It’s hard to start a long weekend party when you need fireworks and sparklers are the only thing available.
The Milwaukee Bucks fumbled away their season-high six game-winning streak Thursday night, falling to the Boston Celtics 100-91. It was the first game of a five-in-six nights stretch for Milwaukee, and an awful display of regression.
For the past two weeks, the Bucks rehabilitated their reputation into one of a solid, team-centric philosophy for winning. They racked up 30+ assists in four of their six consecutive wins, consistently boasted five double figure scorers, never dipped below the 105 point threshold, and got consistent, if not spectacular, play from their bench.
But facing a playoff-caliber team starting at least three Hall of Famers, the Bucks relapsed back to a mistake-prone state. Milwaukee only mustered 33 second half points (in 24 minutes), committed 15 turnovers (compared to 23 assists), and were rejected 11 times by Boston defenders.
While Milwaukee was effective containing Ray Allen around the perimeter (6 pts, 1-8 FG, 1-5 3FG, 4 rbs), Paul Pierce (25 pts, 10-15 FG, 3-3 3FG, 9 rbs), Rajon Rondo (10 pts, 5-9 FG, 14 asts), and the high release, late-blooming shot of Kevin Garnett (16 pts, 8-18 FG, 10 rbs) still remained. The Bucks’ defense, lacking a real influential presence inside, is good enough to stop one star, and bad enough to let another star/streaky role player pick up that slack.
Monta Ellis, playing in his Bradley Center debut, needed 18 shots to score 13 points (6-18, 7 asts). Although more efficient (19 points on 6-14 FG, 7-8 FT), Brandon Jennings spent much of the game watching Avery Bradley and Rondo blow by on their way to the hoop, and committed five turnovers to two assists.
All in all, the Bucks needed to start their weekend marathon on a good note; instead they fell flat under all-too familiar circumstances.
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova
Three months ago, a 12 point (6-11 FG), 14 rebound performance from Ersan Ilyasova would’ve sent the Milwaukee media hoard swarming around his locker after the game. Now? It’s just another night for a player that raised the bar and will cash in accordingly in four months.
Ilyasova scored all of his points in the first half (6-8 FG), rescuing a few errant shots in the process. He’s also arguably the NBA’s foremost expert at drawing charges (one on the game).
LVP: Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden’s midrange jumper (52.6% from 16-23 feet) has been a deadly asset for the Bucks’ offense in March, creating space and forcing defenses to think before acting. But against the Celtics, nothing was falling for the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (6 pts, 2-12 FG, 3 rbs, 3 asts, 2 TOs).
Thursday night was an excellent argument against a perimeter-focused frontcourt. Gooden’s lack of a functional jumper allowed Boston to swarm around Jennings and Ellis, forcing them to into nothing but contested situations for most of the evening.
This should delight you: Ekpe Udoh
Udoh set a new career high in rebounds, with 10 (4 offensive). He played 21 solid minutes of defense, and proved he’s the closest thing the Bucks have to a threatening rim protector.
For the most part, Udoh forced the Celtics to stick to perimeter-based offensive sets, and against a fairly skilled Boston frontline, the second year forward/center played admirably. So far so good for the player the Bucks “insisted” on acquiring for Andrew Bogut.
Along those lines, I can’t be the only person dreaming of Udoh and Larry Sanders reaching their full shot blocking, paint defending potential within the next year or two.
This should concern you: Ball Movement, Shot Selection
Getting into an unselfish rhythm on offense makes everyone feel confident they are taking a good shot. The Bucks have connected on 39.7% of their three point attempts in March. That’s no coincidence.
Thursday night, Milwaukee made quite a few passes to players too far or too close (Udoh took a no-look from Beno Udrih off the noggin), and as the game wore on, frustration and desparation began setting in. The Bucks finished with just 3 triples on 15 attempts (20%), and 8-24 (33%) on shots outside the paint.
The Celtics have been an incredibly physical and disruptive defense for a while, but stagnated, self-aggrandizing basketball will always be an issue on a team with no stars.
Tweets Of The Night:
Final verdict: This was a real team
The Bucks’ record against teams above .500 is now 5-18. They also entered the game white hot as a team, brimming with confidence. It didn’t really matter. When Boston wanted to put the game away, they did, one Rondo kick out and/or Kevin Garnett jumper at a time.
As good as the Milwaukee Bucks have been in March, they still would stand little chance of advancing past the first round against any current playoff team. Had they lost in a fashion similar to March 8 against the Chicago Bulls, things might feel a little different.
In the end, this was the bipolar, inconsistent Bucks team we’ve critiqued heavily over the past few months. The pieces have changed, but the results against quality opponents have stayed the same.