MILWAUKEE -- With 41 of 48 precincts reporting, Scott Skiles conceded the race to Portland on election night on Tuesday in Milwaukee. But a win was never really in the cards despite promising early indicators.
When asked before the game if he expected to play Larry Sanders against Portland, Coach Skiles flatly answered "no."
With more than 41 of 48 minutes played however, the coach trotted out an Earl Boykins/Keyon Dooling/Luc Mbah a Moute/Larry Sanders/Ersan Ilyasova fivesome.
By that time, the Bucks were facing their biggest deficit of the game at 86-68, so there was no hope left on this cold night in Wisconsin. The starters made sure of that.
You go into a game, and you let Wes Matthews, Armon Johnson, and Dante Cunningham beat you. But you don't just let Wes Matthews, Armon Johnson, and Dante Cunningham beat you.
And yet that is what happened, as Matthews (16 first-half points), Johnson (4-4 shooting, 10 points and 5 assists in 21 minutes), and Cunningham (6-8 shooting, 12 points, 6 rebounds) gave it to the famed Milwaukee defense and celebrated Milwaukee bench.
Okay, these are okay players, but there needs to some semblance of resistance, some sort of respect for even the merely okay players. Skiles, post-game:
Last year, I would say for 3/4 of the year, we had to be by anybody's measure, a top ten effort and intensity type team. A night like tonight, we are likely to be in the bottom ten or bottom five. And we had too many of those in exhibition, and already too many of those in regular season.
This game was all down a tall hill for the Bucks, who shot out to 6-0 and 14-2 leads behind Carlos Delfino, but by the end of the first quarter it was down to a 27-21 advantage, and it was clear the Bucks would not run away from the game Blazers.
What wasn't so clear was that the Blazers would run away from the Bucks.
Carlos Delfino. Still smoldering from the weekend, Delfino smoked in a couple quick threes en route to a generous early lead (that the Bucks gave up without thinking twice). Carlitos went to the bench trailing the Blazers 13-11 (personally) and leading 21-13 (as part of the team) after a series of smooth outside shots and controlled drives toward the hoop.
Unfortunatley, he didn't really stay in the swing of offensive things -- Carlos scored all 14 of his points in the first quarter despite playing 36 minutes.
Corey Maggette. Corey led the team with 16 points, the second time leading the Bucks in scoring this year, and third time in four games that he has reached 16. Probably the guy coming closest to meeting our expectations thus far, for better worse (mostly for better).
Andrew Bogut. Never looked particularly comfortable and didn't clear out a nice patch of space in the paint like he did against Charlotte. But one way or another ended up shooting 5-10 with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and a couple blocks, which coincidentally is pretty much Andrew Bogut in a nutshell (career 53.1 % shooting, 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks).
But we are expecting more now, and he didn't resemble being the second best center in the NBA, as we hoped.
16:17. Not a winning assist/turnover ratio by any stretch of an NBA imagination. Salmons (0 assists, 1 turnover) has never been much of a passer, but he is averaging more turnovers than assists this season, which is even more insanely frustrating given his lack of scoring and one-on-one production thus far.
Jennings committed five turnovers total in the first three games and had six tonight.
No one had more than two assists other Jennings.
30. The Bucks led by 12 points (14-2) and then the Blazers led by 18 (86-68) for 30-point swing in the home team's disfavor.
Skiles before the game:
This is the best team we've played so far, and we need to be ready for that.
Skiles after the game, summing up the positives:
We played well offensively the first three or four minutes of the game.
14. Milwaukee scored fewer and fewer points each quarter, going from 27 to 18 to 17 to finally 14 in the fourth quarter of a game that just got worse and worse and worse and worst.
Prince. Luc Mbah a Moute made another jumper and played defense as usual. He caught the turnover bug from friends (3 turnovers, 0 assists), but seems to be playing himself into a consistent role.
Small forward offensive production. The Bucks were all sorts of offensive yikes aside from Delfino and Maggette. Even with them, a paltry 76 points. But at least the pair of small forwards did (and continued to do, I should add) what they are best at.
Delfino worked hard and moved off the ball with gusto to get open early against defensive ace Nicolas Batum, and he stung the Blazers from outside, propelling the Bucks to a lead. Meanwhile, Maggette barrelled into the paint with admittedly mixed results, but he did so over and over -- because that is what he is good at. And on a night when the Bucks couldn't get any easy points, he got eight easy ones at the foul line.
You don't have to be good at everything -- you just need to figure out what you are good at, and embrace it. Delfino with threes and Maggette going to the hoop, for example. Likewise, you need to phase out parts of your offensive repetoire that aren't really parts of your offensive repetoire. As Josh Smith did with threes, for example.
The individual players need to figure out how to get themselves in positions to succeed offensively. They have a point guard who is more than willing and more than able to do so once they find the right place.
The Larry Sanders Short. Clocking just over six minutes, we can't honestly say this was The Larry Sanders Show. But at least we got to see the 15th overall pick coming off a DNP-CD in the home opener. This feels like an awful lot like a lottery-team-like silver lining, but it is what it is.
Sanders, as usual, was uneven but showed a couple moderate flashes.
Power forward 'Drew. Okay, so Center 'Drew wasn't all-world either, but froncourt mate Drew Gooden heard (and earned) boo's in his second home game at the Bradley Center. His skills (shooting, rebounding) are apparent, but so are his drawbacks (concentration, defense) -- together they make it clear to see why he was wanted... and then not wanted by eight NBA teams prior to the Bucks.
Backcourt blues. John Salmons remains hesitant to shoot, though probably rightfully so given he missed all four of his three point attempts and made 1-9 from outside the paint. But he also isn't getting all of those contortionist drives to the hoop to work either, making just 1-5 in the paint and drawing a single trip to the free throw line (where he made 1-2 at the stripe).
I haven't any idea who is going to be this team's leading scorer in the end, but the 2010-11 version of Salmons so far is having a hard time cracking double digits, and this team, for all its supposed depth, won't go far without Salmons putting points on the board. Whether his early struggles are purely the result of still being in injury recovery mode is debatable -- he's not really this bad. But he's also not really as good as he played for Milwaukee 2010-11. And that last part, even if we knew, still hits us hard.
Brandon Jennings meanwhile started off reasonably well but was doomed as a passer with such wretched shooting by his teammates. Seven assists isn't the worst total given what he was working with -- but he was also uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball (six turnovers), a disease which spread like the plague in the second half.
Not finishing. This applies dually to both not finishing off Portland after bursting to an ideal 14-2 lead to start the game, and not finishing around the basket despite the fact that their opponent was missing not one but two of its seven foot defensive enforcers.
Sans two of the NBA's preeminent shot-blockers and defense-first centers in Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden, the Bucks had a genuine opportunity to put up points around the rim.
Just ask Portland's opponents before this game.
The Blazers entered this game as easily the worst team at defending shots at the basket -- opponents were hitting on a sizzling 68.4 % shots at the rim.
Yet the Bucks were impotent in the paint all dreary evening long. They ended up scoring 32 points in the paint on 16-38 (.421). Maggette was blocked four times while Bogut and Salmons were each stuffed twice. Portland was playing on the second night of a back-to-back after getting rocked in Chicago, yet the Bucks played with heavy shoes.