My primary emotion after watching the Bucks beat the Jazz 94-86 tonight? Relief. The Jazz were without Carlos Boozer (as expected) and Memo Okur (a late scratch), so given the Bucks' recent momentum this wasn't exactly the kind of game you could tolerate losing. Then when Paul Millsap went down in a heap before halftime it just didn't look like they would have the horses to hang with a Bucks team that led by a dozen at the half and by a 63-44 margin midway through the third.
Wrong. Jerry Sloan went decidedly smaller in the second half and nearly stole the game thanks to a vintage performance by Andrei Kirilenko (22 points, 13 boards) and some ice-cold shooting from the Bucks (1/16 from three, 39% overall). Fortunately, the Jazz shot even worse (38%), Utah turned it over 23 times, and the Bucks got to the line down the stretch to put it away.
- Luke Ridnour. Ridnour was the only Buck who seemed to play well for more than a quarter, dropping 11 dimes along with 11 points, six steals, and three turnovers in 44 minutes. Given Utah's shorthandedness, the Jazz needed Deron Williams to annihilate the Bucks' point guards, but Ridnour more than held his own. Williams scored 17 along with eight boards and eight assists, but made just 5/16 shots and turned it over an ugly seven times, many of those courtesy of Ridnour steals.
- Luc Mbah a Moute. There was a big dropoff in production after Ridnour, but I suppose Mbah a Moute (10 points, nine boards) deserves mention for his usual bundle of energy and defensive harrassment. He couldn't lock down Kirilenko late, but more oftne than not it was Mbah a Moute's help which prevented Williams from doing more damage with his penetration.
- Ramon Sessions. Sessions' minutes have been inconsistent lately, and he got just 12 minutes tonight as Ridnour had his second-highest minute total of the season. But like earlier in the season, Sessions had success playing with Ridnour in a small backcourt, scoring 13 points (4/7 fg, 5/6 ft) including six early in the fourth when the Bucks were struggling for points.
1. The Bucks put on an agonizing show from distance tonight, hitting just one three pointer despite 16 attempts. That one came courtesy of Mike Redd, but it was the least he could do considering he attempted nine threes. What made it especialy painful was that most of the Bucks' threes seemed to be of the wide open variety. Ugh.
- 14. Williams and Kirilenko were the standouts for Utah, but they offset many of the good things they did by turning it over seven times each. Ouch. You can't turn it over 23 times as a team without being sloppy (thanks, Jazz), but the Bucks (particularly Ridnour) also did a great job of being active and scored 26 points off turnovers.
- 49-43. For the first 30 minutes or so the Bucks seemed to be getting to every rebound; that's what they do. But then Utah suddenly started dominating the boards thanks to Millsap (back after half with a knee brace) and Kirilenko. They finished with a +6 edge though the Bucks retained a 15-13 advantage on the offensive end.
We're going streaking...kinda. It's awfully tough to be a playoff contender when you haven't won more than two games in a row, so let's consider the Bucks' first three-game winning streak of 08/09 a modest start. The Bucks have now taken five of six and get a few days off to enjoy Christmas before the Pistons come to town on Saturday. The time off should be of particular benefit to Andrew Bogut (nine points, 11 boards, 3/7 fg), whose movement looked fairly labored tonight. Hopefully some eggnog and Christmas cookies do the trick for his achy back.
Point taken. With Boozer out and Millsap slowed by injury, the pressure was on Deron Williams to carry the Jazz. But Ridnour (with some help from Sessions) got the job done, making it now three straight good games in a row.
- Fast starts. The Bucks once again started well, leading by eight after the first quarter and 12 at half. That's been a pretty consistent recipe of late, as the Bucks had halftime leads of 30 against the Clips, 16 in New York, 7 in Philly, 20 in Miami, and 18 against the Pacers.
Meet the parents. Richard Jefferson's parents flew in from California for the game, but it wasn't exactly a storybook performance for the 'rents: RJ went scoreless in the first half before finishing with 10 points (3/14 fg).
Redd bricks. The AP recap will also probably say something about Michael Redd leading the Bucks to victory because he had 27 points, but it was an often-painful night for the Bucks' leading scorer. Redd scored 12 in the opening period on 5/9 shooting, but thereafter he went cold, particularly from the outside where he clanged about a half dozen wide open looks from three. Fortunately he still managed 10 fourth quarter points, thanks mostly to six free throws--and a huge turnaround that extended the Bucks.lead to 90-85 with 1:12 left.
- Bell's knee. Charlie Bell did a nice job defending Williams in the first half, but had to leave the game after diving for a loose ball. The early word was knee soreness, which isn't good to hear given he's been wearing a huge brace all year.