Occam’s Razor says that the simplest answer to a question is often the best one.
It’s too easy to analyze and deconstruct the Milwaukee Bucks after every game, searching for every miniscule reason behind a blow out loss or close win. The reality is there’s an easy answer lurking behind every statistic, player/coach quote, and speculation about the future.
That’s what makes it hard to reading heavily into the Bucks’ 107-98 win over the Kyrie Irving-less Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. We know Milwaukee’s biggest problems (consistency, defending the paint), and their biggest strengths (passing, backcourt scoring). But that doesn’t make accepting them easier.
Facing an opposing backcourt consisting of names more worthy of a buddy cop action flick (Donald Sloan, Lester Hudson) than an NBA lineup, the Bucks jumped out to a 29-14 first quarter lead that ultimately saved the game.
In the final three quarters, Cleveland carried an 84-78 advantage, mostly from the white hot shooting of Anthony Parker (27 pts, 11-14 FG, 4-7 3FG, 7 rbs, 4 asts) and routine second chance opportunities (20 points off 21 offensive boards).
The Cavs got within 6 late in the fourth, but 16 straight points from Monta Ellis (30 pts, 15-25 FG, 8 asts, 5 rbs) sealed a win that should’ve come at a lesser price. Brandon Jennings (19 pts, 9-14 FG, 4 asts, 34 stls) fed off Cleveland’s focus on Ellis, and was even the recipient of an ally-oop from his undersized backcourt mate.
“We came out, played well in the first quarter and then they won the last three quarters,” Scott Skiles said. “It’s a team, you feel like, we should handle a little bit easier than we did. But we won the game, which is good to see, and made some shots.”
MVP: Monta Ellis
Like a perfect Qdoba burrito with queso, Monta Ellis was a scorer, distributor and closer rolled into one. Ellis’ explosive cuts and acrobatic lay-ins are expected against the likes of Donald Sloan and Anthony Parker, but this was the first time we’ve seen Ellis as Mr. Freeze.
“We were putting him in pick and rolls,” Skiles said. “He was coming off and beating the guy. He was rising up and knocking them down. … He’s a good player.”
Ellis looked regularly turned the threat of a drive into a scoring opportunity for teammates. He was seeing cutters two seconds before they sliced towards the hoop, often drawing a defender and making a seamless pass for an easy bucket. Coupled with his late-game domination, Ellis made the Bucks’ offense easy on the eyes.
LVP: Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders denied two consecutive Cavalier attempts in the second quarter, sending the crowd into convulsive applause. He wasn’t awful or detrimental to the team by any means; we just saw too much of his concrete hands at times.
This should delight you: The Influential Ekpe Udoh
Ekpe Udoh (flashed some offense, hitting a few corner 10 footers, and finishing at the rim with the tempered authority you expect from an athletic, offensively raw big man. As always, Udoh was solid pulling the defensive strings around the rim, but he was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Ellis passes.
This should scare you: No Kyrie Irving, a slight problem
Any team battling for their playoff life should not atrophy against a fading team starting D-League players and missing its franchise point guard. Milwaukee had the same issues Wednesday (stopping penetration) against the 17-35 Cavaliers as they do against elite teams like the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
“(We) just had a hard time controlling penetration,” Skiles said. “They made a lot of hustle plays. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, without Kyrie (Irving) and being down like that at the end of the first quarter, that’d be a very easy game to just mail in.”
Tweets of the game:
@Bucksketball: Would anyone be upset if they just had babies race all game instead of having the Bucks and Cavs play?
@AnaheimAmigos: Brandon Jennings with 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. The #2 he doesn’t miss? Kyrie Irving.
Final verdict: Sacrificial Cavs
Every game carries equal importance when a team is fighting for a playoff spot. The Bucks made it out alive, but did so on 12 minutes of complete basketball and 3 fourth quarter minutes of a one-man takeover.
The Bucks made up some ground on the New York Knicks, but it feels like it should’ve looked more dominating.
“We need every game going down the stretch,” Luc Mbah a Moute said. “(Charlotte and Portland) are having a really tough time right now, but a basketball game is a basketball game. Any team can bring the energy at any time. We need to come out with good energy and the right mindset to win the game.”