It’s Been A Long, Long Time: Milwaukee Bucks 105, Houston Rockets 99


Check a few streaks off the Bucks-ket list.

Playing without star center Andrew Bogut for the final three and a half quarters (sprained ankle), the Milwaukee Bucks caught fire from beyond the arc (14-29, 48%) and rode a hot bench (68 of 102 points) and a couple key runs to a 105-99 victory over the Houston Rockets. The win extinguished Houston’s seven-game winning streak, gave Milwaukee three straight road wins, and snapped the Bucks’ string of misfortune in Houston dating back to 1999.

After losing at Sacramento and Charlotte to start the season, Milwaukee has now rattled off three straight wins in New York, Miami, and Houston. If the Bucks were confusing before, they’re a Quantum Physics textbook now.

This game played out more like a golf tournament than a tennis match, with bursts of scoring followed by tapered dry spells rather than a regular exchange of leads. Like a pro staging his comeback on Sunday with a handful of holes remaining, the Bucks struck at the right times and forced Houston to respond with the clock working against them.

The Bucks’ starters jumped out to a 12-0 lead to start the game, only to see the lead slowly crumble through the second quarter (28-13 Rockets’ advantage). Houston dinked and dunked all over the softened underbelly of Milwaukee’s defense, surging to a 51-42 lead at halftime.

Unexpectedly, Milwaukee came out with fists up in the second half, defensively chipping away at the deficit before relinquishing the lead on back-to-back threes from Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih to end the third quarter. Through the middle of the fourth, a Bucks lineup mostly consisting of Udrih, Dunleavy, Stephen Jackson, Ersan Ilyasova, and Drew Gooden/Larry Sanders spear-headed a 30-7 run that gave Houston enough time to catch up, but not enough time to do so at a slow-moving pace.

MVP: The Bench

The Bucks bench turned in its best comprehensive performance of the season when it was needed most. Seven bench players combined for 68 points (26-53 FG, 8-16 3FG), 30 rebounds, 14 assists, 6 steals, 5 blocks, and just 6 turnovers. The bench was also responsible for 48 of the team’s total 63 second half points.

Stephen Jackson bounced back from a weekend to forget with an alpha dog performance, moving the ball and hitting a couple huge threes in the second half.

Ersan Ilyasova channeled his inner Kevin Love, registering a career high 19 rebounds as the Bucks’ only real interior threat. Ilyasova was aggressive all night, seeming to always be in the right place at the right time to wrestle against Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert.

Beno Udrih drained a clutch three pointer with seconds remaining in the third to put the Bucks up 72-70, and soon after converted a three point play that extended the lead to seven. Playing just 15 minutes, Udrih routinely skated inside the paint, and used his aggressiveness to create opportunities for teammates.

Did you know Drew Gooden can hit really, really deep shots? Gooden’s shortest shot of the night was a 20-footer, and he was consistent enough to force Houston’s interior into awkward territory around the perimeter,

Mike Dunleavy looked like himself again, moving well off the ball and hitting three of five three pointers.

Even Larry Sanders had a few shining moments; an incredible put-back after wrestling a rebound away from three Rockets defenders and respectably holding his own on defense.

LVP: Home, home on the mid-range

When the Bucks weren’t making layups (15-21, 71.5% eFG at the rim) or draining triples (14-29, 72.5% eFG), they were missing mid-range shots. Badly. All 12 Milwaukee scorers combined to shoot 10-41 (25.1% eFG) everywhere between 3 and 23 feet from the rim.

Limiting mid-range jumpers often translates into a victory. However, the Bucks won’t be able to mask their problems between the rim and three point line when those shots stop falling.

This should delight you…: A silent 20 points

It’s a good sign when Brandon Jennings puts up 20 points (6-16 FG, 4-7 3FG, 4-4 FT), 6 assists, and one turnover in a win and the Bucks’ post-game crew doesn’t mention him once. Deservedly so, the bigger story was the resurgent bench that shot 49% from the field, the continued proof that sharing is, indeed, caring (26 assists on 39 baskets), and a team capable of adjusting to the loss of a primary option against a red hot team on their home court.

I’m sure Jennings is fine dropping 20 (for the fifth straight game) to little fanfare, because it means the team is winning and, to use a different Jennings-ism, he doesn’t have to put it all on his back.

…And this should scare you: Andrew Bogut

It wouldn’t be a season if an awkward Andrew Bogut fall didn’t turn your face blue from lack of oxygen. In Bogut’s absence, Ilyasova did most of the heavy lifting for the Bucks’ bigs. Still, Samuel Dalembert (13 pts, 4-9 FG, 5-6 FT, 18 rbs, 6 orbs) and Luis Scola (18 pts, 7-11 FG, 4-5 FT, 8 rbs)led the Rockets to a 48-36 scoring advantage in the paint and dominated the boards 52-43.

It’s always a treat when the Bucks win without Bogut’s services, but his absence eliminates the Bucks’ post up options and places increased importance on jump shots. They were falling on Wednesday, but I don’t need to remind you of this team’s hot/cold reputation.

Final verdict: All guts, no Bo-gut

Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, J.R. Reid, and Robert “Tractor” Traylor.

That was the last Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup (Nov. 2, 1999) that left Houston with a victory before last night. I had completely forgotten that J.R. Reid had once worn a Bucks uniform.

Milwaukee set season highs in three point makes, and responded with confidence when Andrew Bogut left the game. The bench worked collectively in a way that would make labor unions jealous, but there’s too much history that says the Bucks won’t hit 14 three pointers and convert at high rates around the rim if Andrew Bogut is out for any indefinite period of time.

Overall, this was a much needed road win (is there any other kind?), but Milwaukee’s hole is still deep enough to prevent the team from pulling itself out manually.