I’ve seen Star Wars probably two million times. I know how it starts, ends, and rises and falls in between. I’ve got most of the lines memorized, anticipate every explosion and firefight, and react to the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi with silent acceptance.
I reacted the same way after watching the Oklahoma City Thunder systematic dismantle the newly .500 Milwaukee Bucks 109-89 Monday night.
I’ve seen the explosions of frustrations (including five Bucks technical fouls and a Larry Sanders ejection). I know the storyline (get punched in the mouth by a good team, recoil into a deep deficit). I silently accept Milwaukee’s 14-2 record against plus .500 teams since February 1.
The Thunder just needed a 35-18 first quarter advantage and a pile of broken ankles from Russell Westbrook (26 pts, 11-21 FG, 3-5 3FG, 7 RBS) and Kevin Durant (19 pts, 5-14 FG, 8 asts, 4 rbs) crossovers to psychologically wrap this game up. Oklahoma City came out swinging (16-6 rebounding advantage), punching Milwaukee with a litany of isolations and pick and rolls.
To paraphrase Admiral Ackbar, the Bucks’ “cruisers can’t repel firepower of that magnitude.”
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova
It seems unfathomable to call Ersan Ilyasova (18 pts, 6-9 FG, 3-5 3FG, 2 asts, 2 rbs) the Bucks’ MVP with no help from his rebounding prowess. Alas, here we are.
Ilyasova was hyper-efficient, and really stroking it from deep (3-5 3FG). Maybe it was his relegation to the perimeter, maybe it was the length and girth of Serge Ibaka (13 pts, 6-9 FG, 5 blks, 4 rbs) and Kendrick Perkins (8 pts, 3-9 FG, 7 rbs), but Ilyasova only mustered two total rebounds.
That will happen to a team’s best rebounder when he relies on craftiness over size when crashing the boards.
LVP: Monta Ellis
Remember this? Now forget it, because this (9 pts, 3-12 FG, 7 asts) was the anti-Christ of Monta Ellis’ 48-point outburst.
He scored 20 points at the rim (10-11) in that game, but you wouldn’t know it by the way Ellis was defended Monday. He was constantly met with an outstretched hand, and often settled for 20-foot jumpers that didn’t look good from the outset.
Nothing came easy (thanks, Thabo Sefalosha), but nothing does against a team of the Thunder’s caliber.
This should leave you exasperated: Synergy doesn’t lie
When something becomes a trend, the accuracy of an educated guess is often amplified. The Thunder are the NBA’s best at scoring in isolation (.9 PPP) and with a ball handler out of a pick and roll (.89 PPP). Conveniently, the Bucks rank 28th in defending against isolation sets (.86 PPP) and 17th against pick and roll ball handlers (.86 PPP).
That type of predictability can be remedied, with the right overcompensation elsewhere. Against teams as polished as Oklahoma City, Milwaukee doesn’t have too many tricks up their sleeve.
This should serve as somewhat of a consolation prize: About those other three quarters…
Remove the first quarter, and the Bucks kept the game within three points (74-71 Thunder advantage). Milwaukee out-rebounded (29-28) and out-scored Oklahoma City in the paint (38-28) in those final 36 minutes.
Of course, we’ve heard that story before too. The early bird gets the worm, or something like that.
Tweets of the night:
@GeryWoelfel: Bucks have 5 – repeat 5 –techs tonight. Most by a Bucks team since 12-31-01.
@dan_sinclair: So, this lineup should just be running staggered screens for Mike Dunleavy over and over again, right?
@StevevonHorn: The Bucks have never led in this game and will have trailed by 10+ points for 43 straight minutes by the time it is all over. Yikes.
Final verdict: Judgment week starts with a few bumps, bruises, and broken ankles
This was not exactly an encouraging start to the definitive week of the Milwaukee Bucks’ season. It would be one thing if the ball was struggling to find its way into the cup, but coach Scott Skiles’ post-game comments were of a more ominous nature.
“Our issue is not, can we play well for several minutes of the game? Yes we can,” Skiles said. “Our issue is, are we ready when the ball goes up, can we play consistently, are we always getting after it, whether the shots go in or not?
“To be honest, I don’t know if we can do that. We haven’t shown yet, if everything isn’t clicking for us, we can really dig down and be physical and steal a game from somebody.”