It was the tale of two halves for the Bucks (16-15) and the Rockets (19-14).
Milwaukee led by as many as 18 points in the first half; they trailed by an equivalent number in the second half.
They were winning by 11 at halftime, 58-47; they lost by 14, 115-101.
They scored 37 points in the second quarter; they scored 43 the entire second half.
They turned the ball over six times in the first half; they coughed it up 19 times in the next 24 minutes.
And so on, and so on.
The Rockets were paced by a steady performance from their new star, James Harden. After a relatively quiet first half (13 points on 12 shots), Harden went on to hit five of his last six shots, including two three-pointers. He finished with 29 points and seven assists. Houston also benefited from a strong scoring punch from the bench, who scored over half their points. Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas combined for 58 points on 32 shots and 11 threes.
The Bucks had a balanced scoring attack, with seven players in double figures. Brandon Jennings led the way with 16 points on 6-15 shooting. Milwaukee shot 44.8 percent from the field, while Houston hit 54.2 percent of their shots — including 13 of 33 (!) three-point attempts. The Bucks also showcased a balanced effort of throwing the ball away; every starter had at least three turnovers.
Milwaukee has now lost three straight games after the 19-point win over Miami.
The Rookie Shines…But Needs to Improve Defense:
John Henson was a — if not the sole — bright spot for Milwaukee throughout the game. Head coach Scott Skiles gave Henson 27 minutes of burn off the bench, and the rookie delivered with another impressive outing. Henson provided a spark offensively, gracefully finishing around the hoop with his left hand, while also showing a lot of activity on the offensive glass. He finished with 11 points on 5-10 shooting, 15 rebounds (seven offensive), two steals and two blocked shots.
However, as Skiles is quick to point out, Henson has a ways to go defensively. He looks a little uncomfortable defending pick and rolls — often unsure how far to show. Here’s one example from the first quarter.
Mike Dunleavy cut off Delfino on a fast break, and Henson ran down to double team.
Delfino passed out to the trailing Omer Asik, who handed the ball back to Delfino on the wing. Henson, smartly, stayed a couple feet off Asik.
Asik then set a pick and rolled to the basket, while Delfino drove. Dunleavy took himself out of the play by slipping. Henson committed himself to stopping Delfino’s penetration, despite Ilyasova stepping over, which allowed Asik to cut freely.
Asik caught the ball with a wide-open lane to the basket. Fortunately, Henson showed the awareness to foul Asik, a poor free throw shooter, who missed both.
Also, Henson was caught several times sagging too far off his man. On one such occasion, though under unusual circumstances, he left Patrick Patterson wide open on a three-point attempt toward the end of the third quarter.
After a backdoor cut to the basket, Carlos Delfino bobbled a pass from James Harden. Henson had started sagging over and tried to grab the ball, which squirted out to Chandler Parsons on the perimeter.
Patterson, pictured at the bottom, barely moved from his original position during the whole sequence.
Parsons made an easy cross court to Patterson, who’s shooting 34.7 percent from beyond the arc this year. Patterson promptly knocked it down, extending Houston’s lead to five with 30 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Clearly, neither of these plays were all of Henson’s fault, but they present themselves as learning opportunities for the rookie. If he doesn’t become more fundamentally sound on the defensive end, Skiles will have no qualms about leaving him out of the rotation in favor of Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and Ersan Ilyasova.
New Starting Lineup:
Skiles switched up the Bucks’ starting lineup prior to the game– swapping out Marquis Daniels for Udoh — but it didn’t quite have the effect the head coach was looking for. Although they played decently in the first half, with the bench providing a huge spark in the second frame, the new starting unit was dreadful to start the second half. The Bucks didn’t connect on a field goal until Udoh tipped a ball in with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter. After outscoring the Rockets 37-24 in the second frame, the Bucks were outscored 30-14 in the third.
As evidence of this utter collapse, Jennings’ plus/minus was a remarkable +20 at intermission. It petered out to -11 by the end of the game. The starter with the highest plus/minus was Larry Sanders, who finished with -9.
At least it’s a small sample size — I wouldn’t write off this starting unit just yet.
Daniels, meanwhile, received the dreaded and recently unpredictable DNP-CD.
For the past three seasons, Bucks fans could count on an unconscious Carlos Delfino hot streak every five or six games. They weren’t sustainable and never seemed to last quite long enough, but they were always something to behold. Tonight featured one of those performances by the 30-year-old Argentinian. Delfino, who was shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 35.3 percent beyond the arc coming into the game, hit six of his seven three-point attempts. He finished the night with 22 points in 28 minutes.
You can bet Delfino enjoyed his Milwaukee homecoming. After a rare one-handed dunk (“sneaky athleticism!”), he gave a little stare to the Bucks’ bench. However, he probably would have been better off setting his sights elsewhere.
A Tweet for Each Quarter:
Monta Ellis his a layup with an incredible degree of difficulty, very slick. James Harden gets two free throws. Very consistent.
— Jeremy Schmidt (@Bucksketball) January 5, 2013
Former Buck Carlos Delfino has hit three straight three’s to keep Houston in this. #Bucks up 54-39.
— Andrew Gruman (@AndrewGruman) January 5, 2013
What are points?
— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) January 5, 2013
The thing about that game is thaTWEET INTERCEPTED BY HOUSTON ROCKETS DELFINO FOR THREE IT’S GOOD
— Dan Sinclair (@dan_sinclair) January 5, 2013