No Bogut, no hope?
I'll admit that's largely been my feeling about the 09/10 Bucks; sure, they're scrappy and hard-working, but at the end of the day Bogut is their anchor on both ends. Take him away and the Bucks suddenly have no shot-blocking presence, a limited ability to compete on the glass and no one who can consistently score out of the post. There's more than a few good reasons why everyone who's watched more than 15 minutes of Bucks basketball this year says Bogut is the glue, the MVP, the anchor.
So you can imagine how excited I was to watch the big man head to the locker room just six minutes into the Bucks' tilt at MSG on Friday night--especially after watching him drop in three shots in succession. Though it initially appeared Bogut was nursing some kind of hand injury, word quickly came that it was a migraine keeping him down and that he wouldn't return. Better news than a knee, back or ankle injury, but disappointing to hear nonetheless.
And until halftime you could tell the Bucks seemed a bit shell-shocked as well. An early 19-9 lead disappeared without Bogut to defend the middle, as David Lee (32 pts, 15 rebs) simply went to town on Kurt Thomas, Hakim Warrick and Ersan Ilyasova for the rest of the half. Al Harrington drilled a pair of triples and took Ilyasova to school in the post for eight quick points early in the second, and Lee took the baton shortly thereafter, scoring 11 of his 19 first half points in the second. Even Chris Duhon--benched for the first time this season in favor of Nate Robinson--got backdoor for a pair of easy layups, which is generally the only way he's going to score.
The Bucks' offensive salvation came in the unlikely form of Ilyasova (18 of his career-high 25 in the first half), who showed the complete package with a pair of threes, a number of mid-rangers, and even putting it on the deck a couple times. That helped compensate for a miserable first 24 minutes from Brandon Jennings, who hit just 1/7 fg and looked to be pressing a bit after pregame comments once again underscoring his intent to make the Knicks regret passing up on him in June. The Bucks trailed by just five at the break, but it remained questionable whether they could continue scoring efficiently enough to hang with a Knicks club that seemed to be hitting their stride offensively.
Fortunately, the Bucks appeared to get the better motivational speech at halftime. In truth there was probably plenty of tactical pointers as well, but the point is that Skiles and the coaching staff made the necessary adjustments to get things going again. The Bucks started the third with Mbah a Moute on Lee, limiting the beastly Florida alum's ability to drive and forcing a few turnovers as well. And Jennings began to pick apart the Knicks' pick & roll defense, getting Warrick and Ilyasova easy buckets while starting to get his own offense going as well. After burying an open three early in the third, he thrice drove aggressively to the hoop for layups; say what you will about Lee's tremendous scoring and rebounding, but neither he nor anyone else on the Knicks provides much in the way of help defense inside. The game started to get physical, and in a flash the Bucks were up nine heading to the fourth.
Fortunately for the Bucks the post-Bogut letdown never came. A triple by Stackhouse saw the Bucks lead swell to 97-84 early in the fourth, and even a brief run by the Knicks could only cut the lead to six. As seems to be a recurring theme, Jennings delivered a dagger with a tough three off the dribble to give the Bucks an 11 point lead with four minutes remaining. And Ilyasova, quiet for much of the half, then finished it off by grabbing a key offensive rebound with 23 seconds remaining.
No Bogut...no problem? At least for one night.
Ersan Ilyasova: 30 min, 25 pts, 10/18 fg, 2/3 threes, 3/4 ft, 9 reb, 0 to
January was probably Turk Nowitzki's worst month of the season: sub-40% shooting contributed to Ilyasova losing his starting gig to Mbah a Moute, and the first two games of February were simply more of the same. Fortunately, Ilyasova was around to carry the Bucks while everyone else seemed to be waiting for Bogut to pull a Willis Reed and walk back to the bench. He scored 13 of the Bucks' 25 points in the second quarter, matching Harrington and Lee shot-for-shot in the process while buying the Bucks some time as they sorted out how to deal with Bogut's prolonged absence.
Brandon Jennings: 35 min, 22 pts, 8/23 fg, 2/7 threes, 4/4 ft, 8 ast, 2 reb, 2 to
As we've seen before, Jennings shook off a rough start to largely dominate the second half with his ability to mix playmaking and timely scoring. We all know he doesn't mind the big stage, and in hoops there's none bigger than MSG. He didn't need to drop 22/8 to remind Knick fans of the mistake they made last June, but it doesn't hurt does it?
Carlos Delfino: 42 min, 13 pts, 5/12 fg, 2/6 threes, 1/1 ft, 9 reb, 6 ast, 3 stl, 4 to
This could easily have been Luc Mbah a Moute, but we'll give the nod yet again to Delfino, who had another night of huge minutes and a busy line in the box score to show for it. Delfino has been rebounding like a madman over the past month and was the Bucks' best glassman after Bogut departed, but not to be overlooked is the facilitating he provided with six assists.
+14. Going into halftime I couldn't help but feel the Bucks were slowly losing their grip on the game; the early 10 point lead had evapored without Bogut around to anchor the defense and even a monster half from Ilyasova saw the Bucks trailing by five at intermission. But those concerns disappeared in a hurry in the third, as Milwaukee jumped the Knicks almost immediately and finished the period 36-22 to the good.
5:25. Would have been nice to get a bit more burn out of Bogut. Obviously.
10. The Knicks certainly aren't hurting for outside threats, but it was the Bucks who put on a show from deep, draining 10/24 threes compared to just 7/20 for the Knicks.
Skiles. It's fairly rare that I really think it's worth questioning Skiles' tactics and rotations, and it's nights like these where it becomes clear why he's worth giving the benefit of the doubt. After his team's shaky second quarter the Bucks came out and wrecked the Knicks in the third, swarming the ball on defense and working the P&R on offense. There's something joyful about watching a bunch of mostly-marginal NBA rotation players make each other better on the court.
Role players. Ilyasova is the obvious choice to single out, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a Buck who played meaningful minutes and didn't do exactly what you'd hope tonight. Warrick threw down three huge dunks in the second half, two off offensive rebounds, while Stackhouse's work on both ends helped the Bucks extend their lead early in the fourth.
Empire State of Mind. Jennings' public goal of revenge wasn't a terribly productive thing to say in the pregame, but the kid eventually backed it up and then some. And you know what? It feels pretty damn good to be on the good side of the "How'd they pass on him?" debate for a change.
Bogut's migraine. This isn't the first time Bogut has struggled with migraines, though we haven't heard of them being an issue in some time. The last time it impacted his playing time was in December 2008, when a whack to the face against the Bulls triggered a migraine that led to him missing practice. He played in the next game against Charlotte, but it's not clear how much it impacted his play in a mediocre effort against Emeka Okafor. Unfortunately the Bucks don't have the luxury of an extra day off before they face Indiana, so we'll have to cross our fingers that it clears up by tomorrow evening. Feel better, Bogues.
Interior defense. Both teams went small for significant periods, sacrificing any semblance of interior defense in the process--maybe that's normal for New York, but we've expected more from the Bucks of late. It was especially evident in the second quarter, as the Knicks beat the Bucks off the dribble numerous times to finish easily around the cup (Lee driving right past Warrick . Maybe the Bucks just needed some time to adapt to being Bogutless, because their help defense picked up a little bit in the third quarter. Still, they barely edged the Knicks 58-54 in the paint, well above either team's season averages (37 ppg for the Bucks, 40 ppg for the Knicks).