In the end, the Bucks are 4-2, but oddly, they can be so much better.
On one sequence in the Bucks’ 105-96 win over the 76ers, Ersan Ilyasova and Tobias Harris went up for a rebound. In a move that completely epitomized the frustrating seasons each of the Bucks’ starting forwards has had to date, the pair unknowingly yanked at each other for a jump ball that wasn’t. A whistle for a traveling infraction ended their plight: a turnover, one of 23 on the night.
NBA teams aren’t supposed to ordinarily win games when they commit 23 turnovers. They are not supposed to win when a clever coaching strategy outfoxes them for a quarter. Or when (in a different quarter) a 16-point lead is blown in less than seven minutes.
But, for those things that the Bucks did well, they did them VERY well.
Brandon Jennings scored a lot of points — 31, to be exact — on not a lot of shots (21). He paired them with eight rebounds, five assists, four steals, and two blocks. On a night when the Bucks were handing out turnovers the way NBA cheer squads toss around T-shirts, Brandon only had one.
He also won the one-on-one battle with 4-year, $41 million man Jrue Holiday.
At some point, though, Jennings’ league-leading steals numbers are going to get a gigantic asterisk, as he is gambling shamelessly on double teams to get them and leaving shooters wide open when he doesn’t.
The Bucks also owned the boards — quietly amassing a 48-31 advantage. Even Ekpe Udoh had five of them. The Bucks corralled 42 defensive rebounds while only allowing four offensive rebounds to the 76ers.
What the Bucks did best was that they stormed through one of those second-half stretches where they just weren’t going to let the other team score. In this game, it came in the fourth quarter — the 76ers only made three of their final 20 shots. It took a while for Larry Sanders to settle in, as early foul trouble limited his minutes in the first half. But in the fourth, he controlled the interior. The 76ers only took six shots in the paint and of those they could only manage one. Mike Dunleavy, Jennings and Sanders each had four defensive rebounds in the quarter.
Noted Bucks killer Jason Richardson returned from an ankle injury that had sidelined him for a few games. Not surprisingly, he ripped Milwaukee for 20 points, 10 of which came in the first quarter. What was interesting, though, was that the matchup (or mismatch) set up for him. Richardson and Tobias Harris guarded each other, while Dorell Wright took the task of guarding Monta Ellis. Richardson gave the larger 20-year-old fits, scoring off screens, in the pick and roll, and on pull-up jump shots. To his credit, Harris play a heady, composed game on offense, and as a result, Scott Skiles didn’t have to overuse his bench by summoning them too early in the first stanza. The starting five stayed in place for nearly the first 7:53 of the game.
76ers coach Doug Collins shrewdly moved to a small-ball lineup in the second quarter, leaving Udoh matched up with three-point shooter Wright as the 76ers token “power forward”. Udoh could not score on Wright in the low post despite getting a pair of decent looks on consecutive possessions. Worse, Ekpe couldn’t fight his “help defense at all costs” mentality — a mindset that normally serves him so well. With the sharpshooting Wright as his charge on defense, Udoh routinely floated too far down in the paint, leaving Wright to have his selection of a wide buffet of open three-point looks. He promptly devoured four of them.
The third quarter saw the Bucks build up a big lead — one that dissolved to nothing by quarter’s end. The Bucks nearly came out of the frame with a lead. With just over a minute remaining, the Bucks put together 20 seconds of solid defense that nearly had eaten up the shot clock. But then a deflection trickled out above the three-point circle and Nick Young hit a 28-foot jump shot that zapped the Bucks’ potential momentum change.
Monta Ellis finished with 18 points and seven assists, but also pitched in six mind-boggling turnovers, one of which Richardson turned into a fast break, 360-degree dunk. His ankle looks okay.
That’s the maddening this about this team. Monta and Brandon haven’t played well in the same game. ‘Cruddy’ fits more aptly than any other description for Ersan and Tobias this year. Samuel Dalembert occasionally pitches in with a nice first quarter (he did again in this game) before disappearing for the evening. The Bucks win anyway.
Are they good enough to keep winning with inconsistent performances? The loss to the Grizzlies is slightly easier to digest after watching them rout the Heat.
Vancouver Memphis may quietly be the best team in the league early in the season. The Bucks lost a close one to Boston, but they also thrashed them in another meeting. If the Bucks get better, can they win games like the two they lost? Or are they already playing about their heads at 4-2? My head hurts. Am I being greedy?
After a pivotal match with Indiana Wednesday, Milwaukee will get a chance to show they can consistently outplay non-playoff contenders: New Orleans and Charlotte.
For now, the Bucks lead the Central Division two weeks into the season. Enjoy it for however long it lasts.
Nick Young has only attempted 2 shots in 18 minutes tonight. He has made both of them. He also has an assist. #Mayans
— Stephane Hardinger (@GoingHard_inger) November 13, 2012
MAX EXTENSION RT @colewbrown: Larry Sanders is this years Ersan Ilyasova.
— Dan Sinclair (@dan_sinclair) November 13, 2012
Thaddeus Young just defended Dunleavy on all those pindowns better than anyone I’ve seen guard Dunleavy all year
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) November 13, 2012