The Bucks and Blazers both know a thing or two about injuries. But unfortunately for the Bucks, only the Blazers seem to know how to overcome them.
Despite missing Brandon Roy, Marcus Camby, and Joel Przybilla, the Blazers had no trouble dismissing a Milwaukee team that was missing Brandon Jennings and Corey Maggette and looking even more lost than usual on offense. The Bucks came out cold, missing their first five shots, and saw the game effectively slip out of reach during a 34-17 second quarter that saw them down 24 at the half.
Perhaps more worryingly, the Bucks looked simply overwhelmed in the two areas they usually can rely on--on the defensive end and in the rebounding department. Andrew Bogut and company had no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge (29 pts, 19 rebs) and the Blazers' superior ball movement (27 assists, 10 turnovers), and they looked puny on the boards against a fairly small but active Blazer team that outrebounded them 43-35. With few exceptions it just seemed as though the Blazers were playing with all the urgency, a concerning indicator given how easily the Bucks could let their season get away from them with Jennings out and a tough schedule ahead of them. There's no time for them to lick their wounds, either--not with a visit to the Lakers on Tuesday night.
The Bucks' initial gameplan understandably revolved around Bogut, but after drawing a foul on the first possession he was quickly marginalized by Portland's fronting defense, zone looks, and quick rotations. When he did get some touches in the second quarter he looked rushed and out of sorts, starting the game 0/5 from the field. Meanwhile, Portland wasn't missing a beat without Roy, thanks in large part to former Marquette standout Wes Matthews, who scored a couple of short buckets before hitting three straight triples to open up a 20-7 Portland lead.
The Bucks narrowed the lead to 35-26 early in the second, but Portland spread Milwaukee out on offense and tore them up in transition with a 24-9 run to close the half, as Skiles quickly ran out of options and ended the half playing the white flag combination of Jon Brockman and Larry Sanders up front. Without Jennings probing and attacking, the Bucks looked short of ideas offensively, as Dooling showed a few flashes of aggression but generally had almost no help, and he eventually had to leave the game in the second half with a leg injury (stay tuned...). That meant major minutes for Earl Boykins, but he predictably offered no solutions for the Bucks bigger problems (27 min, 2/11 fg).
The Bucks put in some token resistance in the second half, thanks mostly to John Salmons waking up from a scoreless, 0/1 first half to score all 23 of his points after halftime. But the Bucks' best defense was the Blazers' indifference, and every run by the Bucks was answered with a renewed awakening from Portland, with Aldridge usually playing a key part. Rudy Fernandez (17 pts, 7 ast) and Andre Miller (9 ast) orchestrated the Blazer offense from the perimeter, and Aldridge slammed the door on the Bucks for good with a slick alley-oop finish over Luc Mbah a Moute with eight minutes left in the fourth.
John Salmons. Salmons was the only Buck to post a respectable stat line, but unfortunately he waited until they were down by about 20 before he scored his first points early in the second half. If only he could have been doing a bit more of it early in the game, but better late than never, eh?
Salmons has justifiably been getting less plays run for him in the past couple weeks, but the Bucks don't have a lot of other options now that their primary ball-handler and playmaker is on the shelf. There's no denying the efficiency of 23 points on just 13 shots in 29 minutes, and we can only hope he can bottle some of this mojo going forward.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Not a huge line (10 pts on nine shots, seven rebs in 34 minutes, but Mbah a Moute was the only other guy who seemed to be channeling his energies in a vaguely productive manner.
Keyon Dooling. The Bucks' starting point guard started the game with a slew of perimeter bricks before getting things going with a steal and dunk and a pair of one-handed floaters. He never found his outside shot (4/12 fg, 0/4 threes) and seemed to summarize the Bucks' evening by blowing a dunk early in the third, but the more important question is whether the knock he took will force him to join Jennings on the sideline (no indication yet that it will, but now seems like a reasonable time to be paranoid).
0. Zero meant many things tonight, none of them good for the Bucks. No blocks for Bogut or the Bucks. No field goals in the first half by Bogut or Salmons. No minutes for Brandon Jennings or Corey Maggette--but the same could be said of Brandon Roy, Marcus Camby, and Joel Przybilla.
19. The Blazers seemed to dominate the boards more than their final 43-35 advantage would suggest, and much of that had to do with the usually meek-rebounding Aldridge, who grabbed a career-high 19 boards to go with his game-high 29 points.
50%. Portland finished an even 50% from the field, more than enough against a team as offensively challenged as the Bucks.
Salmons' mojo. Pretty much the only upside from tonight is that maybe Salmons is starting to come around...and yes, I know we've said/hoped for it before.
Jennings' value. For all the criticism of his PG skills, he must be doing something right given the Bucks managed to look even worse without him. So, uh, that's a good sign for the long-term, right?
Board to death. What the heck happened to the Bucks' rebounding? A couple days after getting mauled by a mediocre rebounding Jazz team, the Bucks were again made to look small by opponents who didn't need the second chances to begin with. The Blazers are at least a good offensive rebounding team, but there's really no room for error when your offense is this bad every night.
Bogut. With the Blazers' only true centers injured, this should have been a game for Bogut to go to work. Instead he was invisible on both ends, struggling to get open early and looking woefully out of rhythm once he started getting touches in the second and third quarters. Offensively you can accept that the Bucks simply won't be able to get Bogut 15-20 shots every night--if the other team aggressively fronts or doubles there's only so much they can do. But Bogut was also marginalized on the boards and looked nothing like the league's leading shot-blocker, appearing slow to rotate and failing to block a shot for just the second time all season. Maybe he was a bit banged up or feeling under the weather? I don't know. I won't begrudge him a bad game here and there, especially given how well he's played of late, but the Bucks can ill afford to see Bogut underachieving with Jennings now out of commission.
What now? It's not shocking that the Bucks would struggle to execute offensively in their first game without Jennings, but it's tough to accept that excuse on the defensive end, where they looked flat-footed and nothing like the team that has ridden its rebounding and defense to ten wins in spite of a horrendous offense.