MILWAUKEE - He sure played like someone who had the previous 11 days off. Just not like someone who was injured for those 11 days. Or someone who was supposed to be injured for the next 11 days.
Andrew Bogut's return coincided with a return to winning ways, but this was no coincidence.
The Center of All Attention leading up to the game after it was announced he would play far sooner than anticipated, he remained that way during and after the game thanks to one of the finest performances we've seen by a Buck this season, one of the finest performances we've seen from Bogut ever.
The Bucks took a 4-3 lead and kept it all the way until the fourth quarter when Derrick Rose reminded Brandon Jennings that he isn't the only young point guard on this here Lake Michigan. But a couple blocked shots and a couple buckets later proved this was Bogut's morning, afternoon, and night.
And it's only fair, if everything evens out in this game: Free throws aside, Bogut's too-early?-return was the exact opposite of Michael Redd's too-early!-return exactly one week earlier...
Andrew Bogut. Probably not what you expected tonight when you woke up this morning. Bogut's performance was equally excellent and surprising -- and take note because it was all sorts of surprising.
So much to say, but I've barely ever seen four blocks so impactful, so delightful. Joakim Noah is no slouch, and Bogut first stuffed a sweeping dunk attempt that set the stage for a pair of even more dramatic blocks in the final minute and a half. Bogut brought the 65-35 (60-40?) Milwaukee crowd to its feet with a huge block on Luol Deng's dunk attempt with the Bucks up 93-90. He followed that with a bucket. Then he proceeded to stuff the fourth-quarter-hot-Derrick Rose. These weren't just showy dunks punched into the third row for effect, though they were plenty showy.
Three steals along with those four blocks, but Bogut was just as good offensively, getting every roll on the rim thanks to a rust-free, feathery touch. He led the Bucks early and often with 22 points and didn't turn the ball over in 34 minutes of welcome-back.
Charlie Bell. For the most part an anonymous offensive player this year, Bell came out firing in the first. Mixed results, but he notched eight quick ones while playing the entire opening period. Ultimately, he shot three-pointers (1-5) and free throws (3-7) like that early winter wind outside drifted into the Bradley Center. That miss at the line with seven seconds and Milwaukee up just one pained me.
But he made the next one. And he made up for any offensive misses on defense. The numbers (two blocks and two steals) tell part of the story. After Derrick Rose netted nine points to start the fourth quarter, the Bucks switched Bell on him, and he didn't score again. Terrific stuff.
Ersan Ilyasova. After Bogut, these are tough picks. So why not go with someone who sets tough picks. Ilyasova started just like he started against Orlando, as a human offensive rebounding machine. He started the scoring for Milwaukee in each half and set the tone with three offensive boards in the first quarter alone.
Coming off a 20/16 evening, his 13/8 showing was modest. Modest, but efficient. Ilyasova scored his 13 on 9 shots, made a three pointer for the ninth game in a row, and fouled out not because he was careless, but because he was aggressive.
10. Just 10 turnovers for the Bucks tonight, and 16 combined in the last two games.
10. I'm still trying to convince myself that this team really can shoot from outside. A third place ranking in long range accuracy isn't ready to win me over, not before December. But the Bucks hit 10-26 on threes tonight while Chicago was 2-8. That 30-6 differential is seriously serious, and the rooks (Jennings 3-4 and Meeks 2-4) led the way.
10. Lefty hooks, righty hooks, jumpers -- even one outside of the paint -- it was all working for Bogut en route to 10 field goals, more than anybody in the stadium. Perspective: He hasn't made more than 10 since the last night of the Larry Krystkowiak era.
For starters... The bench has rightfully won praise in many games this season. Luke Ridnour, Hakim Warrick, Kurt Thomas, and co. have all played particularly well, often giving the Bucks a chance to win even as they have not during the past four games. But tonight the starters combined for 81 of the 99 points while each of the four reserves had a negative differential.
All five starters did something or somethings special tonight: Jennings creating off the dribble, Bell bringing the offense early and defense late, Delfino with the corner threes, Ilyasova on the offensive glass, and Bogut rising like a tower out of water as basketball emperor of the world.
Stay cool. Cool enough.
After blowing big leads against New Orleans and Orlando in the last week (not to mention, okay, to mention Chicago to start the month), and suffering crushing late-game losses at home against Dallas and Orlando, a sinking feeling set in when John Salmons hit that three (just Chicago's second of the whole game) to draw within a point at 96-95. But Bell had cooled off Derrick Rose just enough and Jennings thanked him by staying cool at the line.
Central. The Bulls aren't in form and maybe they just aren't all that good without a go-to scorer, but they still figure to be among the group fighting for Eastern Conference playoff spots 5-9 after some order of Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta. The Bucks already blew one in Chicago this season; 'twas nice to protect home court and pull even head-to-head against their division rival.
End of the line. Might as well copy/paste this madness. The officiating was questionable, but rather than pinpoint the refs as the Bad, I will call out Milwaukee's lack of luster at the line: Just 11-21 on free throws, so even when they got the calls, they missed, and the final-minute misses almost cost them the game.
Free throws were just about the only thing Bogut (2-6) couldn't do right, Delfino (2-4) was oddly off, Bell (3-7) was downright bad, and Jennings (2-2) still can only seem to get to the line when the other team has transitioned into foul-mode.
Pretty... ugly. Two matchups, and not the most beautiful basketball between Chicago-Milwaukee. But this one will work.
That hurts. Is it possible for Milwaukee to have fewer than three important players injured at the same time? With Bogut back, someone just had to get hurt, and why not Ridnour?
It's not like he's having a tremendous start to the year or anything. While the Bucks were missing every other free throw in the clutch, the ace ballhandler and free throw shooter was conspicuously absent. Explanation:
"Luke did something with his hamstring, I'm not sure exactly what it is... He asked to come out in the second half, and Marc (Boff, team trainer) said he couldn't come back in," Skiles said.