Sixers 90, Bucks 79: Milwaukee flatlines in Philly

Box Score / Recap

In a young season that hasn't been altogether satisfying thus far, the Bucks apparently decided Philly was the right venue for setting a new low. It may not have been the Bucks' worst performance of the season, but it did seem like their most exasperating.

And even at this early stage of the year, the culprits are becoming rather familiar: cold shooting from the outside (0/12 threes), an inability to create and finish opportunities around the hoop, and a general lack of sharpness that gave their young, athletic opponents enough confidence to strut their stuff. It's not a new story, but given the progress the Bucks seemed to be making over the past 10 days it seems as frustrating as ever. 

If you're looking for Bucks highlights, stick to the first quarter. Milwaukee led by five after one period, getting eight points from an aggressive-looking Brandon Jennings and three long jumpers from Drew Gooden, who for whatever reason has reinvented himself over the past couple games as Ray Allen. I'm guessing all this newfound confidence (and encouragement from Scott Skiles) won't end well, but let's all smile and nod while the shots are going in. And while Andrew Bogut wasn't scoring much (four points in the first), he was stifling Elton Brand defensively and finding some deep position against Spencer Hawes and company. Not a bad start, right?

But things went quickly downhill from there. Earl Boykins and Larry Sanders started the second, and the Bucks seemed to lose their rhythm and sense of invention offensively as Boykins scampered around aimlessly, Sanders was ignored entirely, and Corey Maggette continued his recent trend of preferring jumpers to drives. The opposite was true of Philly, which started the quarter with a renewed sense of purpose, drawing seven fouls in the first five minutes, including six free throws by Lou Williams. The Bucks managed to stay within shouting distance when Mbah a Moute slashed for a layup to make it 49-43 at the half, but there was something telling about the fact that it was the Bucks' only field goal inside 15 feet all quarter.  The Bucks are a bad offensive team to begin with, but when they don't make open jump shots...well, you know the rest.

The Bucks couldn't turn it around in the third either, allowing Philly to fast break their way to a double-digit lead. With the Bucks down 10 and 5:28 left in the third, Skiles looked desperate going to Boykins and Sanders in place of Jennings and Bogut, and the old "put in crappy players to provide a spark" trick backfired as Philly extended to a 13-point lead heading into the fourth. Boykins has been surprisingly effective in the Bucks' first 11 games, but tonight he looked more like a 34-year old, 5'5" guy...which, if you're keeping track at home, isn't a good combination in professional basketball. He couldn't shake Jrue Holiday or otherwise find seams in the Philly D, making just 2/8 and turning it over four times in just 18 minutes.

It's not say this loss was Boykins' fault--far from it. Skiles did give his starters a chance to redeem themselves with the Bucks down 13 to start the fourth, but Jennings' outside shot abandoned him completely, Salmons was again ineffective, and Bogut was completely forgotten inside, failing to register a shot in the second half. I know he's not 100%, but if the big man is healthy enough to be on the court then why isn't he touching the ball?   

Getting shots was no issue for Young and Williams, who kept attacking and hitting open shots, respectively. Despite starting the game on the bench, the young pair combined for 42 of the Sixers' 47 bench points, providing enough buffer for the Sixers to weather a late scoring binge from Maggette that saw the Bucks close to within eight in the late-going. 

Three Bucks

Corey Maggette. Maggette didn't do a whole lot before the game got out of hand, but he was also the only guy who seemed capable of doing anything aside from jack up bricks from outside. He did that, too--including a missed 22-footer with the Bucks down eight with 2:02 left--but in the fourth quarter he showed he can still flip the switch and make life miserable for opposing defenders, taking on Young and Evan Turner repeatedly en route to 10/11 free throws in the game's final 12 minutes. 

Drew Gooden. It's no secret that Gooden has a solid mid-range stroke, but that doesn't mean I'm not a little bit nervous about his newfound propensity for launching away from distance. But it worked against the Lakers and again tonight (7/14 fg, mostly jumpers), so we'll take what we can get.  

Michael Redd. This is the second time this year that I've picked Redd among my three Bucks, which as you might guess is a sure-fire sign that I absolutely hated watching the game. In fact, the only thing worse than watching this game was knowing that I had to relive it when I write the recap afterwards. Ah, the joys of being a blogger.

Three Numbers

0. Andrew Bogut didn't attempt a single shot in the second half, because that makes sense. After all, when your team can't buy a jump shot, why would you want to use your one post player?  

Look, we know Bogut's effectiveness is going to be limited for a while on offense, but if he's on the court then you have to find ways to use him. He missed some chippies early tonight and the Bucks seemed to give up after that, but the upside was that he was getting good position and his teammates were getting him the ball quickly.  So keep trying, OK?

Zero also stands for a bunch of other things, namely: the number of threes the Bucks made in 12 attempts and the number of points, rebounds, blocks and steals by Larry Sanders in nine minutes.  Oh, and Ersan Ilyasova was similarly scoreless on five shots.

47-42.  Philly's bench outscored the Bucks' bench behind Young's 23 and Williams' 19, and both teams' benches outscored their respective starting units. 

-18. The Bucks won the first and fourth quarters, but the middle periods?  Not so much. Philly dominated 52-34 in the second and third quarters to take control and build a lead that the sorry Bucks' offense couldn't overcome.

Three Good

It wasn't televised. If you did something else with your time tonight, consider yourself lucky.

Good-en. Two straight solid games for Gooden, who seems to be regaining his confidence and is hopefully over his early season jitters. I'm still expecting plenty of head-scratching plays, but...

Bounce back. The Bucks don't have any time to feel bad about themselves. The Thunder are at the BC tomorrow night and they're coming off a hard-fought 89-84 win over the Celtics in Boston, all without the services of Mr. Durant. Seriously. Hopefully that means they're primed for a letdown, though it's not clear if Durant's ankle will keep him out of a second straight game.

Three Bad

Bricklayers. There's not a lot to say here...the Bucks just aren't good at scoring points. While it's nice that they're getting to the line with more regularity this year, their shooting has gotten worse and opponents can afford to play off the Bucks' perimeter players and dare them to make jumpers. Consider the Bucks never made fewer than three triples in a game last year, but they'd already had two games with just three triples before tonight's goose egg. 

Salmons has been particularly inconsistent, which is a major problem given how many possessions involve him catching on the wing and going to work. When he's not scoring the Bucks seem to keep feeding him the ball out of habit, but all that means is more wasted possessions.  Add in the difficulties of getting Bogut going, Jennings' maddeningly inconsistent jumper, the injury to Carlos Delfino and the flat-out bad shooting of Keyon Dooling and Ersan Ilyasova, and you have a recipe for bad O.

Private Sanders. I like the idea of Larry Sanders getting some burn, but nights like this reaffirm just how far he has to go. He didn't look out of place on defense, holding his ground alright and failing to get caught on pump fakes as badly as he usually is. But all my preseason fears about his lack of rebounding continue to be borne out, and offensively he's pretty much a non-entity at the moment.  The latter isn't all his fault--the Bucks guards ignored him about a half dozen times when he had established decent post position, and it seemed like he didn't even touch the ball until bricking a couple late jump shots. 

Bogut's 'bow. Bogut hasn't been shy about his continued elbow troubles, and judging from his offensive struggles there's clearly something amiss. It's amazing how little it's affected his defense--he had another five blocks tonight and is now averaging over 2.5 bpg--but he alluded to the joint which shall not be named post game to NBA.com's John Schuhmann.

Andrew Bogut told me he may look to have his elbow reevaluated. Feels like there's too much pain for it being 7 months after his injury.

Breathe deeply...

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