MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee had a real chance in the first half. And then they gave Utah second and third and fourth and tenth chances.
The fact that this game was so easily defined by one specific area of weakness is not altogether surprising -- the team's miserable shooting has torturedly defined and explained a great many of their losses this season.
Surprising is exactly what that one specific area of weakness was... again. The Bucks -- the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA -- failed to properly box out against Utah for the second time this season. And so they fell to 1-7 in games during which they allow their opponent to secure 10+ offensive rebounds.
Doom was spelled with all of the same letters as a few weeks ago in Utah when the Bucks gave up 16 offensive rebounds to the Jazz. As noted in the preview, that first game was played without Andew Bogut (as well as Drew Gooden). Turns out, those were the only two players to really hit the boards for Milwaukee, so even as the Bucks jumped out to an early double-digit lead (18-6), actually shot well enough (45.1 % from the field) to win, and received an unusual boost from the bench (Keyon Dooling's 14 points), they ultimately could not box out or close out the Jazz.
Behind Dooling, Gooden, and John Salmons (it should be pointed out now that this is a non-fiction story) the Bucks claimed a 46-43 halftime lead. After an early dry spell to start the second half when Jerry Sloan formationed the Jazz in a zone and only Bogut could score, Dooling busted on through with a couple threes and Milwaukee continued to shoot well.
Problem was, the Jazz were shooting more. In the third quarter, Utah took five more shots, grabbed five offensive rebounds (to Milwaukee's zero), and scored 10 second-chance points (to Milwaukee's zero), as the game tipped in their favor. The fourth quarter saw the Bucks go cold (Dooling and Salmons combined to shoot 1-8, both playing all 12 minutes) and with a super-small lineup (Skiles: "We weren't rebounding anyway, so we put the guards out there") they again gave up five more offensive boards to Utah in the fourth.
Before the game, optimism abounded, during the game it faded, and after the game it was mostly a memory.
Jennings has called Deron Williams the best point guard in the NBA on at least a couple occasions, and he looked the part tonight. He didn't put up fantastic numbers early on, but was getting right around Jennings whenever he pleased, which turned out to be rather often. In the end, Williams had 22 points and 8 assists compared to 6 and 3 for Jennings. And the gap between the two was at least as enormous as those numbers suggest.
The good part is that there is a secondary explanation, along with Williams being better than Jennings. The bad part is that there is a secondary explanation... Jennings, post-game:
At first it was my knee and it went down to my ankle, but right now I don't know what the real problem is, so I'm not going to talk about it too much. I wanted to give it a go just to see what it felt like.
But not a lot of really good lateral movement for me. I couldn't really come off the screens and do what I want to do because of the foot.
Skiles described it as "a little bit of a sore foot" after the game, and obviously Jennings played 29 minutes, so it's hard to imagine that the severity of the injury, which Jennings sustained on a fall against the Spurs, is very great at all. Either way, not the best of news, but it also doesn't sound major, and lends some perspective on why Brandon didn't quite look like Brandon tonight.
Why most of the rest of the team didn't look like the one from in Texas? Not as clear.
Andrew Bogut. Milwaukee piled up five points over the first six reckless minutes of the second half, and Bogut scored all of them. A one-point halftime lead eventually turned into a 63-55 deficit after a Deron Williams three-pointer. At that point, Bogut made a third straight hook shot, then blocked Williams, and after Utah grabbed the offensive rebound (this was a growing trend) he drew a charge on Al Jefferson. And while that sequence got the whole team going, starting a 21-12 run that gave the Bucks the lead back early in the fourth quarter, he was all alone out there for too long of a while.
Bogut was not at his best tonight, but 19/9/2 on 8-13 shooting is the best way to be not at your best.
Keyon Dooling. After tonight's 3-4 effort from deep, Dooling has made 10-16 (.625) threes in December. And this was not simply a hot shooting night. He directed the offense with some purpose (5 assists, 0 turnovers) and generally reminded of Luke Ridnour. Dooling went for 14/5/2 on 5-7 shooting. Coincidentally, around this time last year, Ridnour went for 13/4/2 on 5-8 shooting in a much more interesting loss to a Western Conference power.
Quite possibly the first time all season that I wanted Skiles to play Dooling (26 minutes) more than he did.
Drew Gooden. The Bucks really only played half of the game (the first half) so it's fitting that someone who really only played half of the game (the first half) makes it here.
Gooden was the best player on the court in the first half, making his first five shots, picking up right where he left off against the Spurs, when he scored 16 fourth quarter points. And so it looked like the Bucks had a super-sub in the making, as Gooden continued to play amazing basketball off the bench.
He made one very nice play in the fourth quarter, where after gathering an offensive rebound he pump-faked Francisco Elson on the perimter,decisively drove to the hoop and sucked the defense in, and kicked to John Salmons for a three to give the Bucks a 78-75 -- their last lead of the game.
But in 15 second-half minutes, he only scored two points --right when points were in short supply.
0. Larry Sanders played zero minutes, getting a DNP-CD for the first time in 10 games -- the last time he sat out an entire game was almost a month ago in a loss to the Thunder.
And this came during a game when starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova added virtually nothing on either end of the court and the Bucks struggled to defend and rebound against offensive powerhouses Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in the post.
45. John Salmons played 45 minutes. He played the entire fourth quarter, when he shot 1-6. Salmons was hot from outside (4-6 on threes), but made 1-9 on two-pointers, and that mid-range game is his game.
14-3. Milwaukee starters gathered zero offensive rebounds. Utah starters had nine offensive boards. Overall, it was a 14-3 discrepancy. The Bucks allowed 25 second-chance points in all.
Half of the former Clippers. Keyon Dooling and Drew Gooden combined to score 26 points off the bench, more than the entire Jazz bench (25) scored -- and they did so on just 15 shots.
No more Jazz. Plus the Bucks are also working well toward avoiding a Finals matchup.
Shooting. The Bucks shot 45.1 % tonight and have shot at least 44.3 % from the field in four straight games.
Jennings/Dooling backcourt. A game after starting in the backcourt with Jennings for the first time, Dooling was brought off the bench to pair with Brandon in the backcourt, but that experiment didn't work out so well in the fourth quarter. Jennings checked in to play with Dooling with the Bucks up 78-77. Jennings checked out with the Bucks down and out, 92-82. Milwaukee's offense stalled during that 15-4 run by Utah, as even on a night when Dooling was on, the two-point-guard-attack failed, as Dooling was scoreless during that decisive mid fourth quarter stretch.
Dooling is shooting and playing absolutely miserably off the ball this season. He entered the game with a 12.6 PER playing point guard... and 1.8 PER playing shooting guard. Not a typo: 1.8 PER at shooting guard coming in, an almost impossibly low number. And yet, he has played slightly more minutes at shooting guard than point guard.
Given that, here is the really, really weird thing: The Bucks came in with a +2 differential while Dooling plays point guard and a +58 differential with Dooling at shooting guard.
The team's very best two-man combination in terms of point differential coming in? Brandon Jennings and Keyon Dooling.
Ers-off. Never a good sign when a starter is only re-inserted for garbage minutes.
After a dismal first half and first few minutes of the second half, the starting power forward was benched for more than 19 straight minutes, only getting back in for the final two and a half minutes, when the result was settled.
Turkish Delight came in with delightful numbers in four games as a starter this season: 13.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.8 steals on .450/.438/1.000 shooting. But his career splits as a starter/reserve are quite similar, so we probably had little reason to get excited. And Ilyasova getting twice as many of his shots blocked (2) as to go in the basket (1) was thoroughly unexciting.
Before the game, Skiles spoke about Ilyasova:
We're going to get good effort and he's starting to make his shot a little bit, which we desperately need; we'll hope that can continue. He panics a little bit when guys run at him, he's a young player trying to get some poise out there, figure out when to fake, when to drive, those kinds of things. The main priority is, consistently knock down those shots. We have a center who draws a lot of attention and he gets a lot of open looks.
Maggette and Meatballs. This is what happens when you type "Maggette" in Google:
In seven minutes, he managed to miss all five of his shots, pick up both an offensive and defensive foul, shoot no free throws, commit two turnovers, and accrue a team-best +5 differential. Maggette and Meatballs, indeed.