[A first loss at the Bradley Center for the Bucks, a first loss on media row. But a classic in its own right.]
MILWAUKEE - This one drained me something terrible. Dirk's improbable game-winner was really probably probable, because it was Dirk's game-winner. Yet it still drained me, yes, it drained the whole stadium of all the life, excitement, hope, and pride.
And you know what? That's okay.
It could only be so draining because there was so very much life, excitement, hope, and pride in the first place.
That's novel, but it's fast becoming a trend this season at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks lost for the first time in five games, on a soft bounce from a tough German. Just as many have.
At halftime, this game appeared like more of a classic beatdown than a straight-up classic. The Bucks allowed 33 points in successive quarters and trailed by 12 points after a shoddy final few minutes before halftime. That marked the Mavericks' biggest lead of the game, and it quickly grew from there -- Dallas stretched its advantage to 74-56 early in the third quarter.
And then the defense kicked in. And the threes fell in. And Brandon Jennings played like it was a revolution, or just the second half of an NBA game -- one in the same these days.
A pair of point guards led Milwaukee all the way back from down 18 points to lead 104-102 after a running jumper by Jennings with 45 ticks in regulation. And the Bucks had two chances to win on the final possession after Jason Terry evened the score. But Ridnour and Jennings, the point guards who led the charge, both missed in the waning seconds. Jennings' chance for redemption came up short in overtime when he missed another three, and then Dirk showed how good offense can still beat good defense on a prodigious, arcing, sorry-Milwaukee, game-winner.
Brandon Jennings. Young Buck threw quite a party over the weekend at the Bradley Center, dropping a shiny 55 on Golden State. So perhaps you can forgive his early-game shooting hangover: Jennings went to the locker room at halftime with four points, having missed seven of his first eights shots from the field.
And perhaps it will be easier to forgive him after he drilled four mammoth three-pointers in the second half en route to a "when-did-he-become-the-top-scorer?" 25 points -- even if he did miss on a couple chances to bury the Mavericks. And that he did. In both regulation and overtime, Jennings tried threes to win, a better than 50/50 shot so far this year for the rookie. So while he missed, I like his attitude, and would like to see him try again in the near future.
"I'm kind of taking this one to the heart, because I feel it's my fault that we didn't win that game," Jennings said.
I'm kind of taking this one to the heart, but I don't feel it's Jennings' fault they didn't win that game. Not after this line: 25/8/7 and 4/9 from outside with two turnovers. Just another day in the life of a 20 year-old NBA point guard.
Ersan Ilyasova. Dirk Nowitzki entered tonight's game with an NBA-best +134 differential, and he added 13 more to that in a showstopping performance. But Ersan led everyone in the game with a +18 differential, well-earned in 32 minutes of scoring, rebounding, defending, screen-setting, and three-point shooting.
After uninspiring performances by a couple starters, Scott Skiles spoke of considering changes after again Bucks fared poorly with the first unit in the first quarter, saying, "We'll look at the lineup."
Ilyasova racked up 19/12/2 and made 4/9 from deep as he continues to play far better at home than on the road thus far. Whether he starts or not going forward, Ersan's earned steady minutes.
Luke Ridnour. Similar to the Warriors game a couple nights before, the Mavericks utilized some effective small-ball lineups, even employing three point guards (and at least many J's) at once in Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Jose Juan Barea. So it was key for Ridnour to play well enough to stay on the court. That he did.
Ridnour has nice form, which might lead people to believe he is a better shooter than he really is. But it sure just seems like all is right when the shots go in, like three from beyond the arc did late in the third quarter when the Bucks were teetering between staying close and not.
The Mavericks have some serious point guards on the roster, including one who will be in the Hall of Fame, one who represents Point Guard U in all the best ways, and another who only stands six feet generously but made three triples. And they threw all of them at the Bucks -- at the same time no less. Still the Bucks stacked up well tonight, with not only Jennigns, but Ridnour, who was impactful both offensively (17 poitns and 3/4 from outside) and defensively (4 steals).
67.6 %. After giving up 125 points in 48 minutes to the Warriors, you had to figure the Bucks would refocus defensively out of the gates against Dallas. Not so much. The Mavericks made 25/37 from the field in the first half. To put that in perspective, in the first half the Mavericks were hotter than Brandon Jennings against the Warriors, who made 21/34 (61.7 %) from the field. Please don't make me compare your defense unfavorably to that of Golden State's, team.
17. He's still doing it. Jason Kidd may not have made a two-point field goal or a free throw. Okay, he didn't. But 17 assists, 10 boards, 9 points, 3/4 on three-pointers, and one way or another the 36 year-old is still doing his thing.
+51. Not to get too into this differential statistic, but Milwaukee's bench boasted a +51 tonight. On that note...
The bench. Jennings was good and Bogut was okay, though we've obviously seen better from both recently. Other than that, the bench badly outplayed the starters.
The aforementioned Ilyasova and Ridnour were nothing short of excellent, and Luc Mbah a Moute not only guarded everyone (yes, Dirk hit the shot over him, but that was a testament to Dirk's greatness), he provided a lift offensively with 13 points and made his only three. And when Mbah a Moute is contributing offensively, well, that can mean Hakim Warrick starts but lasts just 12 minutes on the court. The Prince came off the bench, but no Buck played more than his 42 minutes.
Dan Gadzuric matched up well defensively and scored an absurd +15 differential in nine minutes while hauling in three offensive rebounds and blocking a couple shots. Even Kurt Thomas made both of his shots in four minutes. Great stuff from the second string.
Dallas in November. Two Novembers ago, the Mavericks came into town. They were an awfully good team, with Josh Howard in his prime, Devin Harris moving into his, and Dirk Nowitzki fesh off an MVP award. The Bucks, undefeated at the Bradley Center and having won four in a row (sound familiar maybe?) overall were on a high. And they stormed Dallas with a signature 96-94 win to keep the good times rolling.
Those were your first-place Bucks. The same ones who finished 26-56.
These are not. The Cavs are leading the Central (as well they should be) after the Bucks were unable to stay undefeated at home, unable to win five in a row, unable to beat the Mavericks. And that is okay too. Because I don't think they are going to go 26-56 this time around either.
Call it a comeback. Early in the third quarter, I was all like "At least I made it to this game, sarcastic-sarcastic." That's because I didn't report at the Warriors game on Saturday, which made the seemingly hopeless match against the Mavericks even more frustrating. I missed an incredible, historical game, and then came back to this? Well, Brandon Jennings and Milwaukee made this one special too, even in a loss. And there is more.
So close. Not to get ahead of ourselves (well, yes, precisely to get ahead of ourselves) but the Bucks have a real chance of beating both New Jersey (0-6 away) and Charlotte (0-5 away) this week at home. After three straight wins and before two lesser foes to open the homestand, the Bucks almost had this most difficult test in the win column too -- a couple different times.
Disconcerting defense. Well, allowing 66 points in the first half after giving up 68 in the second half of the previous game seems a risky way to protect the home court for a "defensive" team.
The bottom line. Or just the free throw line. This could have gone in Three Numbers, but the trend is disturbing enough to earn its own Bad.
The discrepancy at the free throw line wasn't tremendous tonight; the Mavericks made 17 compared to 11 for the Bucks. But Milwaukee proved once again that they can neither get to the line (entered the game fifth from last averaging 21.6, which has obviously gone down) or make them with any sort of consistency once they get there (entered the game dead last in the NBA at 69.5 %, which again is on the way down). Milwaukee made just 11-17 from the stripe, and despite the bushels of points and five extra minutes, only Jennings made more than two free throws for Milwaukee. And he was just 5-8.
The Bucks needed 55 from Jennings to eke out a home win over an average-at-best Warriors team, and they couldn't top the Mavericks despite making 14/27 from long range. That's doing it the hard way, and I'm still awfully leary of depending on great shooting nights from this bunch. Have to get to that line.