On a night filled with fortune and chance, the Milwaukee Bucks came away as the big winners while the Cleveland Cavaliers went home with a few extra lottery tickets.
The Bucks bankrupted the Cavs, 121-84, effectively ending the Cleveland’s chance at the postseason and shrinking the chase for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot to a two-team race between the Knicks and Bucks. Using their high-motion, uptempo offense, the Bucks erupted for a 71-point first half and cruised to victory in the second half, while resting their starters in the fourth quarter in anticipation of tomorrow’s home date versus Memphis.
Brandon Jennings scored 28 points and zipped out six assists, including a sidearm fireball to a streaking Ersan Ilyasova for one of the night’s many highlights. A visibly refreshed Ersan Ilyasova put up a ho-hum 20-10 line, and Beno Udrih led the team (again) with 10 assists from the bench. The Bucks reached the 30-assist threshold for the eighth time in 12 games.
The Bucks had not won a road game by 35 or more points since April 10, 1987, when Ricky Pierce and Terry Cummings went into Madison Square Garden and dumped a 39-point beatdown on a Patrick Ewing-less Knicks team.
MVP: Mike Dunleavy
For the second time in a week, Mike Dunleavy started a game by scoring 14 points on five shots in less than half a quarter. Mercifully, the Bucks actually won the game this time. The difference? In Monday’s game against the Knicks, the Bucks not named Dunleavy scored 21 baskets. Tonight, Bucks other than Dunleavy made 23 baskets in the first half alone.
With another fantastically efficient performance, Mike Dunleavy has an effective field goal percentage of 0.592 for the season, which ranks second in the NBA behind Tyson Chandler among qualified players. (eFG% uses proportional weighting to account for the added value of a three-point shot). Keep in mind that Chandler is a 7-foot center scoring most of his baskets on tip-ins, layups, and dunks. Dunleavy has few peers as a marksman this year.
LVP: Kyrie Irving
It is hard to fathom that the Bucks won by 37 points on a night when the opposition’s best player lit it up for the entire night. But that really is what happened. Brandon Jennings and Irving went back and forth on their way to matching 21-point first halves.
In a change from the usual script, though, it was Jennings who netted his points in the flow of the offense. With no help at all from a dreadful Cavs roster, Irving — who turned 20 years old this week — sunk shot after shot on plays that didn’t involve a whole lot of ball movement and/or teammates. He also sprinkled six turnovers in with his five assists.
Worst of all, Irving injured his shoulder running into Ilyasova in the second quarter. How dare you hurt Kyrie, Ersan? Don’t you know that they have to play the Knicks tomorrow?
This should delight you: Udoh/Sanders/Dunleavy/Udrih/Jennings
Scott Skiles rolled out this lineup to start the second quarter. In theory, it puts the team’s two best rim defenders in the paint and their two best three-point shooters on the perimeter. Put Beno at the helm, throw it in there against the opponent’s bench, and see how it shakes out.
Tonight, it shook out very well. In four minutes of action, this lineup outscored the Cavs, 16-1. Then Skiles made the most natural substitution — Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for Sanders — and they ran off a few more points for good measure. Sure, the jump shots won’t always go down like they did tonight, but this lineup fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The Twin Towers of Udoh and Sanders atone for the defensive sins created by using Udrih and Jennings together at guard. On offense, the perimeter players pull out defenders to make space in the paint for Udoh and Sanders to cut to the rim. And with Beno running the show, Brandon becomes a 5’11″ shooting guard. Even if this violates the unwritten (and nonsensical) “Thou Shalt Not Use Your Smaller Guard Off the Ball” commandment, it succeeds because if forces Brandon to play to his strengths: catch-and-shoot threes, dragging his man through and around traffic and screens, and going to the rim without the ball.
This should annoy you:
The Bucks shot a fat 56.8% for the night, including an insane 10-of-16 shots from three-point range. Criticizing anything about a 121-point scoring outburst is picking nits, but the Bucks and their motion offense actually created a decent number of open looks from near the rim that they missed. Those shots may be needed when the Bucks play stronger foes.
Tweets of the Night:
@SamAmicoFSO: Cavs analyst Jim Chones on Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings backcourt. “I don’t know if this marriage is gonna work, but it scares other teams.”
@tastes_burning: Larry Sanders just made a turnaround jumper in the lane. This MUST be a charmed night for Milwaukee.
@freedarko: CLE/MIL is a very buzzworthy NBA game, which says as much about this season as it does these teams.
Final verdict: The Bucks can beat bad teams.
But it goes further than that. Against teams with sub-.500 win-loss records, the new-look Bucks are a virtual lock to score 100 points off 30 attractive assists in a free-flowing offense — making for one of the best-kept NBA secrets of 2012: the Bucks are surprisingly fun to watch.