As a reporter, sometimes you start writing the game story before the game actually ends. This felt like one that I could pretty safely start writing before the game started.
This was supposed to be the low point of the season, the low point of the last two seasons.
When I write that, I mean only that with a loss the Bucks would have been 10-17, and at seven games under they would have fallen further below than at any time in this season or last, since Brandon Jennings first suited up for the Bucks.
Instead, this marks the high point of this season, one of the highest points of the last two seasons.
I wouldn't want the players to feel this way, but as viewers as opposed to players there is nothing wrong with being realistic. And thinking the Bucks would play the Lakers in Los Angeles all the way to the end -- sans Jennings, Drew Gooden, and Corey Maggette (oh, and Carlos Delfino) -- was more than simply an optimistic line of thought a half dozen hours ago, it wasn't even within the realm of possibility. The idea that the Bucks would not only hang in there, but win, or win in blowout fashion, was unthinkable.
Seemed like I would just need to fill in the _______s with the particular gory numbers and names.
And then Milwaukee started rambunctiously.
They played like a team that didn't play the previous night, which kind of makes sense because they hardly played at all against the Blazers. From the tip, this was a new night, as Andrew Bogut hit a decisive hook on the baseline over Pau Gasol on the first possession of the game, and then took it right around Gasol for a two-handed jam on the next trip down. The teams mostly traded buckets early on -- not necessarily a good sign in a points battle pitting the league's best vs. league's worst offense.
But by the time the Lakers started to effectively double-team Bogut, he already had 11 points, and the Bucks maintained a lead throughout the entire second quarter. The Lakers clearly remembered that the were playing Milwaukee in the third quarter and came back to tie it at 63-63. But after a Bucks timeout Earl Boykins started heating up and that was the beginning of the end for Los Angeles. Boykins hit a long jumper and a three near the end of the third quarter, opened the fourth quarter with another three, and went on to hit a couple more three in the fourth, including one to make it 80-72 that really seemed to break the Lakers. Boykins eventually drew the foul on Kobe Bryant that led to Kobe getting one technical and then another and an invitation to please leave the court. Boykins of course made both technical free throws.
So, yes, Boykins, Boykins, Boykins.
But the Bucks just held the best offense in the NBA to 79 points. A team that scored 98+ points in its first 15 games of the season, and a team that had just scored 120 the last time out. This game was about a return to dominant defense even more than it was about making shots.
Andrew Bogut's offense was all early, but his defense was all the time. Luc Mbah a Moute was tremendous against Bryant down the stretch, as was John Salmons when matched up with him. And so the low points are marked with bad offense, and the high points are marked with great defense. As unpredictable as the Bucks are right now, and as different as they are from last season, that much remains clear.
And so the Bucks started the night six games under, but they proved, that like last year, they aren't six feet under.
John Salmons. Building on a 23-point second half against the Blazers, Salmons kept the good offensive vibes moving, again taking on the playmaker role that made him a springtime hero last season. Again he didn't score in the first quarter, but again was the best overall player on the court thereafter.
Eventually Salmons will start a season in poor form and won't recover. Until that time, it's probably wise to wait it out a little bit before declaring him washed up for good. For much of the season Salmons has looked bad even when he scored, as though he was just barely getting high enough off the ground for the layup, or as though the ball was barely making it to the rim. But in the last two games Salmons has looked good even in his misses, slicing to the basket and having shots just barely ring out.
Outplayed Kobe Bryant offensively and defensively, and finished with 20 points on 14 shots, led everyone with 6 assists, just 2 turnovers, a deserved +25 differential, and 2 steals.
Earl Boykins. If a third-string point guard wins you one game over the course of the year, you are pretty happy. If a third-string point guard beats the defending champs in their place, Earl Boykins is your third-string point guard.
Boykins can do this from time to time, though he hasn't done anything quite like this in a while. The last time he reached 20+ points was back in April 2007 when he went for 28 while playing all 48 minutes in Cleveland. But he also scored 36 and 32 in two other games that month.
So he isn't still hanging around rosters because of his defense. He was way off in Portland (2-11), but just couldn't miss tonight, hitting 4-5 threes, and he ended up playing more minutes than starter Keyon Dooling as a result.
Led all scorers with 22.
Ersan Ilyasova. Ers (13) had it all working early on as he teamed with Bogut (11) to combine for 24 first-half points, and his tip-offensive-rebounds (6 offensive boards) evoked his best runs of play during last season. He didn't rush his shots and played some of his best defense of the year -- and I am typing about the calendar year, not just this season.
33. In the second half of their previous game, the Lakers scored 63 points against the Raptors. In the second half tonight, the top offensive team in the NBA scored 33 points, including 13 in the final period.
7. As a team, the Lakers entered the game making 20.8 free throws per game, sixth most in the NBA. Tonight they made 7-13 from the stripe, including just two in entire second half. The Bucks played great defense against great offensive players, much to the chagrin of the disgruntled Lakers and disgusted Staples Center crowd.
The Bucks were on point, making 16-18 from the line
.507/.571/.889 That is what the Bucks shot from the field, on threes, and from the free throw line.
Shuffling. The Lakers have started the exact same lineup in every game this season. Sure, the eternally scratched-up Andrew Bynum has missed time and Kobe Bryant is rarely really at full strength, but for the most part Los Angeles has been the picture of perfect health.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee started just two of the same players (Bogut and Salmons) from their opening night lineup, and they have already started 11 different players through 27 games --- everyone on the active roster except Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, and Brian Skinner has started a game.
This particular starting fivesome was miserable against Portland in their first start together, but they were excellent from the tip tonight.
4 for 4. The Bucks won all four quarters against the Lakers in an incomprehensibly comprehensive win. This marks the first time the Lakers have been outscored in each quarter of a game this season and it is easily their most lopsided loss yet (previous worst loss was by 10 in Houston).
Hard to understand that a team so inconsistent as to get destroyed by a weakened Portland club one night can so thoroughly dominate an in-form Los Angeles team the next.
Kobe kicked out. This was just the cherry on top.
There are few things worse than looking around the Bradley Center -- a good hour before the tip, no less -- and seeing fathers and sons decked out in matching Kobe Bryant jerseys, and rows of purple and gold standing up snapping photos during pregame warm-ups. Then the game starts and you hear MVP chants, and the game ends when Kobe hits a game-winner at the buzzer (look at and listen to the crowd reaction). That was the scene a year (and a week) ago in Milwaukee.
Tough to get even after that. But coming into L.A. with a short-staffed roster and having a 135-pounder outscore Kobe (22-21), having John Salmons pick Kobe's pocket while positively sitting on the floor, and having Kobe pick up two straight fourth-quarter technicals and get ejected -- that is a start.
Just too bad that Kobe didn't get to hear the anti-Laker boo's tonight in Los Angeles as the buzzer sounded that were as loud as any of the pro-Laker cheers in Milwaukee as the buzzer sounded.