[Another night on media row, another win.]
MILWAUKEE - Raise your hand (click your mouse?) if you would have believed me before tip-off tonight if I said that the Bucks would lead the entire second half against the Nuggets. Quiet, much?
For the second game in a row, the Bucks led for every second, every minute, and every Brandon Jennings highlight of the of the final two quarters. Only this time Milwaukee actually accomplished this against a registered NBA club (I kid you, Knicks fans).
Unlike the previous game, the Bucks were pushed, quite figuratively and literally, all the way to end by a feisty Nuggets team. But much like the game before, they frustrated and ultimately outplayed their opponent.
Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings sang in perfect inside-outside, early-game, late-game harmony in one of the most impressive Bucks wins in a great while.
So click your mouse below for more.
Brandon Jennings. This was supposed to be Young Buck's first real (like, for real, for real) point guard test. And judging by the result, it won't be long before we are talking about young Buck opponents having their first real test against Jennings.
In his first career matchup against Mr. Big Shot, it was the the 20 year-old who wasn't supposed to be able to shoot who made the biggest shots of the game. Jennings poured in 14 points in a scintillating fourth quarter performance. And the fashion with which he stole the show reminded of Billups at his best: Jennings stuck two straight three-pointers with under five minutes to play and sunk six straight no-sweat free throws to close out another win.
Jennings played his best game against the best team and best point guard he has ever played against. He was the scoring point guard (32 points), the distributor extraordinaire (9 assists), and even the shooting specialist (11-19 from the field, 2-2 from outside, 8-8 from the line). In short, he was everything. Again.
Andrew Bogut. Just like against the Knicks, the tone of the game was set by a focused and determined Bogut. Both offensively and defensively. Facing a far meatier (and again, star calibar) starting center tonight, Bogut more than simply asserted himself in the first quarter. He threw down 13 points in the opening quarter by gaining great position in the post against Nene and then using a series of hooks and quick releases to finish against the Brazilian.
Bogut was truly excellent on the offensive end, converting 10-15 from the field for 23 points. But equally important was that he anchored a defensive effort against a very skilled team. The four blocked shots rightfully stick out, but he also played a major role in frustrating Carmelo Anthony (even picking up a double-technical with 'Melo) whenever the Nuggets star came into the lane.
Offense, defense, overall... brilliant.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. You know it's a good sign when the Bucks face a star small forward and Mbah a Moute makes the Three Bucks.
Carmelo Anthony will not be upset to leave Milwaukee. The dynamic scorer actually ticked up his points per game average after finishing with 32, but not as much as his 7 turnovers will increase his average in that department. Not everything is rising for Anthony though. A 9-25 shooting night will have a declining effect on his field goal percentage.
And yes, this was team defense. Scott Skiles will tell you that. The Prince will tell you that himself. They already did.
"It's not a personal thing, it's a whole team thing. You've got to have your teammates come in there and help, come in and block shots when they go to the basket," Mbah a Moute said.
But the Prince, who came into the game only after about four minutes on the bench, was the driving force behind Anthony's struggles. And to be clear, this wasn't a case of Carmelo simply having a "bad shooting night." No, he missed shots because when he shot jumpers, a hand or two was in his face. And when he came into the lane, he came into it with limbs draped around the basketball.
Anthony shot 7-20 in his individual matchup with Mbah a Moute, which Jeremy from Bucksketball diligently tracked while I was officially in charge of charting the incredible Chris Duhon anti-shot-making world phenomenon on this evening.
Yes, all the things you feared were mistaken perception about his game; they were on bright, real display tonight. This line is so Mbah a Moute: 10 points, 9 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 steals, 1 block.
88.0 %. Brandon Jennings shot quickly, confidently, and only through the net to ice the game at the line, and his 8-8 effort led the way. But how about Bogut nailing 3-3 on the heels of a perfect night at the line against the Knicks? Or the bench tandem of Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute both making each of their four attempts? That's how you hold on against an elite opponent. All in all, 22-25 (.880) from the line. Well done.
27-26-28-27. A lot of offensive quarter-consistency: The Bucks scored 27, 26, 28, and 27 points in the four quarters tonight.
4. Carmelo Anthony had four shots blocked by the Bucks, along with seven turnovers in 43 minutes.
Rocky Mountain High. Just two games above .500, and yet this feels like two million kilometers above sea level. With few expectations even before the crushing disappointment of Michael Redd's injury, the Bucks now stand -- get this -- in first place in the Central Division. You are free to party like it's November 11.
Home is where a good start is. Since he didn't make Three Bucks due to a relative glut of deserving candidates, let's start with Ersan Ilyasova. Spain was far away, but Ilyasova has looked very much at home back in Milwaukee so far. After going for 17/8 tonight, he is now averaging 10.6 points and 9.0 rebounds at the Bradley Center this season. That's compared to his 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in three games away.
Ilysasova racked up those 17 points on an inappropriately efficient 5/8 shooting from the field, and in just 21 minutes. Like Jennings, he didn't miss a three (3-3) or free throw (4-4).
And so the Bucks moved to 3-0 at the Bradley Center, where 12,987 fans were increasingly delighted as the night progressed. The atmosphere inside is very positive, and it looks like Milwaukee might have more of a home court advantage than in years.
Fourth quarter fortitude. The Nuggets might be championship contenders. The Nuggets are absolutely a very good team.
So after a Nene dunk and Billups layup brought them to within 91-90, holding on to a one point lead for the last 4:24 seemed a mighty intimidating chore. But the Bucks didn't fold, no, they saved the best for last on this eve'. Jennings buried a pair of three-pointers in between misses by Billups, Anthony, and Nene. Still Denver wasn't done, as Billups and Smith nailed three-pointers of their own.
But everyone stepped up with the game on the line. Jennings, most obviously. Bogut, with a jumper and more good defense. Ilyasova, with three straight free throws. Mbah a Moute with a huge offensive rebound. What a fourth quarter, even if it was the only quarter the Bucks didn't win.
Foul fest. This was a chippy affair, with an even 50 fouls altogether. Anthony and Bogut (undeservedly as far as I could tell) picked up a double-technical after a skirmish. Kenyon Martin was hit with a technical, and the third quarter got a bit silly at times, with each foul for each team starting its own little controversy.
High turnover. A somewhat ungood 18 turnovers tonight, including five of the Charlie-Bell-variety. Post-game, Scott Skiles noticed: "We're on a four game little turnover tear, so we've got to get that corrected." Well, only 11 in a loss against Chicago, but then 19, 20, 18 on the winning streak. Living on the edge here in Milwaukee.
No double-header. That was a serious ending. Jennings finished like he was just getting started. Saturday is a long wait after a game like this.