In my game preview that wasn’t (see here), I talked about how I was afraid of tonight’s game against Minnesota. I had this deep pit in my stomach in the hours leading up to tipoff because there was just that feeling that it would either be a heartbreaking defeat or a game of basketball that was so ugly that it would make my dog cry (which it did).
The struggle of watching this game as a Bucks fan basically started from the opening few minutes of the game when Milwaukee was struggling to contain both Ricky Rubio around the perimeter and the 290 pound mammoth, Nikola Pekovic. In that game preview, I mentioned how I was kind of scared about that Sanders vs. Pekovic matchup because of how much a brute force that Nikola actually is. He impacted the game early with his ability to work past either Ilyasova or Larry Sanders to get easy buckets. Pekovic finished with a spectacular stat line of 27 points and 8 rebounds on 11-for-14 shooting (78%).
While Pekovic was killing Milwaukee inside the paint, Basketball Twitter’s most beloved son, Rubio, played a strange first quarter by scoring 9 points on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc. Rubio has been the furthest thing from a scoring threat in his first two seasons in the league so I knew that something was up in this game when a player like Rubio looked the second coming of Dell Curry.
The contributions of Rubio and Pekovic helped lead Minnesota to a 34-23 lead as they entered the second quarter but Milwaukee quickly rumbled their way back thanks to the help of Monta and Mike Dunleavy. Mike Dunleavy had a rough month of March (shot 37% from the field) be he was rolling in this quarter, grabbing 10 points with the help of three long-range bombs. The hot shooting stroke transferred over to Monta Ellis who made a nice streak of mid-range jumpers that would make Doug Collins shed a tear of joy.
With the score set at 55-52 going into the second half, things got even stranger as the third quarter became a competition between Derrick Williams and Ersan Ilyasova. You can’t be surprised anymore with whatever Ilyasova does because he’s been so spectacular (19 PPG and 9.1 RPG) since the All-Star break and he continued that with not only the third quarter but for the entire game. Ersan finished the game with 29 points and 12 boards with 11 of those points coming in the third. The former #2 overall pick out of Arizona, Derrick Williams had a solid quarter with Minnesota by matching Ersan’s 11 points and also making some pretty solid moves around the basket.
Speaking of working around the basket, this game for Minnesota was decided inside the paint as they score 58 points compared to 38 for Milwaukee. The Bucks defense has been below average for most of the season but they’ve been struggling as of late from the most efficient scoring areas on the floor: around the perimeter and inside the paint. Dunleavy was quoted as saying the following about the Bucks’ defensive struggles, “Our field goal defense isn’t very good right now. We’re struggling a little bit with that. We’ve had some lulls, so that’s definitely hurting us as well.”
The Bucks’ offense has been doing just fine as of late but the defense is the one thing that is not only taking out of that race for the 7th seed but is also making that upcoming series against Miami even more dreadful. Milwaukee allowed the worst offense in the NBA to shoot 52% from the field so there’s no telling how ugly a series could possibly get when matched up against the likes of LeBron, Wade and Bosh.
Fun with Photo Negatives:
Pekovic backs down Sanders in Minnesota:
Pekovic backs down Sanders in Milwaukee:
It is just me, or are the similarities in these two photos uncanny?