In the hours leading up to the Heat and Bucks' second meeting in 48 hours, a disproportionate amount of attention seemed to be focused on Brandon Jennings' new nickname for Charlie Bell: "Wade stopper."
It's not that anyone really thought Bell was capable of shutting down one of the NBA's most dynamic offensive players, but in the first four minutes of the game it appeared Wade was taking Jennings' praise for Bell rather personally. A trip to the line for two free throws on the Heat's first possession. A driving score in the lane two possessions later. And that was just the beginning.
By the 7:35 mark of the first, Wade had 11 points including seven three throws. The Bucks had...nothing. Ten shots taken, all of them missed. The only bright side was that Wade wasn't getting any help, scoring all of the Heat's points in their 11-0 blitz to start the game. And as the Bucks found out when they sprinted to an 11-0 lead against the Cavs in Milwaukee two months ago, four minutes does not an NBA game make.
Like they did in Milwaukee on Saturday, the Bucks got their offense going through Andrew Bogut, Carlos Delfino and Hakim Warrick, while the Heat quickly began to fade after Wade's fast start. Luc Mbah a Moute's length helped keep Wade scoreless the rest of the first quarter and the Bucks team-tackling approach to defense took the ball increasingly out of Wade's hands. And sure enough, the Bucks were not only in it but leading 21-17 after a quarter (fun fact: the Cavs also led 21-17 after a quarter in the aforementioned December game).
The Bucks again made good use of the 2-3 zone for a good portion of the second, but even when they weren't technically in a zone they used the basic principles to crowd Wade and keep him from getting to the rim with ease--preferring to concede jump shots to Wade or, better yet, his bricklaying teammates. The latter were the main reason Wade failed to register an assist in a first half that saw the Bucks dig out of that 11-0 deficit and then some: Milwaukee doubled up Miami to the tune of 54-27 in the final 20 minutes of the half, giving them a commanding 54-38 halftime lead. Not surprisingly leading the way was Bogut (14 of his 22 in the first half), but with plenty of help from Warrick, Delfino, Stackhouse (seven points in the second) and some nice distribution from Brandon Jennings.
The Heat used a zone to throw the Bucks' rhythm off and cut the lead to 59-49 midway through the third, but that was as close as they came. Alston missed a pair of free throws and Wade turned it over before Delfino and Bell (twice) nailed corner triples on three consecutive possessions. It's rare that the Bucks can run away and hide on the road against a team they're chasing in the playoff standings--in fact, it had yet to happen before tonight. But better late than never, right?
Andrew Bogut: 34 min, 22 pts, 10/13 fg, 2/3 ft, 11 rebs, 1 ast, 3 to, 1 blk
With the undersized Joel Anthony starting in place of Jermaine O'Neal (back spasms), there was little the Heat could do in single coverage to keep Bogut from dropping hooks over them all night. Jamaal Magloire and his cement-filled shoes offered a little more resistance, but for the most part Bogut just bullied the Heat down low with his usual array of ambidextrous hook shots, and only when the Heat tried to zone the Bucks in the third could they keep the big fella from dominating down low. And after defending the Bogut/Jennings pick and roll pretty well in Milwaukee, the Heat had less luck a second time around as Bogut got free a number of times. Looks like somebody needs a Bogut stopper.
Carlos Delfino: 42 min, 5/11 fg, 1/4 three, 5/6 ft, 10 rebs, 4 ast, 4 to, 3 stl
Bogut wasn't the only Buck to elevate his game to new heights in January and he wasn't the only one to carry it over to February. Delfino once again led the Bucks in minutes and filled the box score, collecting double-digit rebounds for the third time in less than a month while relying more on his driving than bombing to get points. So while 5/11 shooting isn't great, 16 points out of those 11 tries will do nicely.
Hakim Warrick: 26 min, 12 pts, 6/12 fg, 6 rebs, 2 ast, 0 to, 1 stl, 1 blk
Plenty of options for the third Buck honor, including Bell (12 pts, hard work on Wade) and Jennings (an under control 9 pts and 8 ast). But we'll go with Warrick for the major boost he provided off the bench in the first half. Warrick made an early appearance midway through the first quarter with the Bucks down 12-6 and announced his arrival shortly thereafter with a swooping fast break dunk off a feed from Jennings. Seems like they've been doing that about once a game of late.
Warrick then proceeded to do some damage with his often-dubious jump shot, ripping a face-up 20-footer and a turnaround in the post to end the quarter. The Bucks had taken the lead for good, and he added a baseline slam from Jennings for good measure. His jump shot predictably came back down to earth in the second half, but by then the Bucks were running riot.
58.7%. So, now the Bucks have figured out how to score or something? Their 50.7% shooting for the game marked the third time in five games they've cracked the 50% mark--pretty significant improvement for a team that managed that feat just twice in the season's first 41 games. Making the Bucks' final shooting figure even more improbable was that 0/10 start, but they turned it around in a hurry by making nearly 59% of their shots the rest of the way.
+20. I'm not sure how much difference O'Neal could have made, but I would assume the Heat would have offered up a bit more resistance down low. Without him they were dominated 42-22 in the paint, as Bogut went to work and got a fair bit of help from Delfino, Warrick and company.
33%. Wade's been complaining from a sore back of late, so that's probably part of the reason for his struggles against the Bucks. Still, the Bucks didn't give him anything easy and the Heat never seemed to take advantage of the Bucks' focus on Wade, who finished just 13/39 from the field over the past two games. His other numbers: 22 ppg, 4 to/g, 1.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, 5 fouls/g. Can't ask for much more than that if you're a Bucks fan.
Road trip! Technically this was the Bucks' second win against a .500+ team this season (Memphis being the first) and only their second-biggest win in terms of margin of victory (98-76 over NJ). Still, I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb when I say that this was their most comprehensive road win of the season--convincing on the scoreboard and crucial in the standings. Miami has now lost four of five and are the one team in the lower half of the Eastern playoff picture that isn't playing its best ball of the season. With Wade struggling through nagging injury and not getting a whole lot of help, the Bucks have an obvious target as they attempt to fight through a month that has been very unkind to them in recent years.
Defense. I think what impressed me most about the Bucks' defense tonight was how ready Skiles was to throw different looks at the Heat even when things seemed to be going OK. After Bell struggled to hang with an inspired Wade early on, Mbah a Moute provided a big boost. Then the zone did its job, before Bell went back at it for much of the second half. Overall, having three guys in the starting lineup (Bell, Mbah a Moute and Defino) who can switch and make Wade work for his points gives the Bucks versatility that few teams can offer. Wade wasn't shut down per se, but he didn't score efficiently and his teammates let him down time after time.
Offense. How often do we single out the Bucks' offense for praise? Not often, which you'd expect for a team ranked 23rd in efficiency. But of late the Bucks have found a terrific rhythm that we can only hope continues for the long haul. It all starts with Bogut's dominance on the block, but as we saw with the Heat, even a superstar isn't enough when the supporting cast isn't doing its job. Thankfully, on any given night the Bucks have been able to count on any number of players stepping up to carry the team for 5-8 minute stretches.
Zoned out. The Bucks' zone helped key the 33-21 second quarter that blew the game wide open, but the Heat's zone look gave them a dose of their own medicine in the third--and almost made a game of it. As we saw in Toronto, the Bucks have a hard time finding Bogut against a zone and their perimeter passing looked tentative. Not exactly a good combination. Fortunately, Delfino and Bell quickly shot the Heat zone to pieces with nine points in quick succession, but if I was scouting for another team I'd certainly make a note of the Bucks' discomfort against the zone.
No rest. Unfortunately the Bucks won't get much chance to enjoy this one--they head to Orlando tomorrow night for a tough tilt against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Which made it a little bit surprising that Bogut and Jennings weren't lifted until there were less than two minutes left in the game.