As a long-time Bucks fan, "Western road trip" is synonymous with all sorts of bad things. The only good news? When they're over.
Well, there's your good news. The Bucks ended their six game trip with a dispiriting overtime loss in Houston, an ironic way to end a 1-5 road trip characterized mostly by the Bucks' getting blown out early and scrapping just to make the final score look respectable. Luis Scola gave the Bucks' front-line fits all night, dropping 27 and 15 to offset a poor shooting night from Aaron Brooks, a slow start from Carl Landry and a mostly-invisible night from Trevor Ariza.
Andrew Bogut did it on both ends with 18 points, 17 boards and six blocks, but scored just two points in the final 16 minutes. Brandon Jennings led the Bucks with 25 and seven assists, but needed 24 shots and missed a long pull-up three at the end of regulation.
In contrast to everything they'd shown us lately, the Bucks started the game looking like an offensive juggernaut, making 13 of their first 18 field goals to take a 34-27 lead after a quarter. Jennings scored 10, taking a couple gorgeous back door passes from Andrew Bogut while returning the favor with an alley-oop to the big man. Luc Mbah a Moute also started well, knifing to the hoop for a couple layups before drilling a corner three, all part of a solid 15 point, eight rebound afternoon. And how about Hakim Warrick's jumper? Yep, even that was working as Warrick ripped three long jumpers in the span of two minutes. But we probably should have known it wouldn't last...and it didn't.
The Rockets flipped the switch in the second, as Chase Budinger's hot shooting helped the Rox outscore the Bucks 31-17 to turn that seven point deficit into a seven point lead. All that despite just two points from Landry.
The Rockets began to build their lead after halftime, leading 77-66 midway through the third as Scola scored 10 in the period. Skiles looked desperate when he ordered his troops into a 2-3 matchup zone, but it seemed to put the Rockets off-balance as the Bucks finished the period on a 7-2 run (five from Delfino) and then scored the first six of the fourth to tie the game at 79. As per usual, Ridnour then started dropping in jumpers, punctuated by his rain-making and shot-clock beating wing jumper that gave the Bucks an improbable 83-81 lead (sidenote: in the game thread ILuvDaBush mentioned "Rainbow Warrior" as a potential Ridnour nickname. I like it).
The Bucks couldn't close it out, though, despite a chance to win it at the end of regulation. Bogut took a questionable charge call on Brooks with 18 seconds remaining and the score tied, reminiscent of a similar call against Derrick Rose a couple weeks ago. But Jennings was content to launch a 28-footer at the horn, coming up well short after a few big jumpers earlier in the fourth. The Bucks then struggled to create decent looks to start the OT, as the Rockets buckled down defensively and scored the first seven of OT on a couple of scores inside by Landry and a jumper from Scola.
But the Bucks somehow stayed in it and had a chance to force a second OT. Jennings found Carlos Delfino for a catch-and-shoot triple from the wing before Bogut tipped in Jennings' miss from close range to make it 100-98 with 33 seconds remaining. Brooks then missed the second of two freebies with 8.6 seconds left, setting the stage for Jennings to drive and kick for Ridnour's wide-open look in the right corner--as well as you can set things up in that situation to be honest. But after helping lead the Bucks' fourth quarter comeback, Ridnour didn't have any more arrows in his quiver, his jumper clanging high off the iron.
Andrew Bogut: 45 min, 18 pts, 9/16 fg, 0/3 ft, 17 rebs, 6 blk, 4 ast, 3 to, 1 stl
As usual, Bogut's ability to be big and occasionally score around the hoop was a much-needed help on offense, but it was his presence as a help defender that was probably his biggest contribution. Neither Bogut nor any of the Bucks' other defenders had any ability to stop Luis Scola in the post, but stopping all the other guys was fortunately a much easier task. Bogut's six blocks tied a career-high while his 17 rebounds marked the seventh straight game he's had with 11 or more boards.
He curiously took his fifth foul to stop a Houston transition chance with six minutes remaining in the fourth, then flirted with a sixth for most of the final three minutes and overtime. And though he did finally foul out in the final 30 seconds, he still got it done on defense even after picking up his fifth.
Brandon Jennings: 42 min, 25 pts, 9/24 fg, 4/9 threes, 3/4 ft, 3 rebs, 7 ast, 2 to
This game kind of encompassed Jennings' career as a pro thus far: struggles around the cup (3/8 fg at the rim), some streaky hotness from deep, flashes of excellent passing, and a mixed bag of big shots and big misses down the stretch.
Carlos Delfino: 37 min, 11 pts, 4/10 fg, 3/6 threes, 10 reb, 2 stl, 2 blk, 1 ast, 1 to
I was leaning towards Mbah a Moute or Ridnour for this last spot, but let's give Delfino the nod for his big night on the boards and some big hoops in the second half and overtime.
+1. The Bucks were plus in both offensive and total rebounds, which seemed about right. Both teams did a nice job crashing the boards on both ends, with few uncontested rebounds to be had for either side.
+16. The Bucks were outpaced at the line even more than usual, as the Rox made 23/28 compared to just 7/11 for Milwaukee. The ironic part is that Clyde Drexler spent most of the overtime complaining about Andrew Bogut's getting away with murder on defense.
16.7%. The Bucks took one of six on their trip, losing to every team with a superior record and beating the only team (Golden State) with an inferior one.
Zoned out. Going to the zone is generally a last-ditch type move by Scott Skiles, and it usually doesn't work. But the Bucks actually got a fair bit of use out of it in the second half, using a 2-3 matchup zone to cool down the Rockets after a 58-point first half. The zone (plus Aaron Brooks' inability to make jump shots) helped limit the Rockets to 21 in the third and just 12 in the fourth.
Attack! The Bucks are the worst team in the league at finishing around the rim, but the undersized Rox are an easier target in this one. The Bucks made 16/26 around the rim and would have been better had Jennings not blown a few excellent looks inside.
Trying new things. Always a good thing, right? Skiles embraced the concept to start the third, starting Meeks and Delfino ahead of Bell and Ilyasova, with Mbah a Moute sliding over to play PF against the smallish Rockets.
Road woe. No two ways to slice it--aside from the win they scraped out in Oakland, this trip was a complete dud. Surprised? Maybe not.
Stopping Scola. Scola was tough to stop because he wasn't beating the Bucks any single way--it was well-balanced mix of mid-rangers, garbage, and back-to-the-basket stuff. Bogut, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, and Warrick all had their chances, but no one could figure out how to slow down the Argentine's array of hooks, scoops, and up-and-unders.
Stackhouse. I hope he proves me wrong, but I'm not sold on the Bucks' newest signing making much difference. The old Stackhouse--you know, the one who drew tons of fouls and could score in bushels--would have been a great addition, but it's not 2002 unfortunately.