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Timberwolves won 117-96. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE

All-Star Imp-Ersan-ator: Milwaukee Bucks 105, Toronto Raptors 99

There was a point where the Bucks weren’t going to win this game.  But Ersan Ilyasova (31 points, 12 rebounds, 44 minutes, and a +/- rating of +13 — all game-high numbers) would not let them fail.

Partway through a sleepy first half, they trailed Toronto by 12 points.  The Raptors were shooting well and not turning the ball over.  Then the Bucks came alive, and the Ersanator was the one leading the charge.

Ersan started to do the typical Ersan thing near the end of the second quarter.  He used a pump-fake to make space and then beat his man on a give-and-go layup from Delfino.  On a Raptors miss, he nabbed a rebound.  During the next Raps possession, he drew a charge.  Then he pump-faked and stepped in to hit a 20-footer.

Throw in a Larry Sanders three-point play to end the half, and the Bucks had sliced the Toronto lead down to five. A previously sloppy game was now winnable.  And win they did.

MVP: Ersan Ilyasova

Ersan scored a career-high 31 points while taking just 16 shots.  In addition to catching fire with his jump shot, Ilyasova now even looks comfortable doing things out of his wheelhouse like catching the ball on the move and finishing.

If the plan is to trade Ersan, the Bucks have done an admirable job showcasing him.  If not, they have themselves a newly confident star.

LVP: Jon Brockman

The Raptors built a fat lead in the early second quarter with Brockman in the game.  On one discouraging sequence of plays, Brockman whiffed while attempting to take a charge on one end, missed a Dunleavy pass rolling to the hoop on the other, and got beat for a layup by Ed Davis to complete the trifecta.

He was Ersan’s substitute, and his ineptitude pressed Ilyasova into playing over 44 minutes on the first night of a road back-to-back.  At this point, Brockman simply doesn’t look like a functional NBA player, but with only ten healthy players, Skiles didn’t have much choice but to play Brockman.

(Well, there is that 6’10” white kid at the end of the bench, but Scott forgot his name in January.  “What was his name again?  Looper?  Lauer?  Von Leuweenhook?”)

This should please you: Ball movement

The Bucks play their best when guys other than Brandon Jennings are moving the ball around and netting assists.  Tonight, Milwaukee got a combined 15 assists from Drew Gooden, Mike Dunleavy, and Beno Udrih.  In fact, with Livingston dinged up and Delfino struggling, Skiles has relied more on a Beno/Brandon backcourt when he can sneak it out there (defensively speaking).  Throw in Dunleavy and his passing, and the resulting Bucks trio will literally be doing just that — throwing the rock around.

As an added bonus, those same players, along with Jennings and Ersan, are excellent free-throw shooters.  The Bucks milked out a win partly because they sank 29-of-35 free throws for the game.  In the fourth, they got into the bonus and drew 18 attempts — one less than the Raptors had for the whole game.

This should concern you: Carlos Delfino

You know the routine:  Carlos has a good game about once every two weeks.  He hides it well by surrounding it with a bunch of 1-for-5 and 2-for-7 shooting nights where you forget he’s even on the court.

Even though he hasn’t fit into the role seamlessly, Tobias Harris is now a starter and it is a justifiable move given his youth and the flashes of brilliance he has shown at times.  But why didn’t he replace Delfino as a starter instead of Shaun Livingston?  (A point which now, of course, is moot with Liv dinged up.)

Tweets of the Night:

@MR_Pratt:  Drew Gooden needs to remember he’s a center and not a point guard. He has trouble with that at times.

@HB_Barb:  SMH, who knew I would be so interested in the Milwaukee Bucks? Unbelievable. Being a Knicks fan is awesome! #Not

@brewhoop:  Via @AschNBA, Skiles on how he sold Ersan on better shot selection: “He’s in his contract year.”

Final verdict: Road wins are great, but…

The Bucks have a game tomorrow night, too.  Ilyasova and Dunleavy played heavy minutes.  Can they summon fresh legs for a tilt against New Jersey? Can Ersan get 25 rebounds against the Nets again?  (I kid, I kid…)

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Tags: Andrea Bargnani Brandon Jennings Drew Gooden Ersan Ilyasova Mike Dunleavy Milwaukee Bucks Toronto Raptors

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