With the Lakers having lost two in a row, this was either the best or worst time to be playing them. Early on it looked like L.A. could be ripe for another road loss, looking a bit lethargic, turning the ball over a lot and generally not doing a good job of getting Kobe Bryant (30 points, eight rebs) and Pau Gasol involved. After their fine performances in Jersey on Monday, Ramon Sessions (16/10/16, his first career triple-double) and Richard Jefferson again looked up for the challenge and helped the Bucks put together a 10-0 run to end the first that gave them a 31-22 lead.
Joe Alexander (again playing major minutes), Luc Mbah a Moute, and Charlie Villanueva helped the Bucks' maintain a double-digit lead through much of the second, but then the Lakers seemed to wake up. They used a late run to get within two at halftime, thogh the Bucks hung tough and took a one point lead into the fourth. Unfortunately, the Lakers are a vastly better team and they showed it in the fourth. After an Alexander three gave the Bucks an 84-80 lead, L.A. went on a 10-run, with Pau Gasol abusing Villanueva inside for six quick poins. From there the Bucks fought to stay close but ultimately couldn't get over the hump. A good effort, but the Bucks needed more to steal one from the West's best.
Ramon Sessions. His finishing was inconsistent (6/15 fg) and he was a bit turnover prone (four to), but overall it's tough to complain about Sessions' night. He was threatening a triple-double on Monday before Skiles let all his starters rest for the fourth, so it was somewhat fitting that Sessions was not to be denied tonight. He was looking to pass from the word go, leading a high-energy Bucks attack that collected eleven steals and tried to hit the Lakers before they could get set in the halfcourt. Sessions racked up six assists and six rebounds in the first quarter alone, and even his defense was up to par as he helped contain Derek Fisher to just four points (1/5 fg) and one assist. It was a bit scary when he went down clutching his left shoulder late in the fourth, but he finished the game. Let's hope he's alright, because for me he's the Bucks' most enjoyable player to watch.
- Richard Jefferson. He couldn't match his double/double effort in New Jersey, but scoring 29 on 11/18 fg makes up for only two rebounds. He was at his best early, scoring 11 in the first quarter as the Bucks looked like they might catch the Lakers asleep at the wheel.
Dan Gadzuric. Though he fouled out in just 19 minutes of burn, Gadzuric certainly got his money's worth with 7/8 fg, 14 pts, five boards and some respectable defense on Pau Gasol (15 pts, six rebs in 43 min). It's not that Gadzuric ever looks like he's coasting, but of late he seems to be channeling all that spastic energy into something constructive. He got going early tonight, scoring six quick points including a big dunk (of course) in addition to a tip-in where he sprinted the length of the court to beat Gasol to a Charlie Bell miss. He led the Bucks with a +5 rating on a night when both he and Elson looked respectable (is that a first?).
- 100%. Sasha Vujacic came into the game having struggled with his shot of late, but you wouldn't have known it from his perfect shooting night: 3/3 fg, 2/2 threes, 6/6 ft. While the Lakers' bench didn't quite live up to its vaunted reputation (the other Laker subs combined for just nine), the Machine's 14 were a vital shot in the arm for a Laker team that came out looking pretty unsure of themselves.
- 32. Scott Skiles has been pretty consistent with his recipe for offensive success: move the damn ball. For the second game in a row the Bucks managed to do that, talling 32 assists to the Lakers' 15. While Sessions was the obvious catalyst, Luke Ridnour also kept it up with five assists in 13 minutes. Too bad he missed all five of his shots.
- 30%. Charlie Villanueva is usually money at the BC (.495/.439/.853 home shooting splits coming into the night), but after a solid night in New Jersey he was held to just 6/20 fg and 13 points by Lamar Odom and company. Though Villanueva got some good looks in the middle quarters, it was clear from the early going that Odom's combination of quickness and length would make things somewhat tough for CV.
- Run and fun. It's tough to be a good halfcourt team when you have no post players and a point guard who doesn't shoot from the perimeter, so the Bucks are doing their best to run when they can. While their rebounding has declined with Bogut out, the Bucks continue to lead the league in forcing turnovers and that's what's keeping them competitive (well, kinda). Tonight they again had another double-digit steal night which triggered plenty of fast break opportunities.
- Sessions' trip-dub. Triple-doubles aren't the rarest things in the world--heck, Charlie Bell has one--but Sessions has flirted with one on a number of occasions and finally broke through tonight. Congrats, Memo.
Mbah a Moute vs. Kobe. The Lakers didn't do a good job of getting him the ball much early on, but it didn't seem to matter as Kobe started out seemingly incapable of missing. He didn't have much trouble shooting over the smaller Charlie Bell, but things got a bit more interesting when Luc Mbah a Moute came in to try his hand. Bryant greeted him with a tough fadeaway late in the clock after LRMaM had done a perfect job defending him, but Mbah a Moute exacted some revenge by helping force a turnover on Bryant and then beating him to the other end for a dunk.
When was the last time we had a guy who was actually fun to watch defend against some of the league's best? I would have liked to see more of him late in the game, but it seems like Skiles wanted to keep Alexander and Bell in because of their ability to stretch the defense on the perimeter. If Mbah a Moute developed the ability to hit an open three, look out.
- Chuck vs. Lamar. Odom is typically the Lakers' forgotten man but he was a difference maker tonight. The Bucks likely could have stolen a win had Villanueva been able to make a couple shots, but instead he had to watch as Odom had his second solid game in 24 hours.
- Opportunity knocks. You'd expect a team like LA to come out all business following a couple disappointing losses, but instead they came out looking like a team desperate to finish a long road trip. The Bucks took advantage early, using their superior energy to create easy shots, overcoming a slew of second-chance points to take a double-digit lead.
- Turnovers. As usual, the Bucks managed to come out on the plus side of the turnover numbers (20-16), but they seemed especially wasteful down the stretch when the Lakers took control. A three-second call here, an overly ambitious backdoor pass there. The Bucks turned it over five times in the decisive quarter, not a monstrous amount and actually one fewer than the Lakers. But they always seemed to come at the wrong time, and against a better team wasted possessions are your worst enemy.