The circle of life rears its ugly head.
The loss served as another painful reminder of the Bucks’ place on the NBA food chain.
“They’re a good defensive team. They load up and do things that are disciplined and right,” Mike Dunleavy said. “There’s a way to come at that, and we don’t take the easy plays. That’s why we end up with 80 points against these good teams and 115 against the bad ones.”
Milwaukee constantly pestered Memphis’ drive-happy offense early one, holding the Grizzlies to a season-best 11 first quarter points, forcing 5 turnovers, and punctuating the aggressiveness with a quarter-ending 13-3 run.
Milwaukee’s defensive lockup was short lived, as the Memphis bench, led by Zach Randolph (13 pts, 6-9 FG, ) and OJ Mayo, brought the Grizzlies to within four points at half. Then the third quarter (and a 10-0 Memphis run) happened. Commence the “Bucks can’t beat a +.500 team” narrative.
Three of five Grizzlies starters (Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, Marreese Speights) finished with double-doubles, and Memphis had an incredibly balanced offensive attack (starters totaled 48 points, bench totaled 51 points).
The Bucks have never had a problem flashing skills. They have issues with consistency. Memphis can afford to make 11 first half turnovers (resulting in 17 points the other way) when they have Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, OJ Mayo, and Marc Gasol on the horizon of good offensive rhythm.
Milwaukee don’t have that luxury, and a long form lapse in production places even more stress on the shoulders of Milwaukee’s best scorers (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, in case you were wondering).
Losing to good teams rarely gives fans conniptions, but it reaffirms the biggest flaws in a team’s architecture.
“Instead of sort of easily moving the ball to each other like we have been, and we’ve done this against some of the better teams or when we’re under duress,” Scott Skiles said. “We get that narrow field of vision and each guy takes off. Hence, not a good offensive game for us.”
MVP: Brandon Jennings
Within a one minute span, Brandon Jennings completed two of the most unlikely, flashy plays of his season. Jennings followed up an around-the-world reverse lay-in (and one) with a steal, missed open dunk, rebound, and driving, foul-drawing fade-away.
Jennings wasn’t extremely efficient (24 points on 19 shots), but he gets the nod here simply for the excitement of those two plays.
LVP: Monta Ellis
Ellis followed up a 6-16 performance against the Cavaliers with his worst game as a Buck (8 pts, 2-12 FG, 5 asts, 4 rbs). Guarded most of the night by Ron Artest 2.0 (aka Tony Allen), Ellis couldn’t get a shot off close to the basket, and was badgered consistently moving off the ball.
Ellis hit his first non-free throw halfway through the fourth quarter, and really had problems getting decent looks to fall.
This should delight you: Turnovers
Any game involving the Grizzlies has a high potential for sloppiness and turnovers in bunches. This one was no different.
The Bucks kept things close, and even carried a 51-47 lead into halftime, thanks in large part to 17 Memphis turnovers converted into 24 Milwaukee points. The Grizzlies lead the NBA in steals per game (10), and caused 15 turnovers of their own, but the Bucks’ most exciting plays of the night often came after a steal.
This should concern you: Rebounds, defense
The Bucks were aggressive, but not physical. They lack the size necessary to counter punch the defensive haymakers from Maureese Speights, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay and pretty much every other player on the Grizzlies.
Memphis obliterated Milwaukee on the boards (58-39), and completely snuffed out the Bucks’ backcourt lightning bugs in the second (15 points combined from Jennings, Ellis). Despite a string of recent successes against lesser opponents, the recipe for a victory over the Bucks remains the same: smother the perimeter, crash the glass hard.
Final verdict: 2.5 games behind
The Knicks extended their hold on the Eastern Conference eighth spot to 2.5 games, and even without Jeremy Lin for the next six weeks, that grip should only strengthen.
The Bucks are extremely good at beating bad teams, and extremely incapable of anything more than stealing an off-night win from good opponents. Those issues will still be in play if the team finds a way to leapfrog New York in the standings.