Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
The Bucks marched into Loud City and proceeded to hush the crowd in a 98-87 win over the Thunder. In the process, they restored some of the wide-eyed hope that comes with the start of every season but was dampened in a discouraging opening loss to the Bulls:
Hope that the starting frontcourt of the future for the past three years is ready, here and now. Hope that new coach Scott Skiles can cultivate a defensive character in a cast known more for offense. Hope that Michael Redd can score and win, rather than one or the other. Hope that the hometown team makes you want to watch, and not only because they are the hometown team.
Hopefully those trends continue.
Charlie Villanueva. Games like this make you wish you hadn't taught yourself so well that Villanueva is usually the teasing type. Maybe, just maybe this time he's for real. CV found his offensive groove, and did it while shooting only two three-pointers. He scored 20 points and probably at least as many Skiles-brownie-points with 12 boards and two blocks. Charlie started fast, and overcame a tough-luck fourth quarter with a pair of plays that sealed the game for Milwaukee. First, with just over three minutes remaining and the Thunder rallying, he followed his own missed jumper and floated in a seven-footer to extend the lead to 94-79. He then hustled down the court and drew an offensive foul on old pal Desmond Mason.
- Richard Jefferson. RJ notched a pretty quiet, really efficient 20 points. His 5-9 effort from the field nicely made up for the 5-17 struggle against the Bulls. He got to the line more than all but five players last season so it's not likely the last time we see him go 8-9 at the stripe. He also played well defensively, and easily led the club in minutes, with 39.
Andrew Bogut. For the second night in a row, Bogut was forced to the bench in the first quarter after accumulating two fouls. The difference tonight was that he set the tone of the game before exiting. His final numbers were more modest: 14 points and six turnovers. But he anchored the team's big first quarter by hitting his first four shots.
0. Kevin Durant was held without a point, rebound, assist, block, or steal in his first half of basketball in a Thunder uniform. As we know, three is a magic number, and Durant did have three fouls and three turnovers in the first couple quarters.
+24. After spending just nine minutes and change on the court against Chicago, Villanueva boasted a team-best +24 rating against Oklahoma City in 34 mintues.
- 1. The Sonics hit just 1-6 from outside, while the Bucks rained seven three-pointers on Oklahoma City's opening night parade.
- Starting in the frontcourt. The Bogut/Villanueva starting frontcourt combined for 13 points against the Bulls. Tonight, they matched that total in a shade over five game minutes. The Bucks fed Bogut on the first three possessions of the game, and scored on all three, including a truly thunderous dunk. Only a pair of first quarter fouls could pause the party in the paint. It’s far easier said than done, but working the ball inside and then outside is a desirable formula. The early post presence was particularly important on this night, when the starting backcourt started 0-7 from the field and didn’t get on the board until Michael Redd snapped a corner three with less than six minutes left in the first half.
20-20-20 and 20 Vision. Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, and Charlie Villanueva netted 20 points each, just the type of balanced effort that can drive the Bucks to success this season. The Bucks have enough legitimate offensive firepower to make this work at least semi-regularly. They also received help from a bench that doesn't figure to pile up points. Charlie Bell, Tyronn Lue, and Dan Gadzuric hit a combined 8-11 from the field for 20 more points.
Thunders' blunders. Both Oklahoma City (16/19) and Milwaukee (17-19) fought an uphill, ultimately losing battle to reach as many assists as turnovers. Curiously, the starting point guards only combined for one of the teams' 38 total turnovers. You can chalk up some of the Thunders' miscues as nervous energy perhaps, but the Bucks did show quite a few semblances of team defense tonight, particularly in the early going. Each Buck starter had a steal by the end of the third, and it was a team effort in shutting down the opposing starters, as only Durant reached double figures, with a paltry 12 points on 5-14 shooting .
PG-13. Ridnour (#13) hasn't exactly been a model for young, aspiring point guards since joining Milwaukee. He followed up a four assist/five turnover game with an 0-6 shooting night against his former 'mates, not exactly the stuff point guard replacement dreams are made of. Then again, he didn't the turn the ball over, grabbed six boards, dished out five dimes, and got his first Bucks win.
- Fourth and short. The Bucks were short on most things in the fourth quarter, including poise and defense. It's a bit troubling they haven't shed the whole fourth quarter collapse thing, but it's only Game 2 of a new year. The Bucks were convincing in outscoring the Thunder in each of the first three quarters, but let up just enough to allow the crowd and opposition back into the game for a few minutes in the middle of the fourth quarter. Just being dramatic or a sign of things to come? Hmm.
- UCLA block party. Russell Westbrook's name will be in the record books for hitting the Thunder's first three-pointer in franchise history. He might also be in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's head after stuffing his former UCLA teammate and fellow rookie from behind. The jetting guard also got the better of him on the stat line, delivering an impressive 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists off the bench. Of course, a little perspective makes things all better: Russell went 33 draft picks ahead of Luc. Meanwhile, Gadzuric, another UCLA hooper, didn't get on the block board, but did play well for the second time in as many nights.