If you watch a lot of NBA games then you've probably seen that NBA commercial featuring a bunch of Kevin Garnett interviews during the lead up to the Celtics title in 2008. Last year it was all they played for a while during League Pass game breaks, and to be honest I got kind of sick it, in no small part because I'm really not a fan of the C's. But the part I always remember is when KG has a line about "very small things" and how they add up.
The Bucks are admittedly nowhere near the 2008 Celtics, and there's no guarantee that their current hot streak--now six games and counting--will even translate into a playoff spot. But the idea for the Bucks isn't too dissimilar, especially given the lack of "big" things the Bucks have going for them. It really is all little things which makes Skiles' bunch work, and of late all those small things are snowballing into something bigger.
The Bucks' degree of difficulty in Miami was necessarily rather low, as the Heat without D-Wade really aren't much of a squad. But it was still another example of how doing the little things, the right things, over and over, can wear down a lesser team over 48 minutes.
The Heat went early to a 2-3 zone and stayed in it for much of the game, complicating the Bucks' usual strategy of feeding Andrew Bogut (4/10 fg, 8 pts, 10 rebs, 2 blk) on the block. That alone shouldn't have been a huge surprise, as the Heat caused the Bucks some trouble with the zone the last time they visited South Beach as well. But even with Bogut missing a couple early chippies and Jermaine O'Neal dropping a couple mid-range jumpers, the Bucks still managed an early lead and led by eight after the first quarter, with Salmons' seven points leading the way.
Miami wasn't shooting lights out, but the Bucks took a while to figure out the Heat zone as well, allowing the Heat to grab a momentary lead. Turnovers by Delfino and Ilyasova led to layups by Michael Beasley and Dorell Wright, tying the game at 36 before O'Neal's banker over Ilyasova gave the Heat their last lead at 40-39. But Delfino answered with a three, and Jennings knifed through the Heat zone to find Bogut for a layup. Not to be outdone, Jennings then got out on the break and delivered a beautiful no-look pass to Stackhouse, who laid it in for a 50-45 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the half.
The third quarter was all Bucks, as the Heat stagnated on offense and could only watch as Salmons, Stackhouse and Delfino started burying jumpers. Nothing too flashy, just taking care of business on both ends. All told, the Bucks used a 29-8 to turn a 52-49 game into an 81-57 laugher two minutes into the fourth. That gives the Bucks a 3-0 edge on the Heat in the season series and guarantees them the tiebreaker should the teams end up tied at the end of the season. Very small things, very big win.
John Salmons: 30 min, 18 pts, 7/11 fg, 2/5 threes, 2/2 ft, 5 ast, 3 rebs, 1 to, 1 blk
For a guy who looks half-asleep most of the time, Salmons sure does some nice things on the basketball court. His performances thus far have been largely one dimensional with the exception of the Charlotte game, but on a well-balanced team he probably doesn't need to do too much besides create and finish scoring opportunities. He fit the bill tonight, hitting a couple tough shots late in the shot clock to help the Bucks build an early lead they would never relinquish.
Salmons also got into the lane with regularity, providing the Bucks some much-needed slashing on a night when they were mostly dared to shoot jump shots. As a sidenote, Salmons is interesting to study as a finisher because he seems to have a lot more hang time than pure hops--even though he's not dunking over guys, he's really good at absorbing contact, double-clutching, and finishing on the way down.
Brandon Jennings: 30 min, 11 pts, 4/11 fg, 1/3 threes, 2/2 ft, 8 ast, 5 rebs, 0 to
This was one of those "T.J. Ford from 2004" type games--a solid-but-not-eye-popping stat line that understated the way Jennings seemed to dominate the tempo of the game. He hit a couple early jumpers to let the Heat know he was there, led the Bucks with a +24 rating, and generally made all the right passes without turning it over once.
Carlos Delfino: 25 min, 6/11 fg, 3/6 threes, 15 points, 8 rebs, 5 ast, 5 to, 1 stl
Delfino's February has been rather quiet compared to his stat-stuff January, but he was back to his best today. His perimeter shooting punished the Heat's zone, and he picked up five dimes mostly as a byproduct of his willingness to move the ball around the perimeter on ball swings. Jerry Stackhouse (16 pts, 4/7 threes) gets honorable mention.
10. The Bucks made 5/14 threes in the first half and added 5/12 in the second, using their marksmanship to bust Miami's often-frustrating zone.
24.-9. With the exception of Salmons and Bogut, the Bucks don't have guys who can create their own shot, and the Heat saw to it that Bogut had only limited opportunities. But the Bucks have become a gloriously unselfish squad over the course of the season, always willing to work the ball around the perimeter and make the extra pass.
Meanwhile, only a team with Wade (or LeBron James) can succeed with a PG rotation of Rafer Alston, Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers. And unfortunately for the Heat, their superman was in street clothes, leaving a huge playmaking and scoring void in the Heat backcourt. That made the Heat all too easy to defend and their paltry nine assists showed just how lacking in creativity they were. How many times does a team win when it has more turnovers than assists?
26. Five days ago the Bucks held the Knicks to 14 third quarter points and 12 fourth quarter points. Today they held the Heat to 12 in the third and 14 in the fourth. Say what you want about weak opposition, but holding an NBA opponent to 26 points in a half on the road is something worth noting--and doing it twice in five days shows you it's a lot more than just bad shooting.
Defense. There's nothing particularly spectacular or suffocating about it, but the Bucks just haven't been making mistakes of late. When they do allow penetration, Bogut or another defender always seems to be there for the rotation, and they consistently close out on jump shots. Moreover, much of the time when they allow penetration it's partly by design--shading ball-handlers to one side of the floor where it's easier to send help and cut off passing lanes. Perhaps most importantly, it's a system, not simply a bunch of individuals making great plays, which means they're fairly consistent even when their top defenders (Bogut/Luc) aren't in in the game. Very small things.
Swingmen. On a night when Bogut was starved of possessions the burden of scoring fell to the Bucks' guards and forwards, and whenever they needed a big shot they got it. The Heat must have felt like they were running up an escalator the wrong way--anytime they let up, the Bucks just kept pushing them down. Aside from his hot shooting, Stackhouse put an exclamation point on his best night as a Buck by volleyball spiking a Miami shot in the fourth.
Streaking. It hasn't come against the NBA's best teams, but the Bucks' six game winning streak is something to be enjoyed, even with a tough matchup in Atlanta on tap tomorrow.
Bogut sucks. Just kidding. He didn't get many touches and didn't do much with the ones he got, but he was still a presence defensively and got his customary 10 boards as well. But in the interest of setting high standards, let's hope he's a bigger factor on Sunday in Atlanta.