MILWAUKEE -- The Bucks scored 87 points in their first game against Minnesota this season. And they won handily.
So it was encouraging to see 86 on the scoreboard for the home team after three quarters. Even more encouraging to watch the Bucks pour in 42 more in the final period.
The Timberwolves looked the part of a last-place team that started the evening with half as many wins as the very ordinary Bucks. But make no mistake, this was just one of those extraordinary nights when the Bucks could make no mistake.
Carlos Delfino rebounded from a poor shooting night in Toronto by rebounding, scoring, passing, and defending like someone playing for gold, Brandon Jennings was on-point at the point, and the entire team came together to play an attractive brand of offensive basketball that they only had dabbled in heretofore.
Minnesota stayed close early on, and while the Bucks were in control, they weren't quite cruising with a 10-point halftime advantage.
But to start the third quarter, Carlos Delfino made a three, Andrew Bogut made a pair of free throws, and Brandon Jennings sank a triple. Those Three Bucks ballooned the lead to 18, and that was the game.
Quite a start to the second half.
Quite a start to the second half of the season.
Carlos Delfino. After a somewhat horrific December, the Argentine has been totally terrific all January long. So it is no small compliment to say this was his finest game of the calendar year, of the NBA year. Of his NBA career.
Among all the bright spots tonight, Delfino glowed the brightest. He was great offensively, making 9-11 from the field, 4-6 on threes, scoring 24 points, and handing out a career-high eight assists. Really tremendous stuff. He also was a force on the glass, hauling in eight boards, and defended the whole court. Finished the night with a +21 differential.
He was making the patented reverse layup, corner threes, making pretty passes, everything.
Carlos started this month with a DNP-CD. And that was wholly deserved.
Call it Carlos' Renaissance.
Brandon Jennings. It's been a while since the hometown reporters have crowded Jennings after a game. Seriously, like a month and half. Granted, the Bucks have hit the road a lot lately, but the last time Brandon starred at home was way back on Dec. 9 against Toronto. And this, for a guy who made his NBA name here at the BC.
In the first quarter alone, Jennings piled up eight assists. And while he ultimately didn't make Ramon Sessions sweat about his franchise-record 24 assists, on this night the Bucks looked awfully right to put the basketball future in Brandon's hands.
Those hands have lacked touch on floaters all season long, but Jennings made all four floaters tonight. Highly, highly encouraging considering that is just the type of shot that he must master in order to become a real, consistent offensive dynamo.
The perfect conversion rate on the floaters was great. The career-high 13 assists? Equally excellent. Sure, the Bucks made shots at a dizzying rate, and that helps. But the passes, they were always on point, always delivered to an in-stride recipient, always left the opponent looking, wondering how. Just one turnover for Brandon.
Andrew Bogut. Al Jefferson scored nine points, and if you are wondering when the last time he was held in single digits scoring, it was months ago, back on November 6. Against the Bucks.
For Bogut, an ultra-efficient 14 points on six shots, and he continued his New Year run as an ace defender with four more blocks and of course the star defensive work on Jefferson.
70.9 % The Bucks shot 17-24 (.709) at the rim tonight. They started the evening among the worst in the NBA but took advantage of a team that is the very worst in the NBA at defending at the rim. Because while Al Jefferson and Kevin Love are talented scorers and rebounders, they don't offer much defensive post presence. Still the hoops around the basket were so very refreshing.
36. Milwaukee set a season high with 36 assists, as the starters racked up 25 while each committing a single turnover. The passing was excellent tonight, with Jennings (13), Delfino (8), Ridnour (6), and Stackhouse (5) all playing the playmaker part.
25. Those assists come much easier when you hit the fastbreak with speed and direction, as Milwaukee racked up 25 fastbreak points on 10-10 shooting. Nice.
[And while he only had one assist, and I'm not sure if it is Good or Bad, I wanted to work this in. So, One Amusing: Charlie Bell eclipsed his season scoring average in the first three minutes of the game by scoring eight points and then didn't score the rest of the game.]
Hak' is back. Tonight we really had Four Bucks. Maybe even Five or Six Bucks. But certainly Four Bucks. Despite a pretty excellent month, Warrick got a DNP-CD against the Raptors last night. With Skiles in charge, you never really know when it's your night. To get a DNP-CD.
Before the game, Skiles said that with Stackhouse in the fold and Mbah a Moute starting at the four, it would be tough to find big minutes for all of the fours:
We are starting Mbah a Moute at the four now. So if I play Ersan and Hak' as well, somebody gets four (or five or six) minutes or something. And that's not really fair to be judging anybody. And some of it is matchups too, but when you are searching like a lot of teams are, and like we are a little bit still with finding consistency. Sometimes a guy gets left out.
Not this time. With Ilyasova struggling early, Warrick's #21 was called. And he responded, throwing in 18 quick ones on 7-8 shooting in just 16 minutes. With yet another big night, his numbers this season are rising right up to where they have been the past few seasons.
Holding after half. A night after blowing a nine-point halftime lead, the Bucks not only held firmly onto their ten-point halftime advantage, they extended it, and in a big way.
And with that, Milwaukee carried on this season's tradition of playing better on the second night of back-to-backs than on the first night. Tonight they improved to 5-4 on seconds nights compared to 3-6 on first nights of back-to-backs.
On all four. Coach Scott Skiles, before the game:
This is a must win. We have to win this game.
I just tirelessly (okay, I'm tired) poured through the boxscores, and this was the second game this season in which the Bucks have won all four quarters. A truly thorough win, just like it should be against the worst of the west. The only other time Milwaukee won each quarter? Just a couple weeks ago in New Jersey, a.k.a. the worst of the east, maybe of all-time.
Okay, so the Bucks have clubbed the two worst clubs in basketball. But that is what they are supposed to do, and the reason they remain in the playoff hunt despite so many stinging losses against the NBA aristocrats is because they do continue to beat the teams they should beat.
And recall that according to many of the preseason experts, the Bucks were supposed to be the team that others should always beat.
Hollins. Ryan Hollins fouled out in eight minutes, so that is sort of a tough starting point. Seven footer. Six fouls. Zero rebounds. Thanks for making Dan Gadzuric (three points, three rebounds) the most cherished UCLA backup center of the night.
Wilkens. Maybe just Timberwolves whose names phonetically end "inz?" Damien went scoreless in a starting role at small forward opposite Delfino. Who was pretty much the opposite.
No more Minny. The NBA won't let the Bucks play the Wolves anymore this season. For shame.
Same thing with the Warriors.