The Bucks fell to the Rockets 91-83 at the Bradley Center on Saturday night. Unlike the first matchup, Yi/Yao II didn't showcase the best talents of the two main attractions. On the first possession of the game, the Bucks fed the ball to Yi Jianlian, an appropriate commencement to a game which lured 18,717 fans to the Bradley Center and inspired hundreds of millions more to sit glued to their television sets precisely to witness Yi do battle with fellow Chinese star, Yao Ming. Realizing the fulfillment of the picture-perfect script, the stadium at once flashed with cameras that would hold stillframes of a moment marking history, future, and perhaps a page one full of red, green, and hardwood in a memorable story. The crescendo however, Shane Battier swatting away Yi's layup attempt, loudly indicated the game would feature neither a fairytale beginning or ending for Yi or the Bucks.
- Andrew Bogut. With Michael Redd out for the fourth straight game, the Bucks were once again limited offensively. Enter Bogut, who gamely posted up and scored over the skyscraping Yao Ming several times. Bogut logged 43 minutes because the Bucks recognized they needed him on the court to have any chance of scoring without Redd and against a top notch defensive team.
- Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva scored 14 points in just 18 minutes on a night when the Bucks struggled badly to find the bottom of the net. Villanueva is averaging 9.4 points in 19.5 minutes, meaning Redd is the only Buck scoring at a better rate.
- Bobby Simmons. Simmons was quiet most of the night, and his barrage of three pointers came too late in the fourth quarter. Still, he scored 14 points on seven shots from the field, grabbed five rebounds, and didn't turn the ball over.
- 4. Andrew Bogut blocked four shots, and was only blocked once. Facing Yao, that's a proud accomplishment.
- 5. The Bucks turned the ball over just five times, leading them to attempt ten more shots from the field (85-75) than the Rockets. The problem was...
- 38.8 %. ...The Bucks shot 38.8 % from the field while the Rockets shot 50.7 %.
- Big Bogut. There was no Australian New Year celebration back home. And there certainly weren't millions of his countrymen tuning in to watch the game. Nonetheless, Andrew Bogut played to impress. He gave up a lot of size to Yao Ming, but he didn't give up much else. Yao never got into a scoring groove, totalling just 12 points. Bogut's determined defense had a lot to do with that, even blocking Yao a couple times. Bogut also provided the only consistent offensive option for the Bucks, finishing with 21 points.
- Near Comeback. After falling behind by 11 early in the third quarter, the Bucks appeared out of the game. Thanks to six consecutive points by Charlie Villanueva, the Bucks fought all the way back and took a 69-68 lead early in the fourth period. The Bucks were competitive until the final few minutes of the game, when Tracy McGrady asserted his obvious basketball superiority.
- CV. Villanueva voiced his displeasure with the direction of the Bucks via his blog on Wednesday. Apparently Coach Krystkowiak isn't into blogging, because Villanueva played just 18 productive minutes while Yi played 29 mostly unproductive minutes.
- Shooting. Simply put, the Bucks couldn't shoot against the Rockets. Yi (1-10) and Williams (6-18) were the most egregious offenders in this respect, but Ivey (1-4) and Bell (3-7) weren't exactly pouring in the points either. The box score will tell you the Bucks shot a very respecable 42.9 % (6-14) from outside, but that was only because Bobby Simmons caught fire in the game's final 44 seconds.
- Yi/Yao II. It wasn't for lack of effort, and the results couldn't realistically match the hype anyway, but the showdown was a disappointment by most measures. Yao played below his usual standards, though he did finish with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Strangely, the center who is such a good shooter that he takes technical free throws for his team, made only 2-5 from the line. Meanwhile, Yi's jumpshot wasn't falling, doubly important because he didn't score any points in the paint. The original is always better than the sequel, so perhaps Yi/Yao II was doomed from the outset.
- Playoff Outlook. The Bucks are still just 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot. That problem is that they are tied with the Bobcats and behind three teams, the Sixers, Bulls, and Pacers, who are also chasing the final playoff spot. Chasing is probably the wrong word to use though. It's unfortunate that the Bucks are have lost three straight at a time when the entire bottom of the conference is struggling so badly. On one hand, the Bucks aren't losing ground. On the other hand, they probably just missed their best chance to make a move in the playoff race as we near the All-Star break. It's typically difficult to make up ground on a lot of teams at once, but the bottom nine teams in the Easts are atypically bad. The Nets, Pacers, Bulls, Sixers, Bucks, Bobcats, Knicks, and Heat are all on losing streaks (five of them longer than three games) and all have a losing record in their last ten games. If the Bucks would have won their last three games rather than lose them, they would be 21-27, which oddly, would make them the eighth best team in the conference.