The Milwaukee Bucks (5-2) led from start to finish against the Indiana Pacers (3-6), leading to a 14-point victory. The Bucks played their entire second unit from the middle of the third quarter to the middle of the fourth, inserting their third unit in the last few minutes of the game. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings led the way with 16 points each, while Samuel Dalembert chipped in with 14.
The Bucks’ lead was in the upper 20’s and low 30’s for much of the game, making this the most decisive victory of the year the team has had. Although the Pacers were without star small forward Danny Granger, this win will give the team confidence going forward. After having five players score in double figures (in addition to Ellis, Jennings and Dalembert, Tobias Harris had 11 and John Henson salvaged 10 quick garbage points), the team’s balanced approach was key in securing its second home victory of the season.
Here are three keys to the 5-2 start, as well as tonight’s win:
1. Brandon Jennings
Jennings has never started off a season better in his career. Sure, his statistics aren’t jaw-dropping (although the 3.1 steals per game is), the assist numbers are up but the points and rebounds are about the same. But if you’ve watched him play, you’ve seen it. He’s playing smart, confident and at an excellent controlled pace. He’s breaking down defenses and dishing the ball a lot more.
These are all great things for the team. Defenses now must wonder if Jennings will lay it in or kick it out to Ellis, Dunleavy or Harris on the wing. All three are dangerous because they can either shoot or slash to the basket. Another facet Jennings has added to his game this season is his active hands on defense. Pressuring the ball is something Skiles has asked the Bucks to do more this season and it has been effective. Jennings is poking the pill away from his man and immediately pushing the ball once he forces the turnover, often leading to points.
If Jennings continues to be the court general he has been by distributing the ball and leading the fast break, the Bucks will be in great shape. They go how he goes.
2. Front Court Depth
I’ll admit it. I was very critical of the roster decisions made in the offseason. Dalembert, Ilyasova, Udoh, Sanders, Henson, Przybilla and Gooden take up seven spots on the 15 man roster. However, the first five look like good moves so far. Sure, Ilyasova is scuffling but he’s taking shots and playing with passion which is key. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about a lack of effort from Ersan now that he’s paid. While Dalembert has looked good this season on defense so far, the real story has been the second unit down low.
Udoh and Sanders have been spectacular as a unit. Udoh has the beef to boss around bigger players but the length to alter shots. Meanwhile, Sanders can scuttle all over the floor by rebounding, blocking shots, scoring occasionally and even chirping with the other team from now and then. I must admit, I really enjoy the edge Sanders has been playing with. The fact that he’s getting lippy with other players shows he’s not intimidated.
3. Drew in Dress Clothes
Drew “Mr. Zero” Gooden hasn’t been dressing in uniform the last few games and has also accumulated the same number of minutes as his jersey number this season (0.) There’s a bittersweet shade to this fact. The sweet part is that Gooden isn’t playing, which is good for the Bucks and their fans. Gooden seems like a good player to the casual fan. He can fill up the box score by taking selfish shots from the perimeter and grabbing some boards here and there but just doesn’t fit well chemistry-wise on the court with this team.
I’m not saying he’s Charlie Villanueva but I also can’t understand why he thinks he should be shooting 20-footers when he has the body to bang down low. Gooden actually has great skills: he can pass, he has good hands and he has touch around the basket. His short arms do limit him against taller defenders but he’s got talent. Unfortunately, he has poor shot selection and worst of all is probably the worst defender on the team next to Przybilla. At least Przybilla is 7 feet tall. Gooden gets beat time and again by his man and it has finally led to Skiles having him sit pine for what looks like most of the season. Oh by the way, Gooden still has two more years on his contract after this season. So, if you see me stand up and try to start the wave every time the Bucks trot onto the BMO Harris Bradley Center Court, with Drew Gooden strolling in donning one of his tan suits, don’t judge me if I shed a tear of joy. The Bucks are winning and it’s not because of you Drew, nothing personal.