Let's start with an important disclaimer about the Bucks' win over the NBA's best team: LeBron James, the NBA's best player, didn't play thanks to a sore ankle. So to all those little munchkins who showed up on Saturday night in #23 jerseys hoping to watch LeBron beat up on their home team: sorry (ask your mom what sarcasm means).
But as much as the Bucks may have been hoping to legitimize their recent hot streak with a win over the current title favorites, let's think about the big picture. Last time I checked, the Bucks' biggest concern is still winning games--not proving that they're better than any individual team or showing that they can contain any individual player. That stuff is great and makes for nice copy, but the Bucks can do all the respect-gaining they want against the Celtics and Jazz next week.
And despite some hot three point shooting by Brandon Jennings (sporting a red stripe on his dome) and Carlos Delfino, the Bucks didn't exactly bring their A game, which means they should probably just be happy to have pounded out another win against the NBA's best team. The Bucks shouldn't be thrilled with their overall performance, but they can still be satisfied to see a win chalked up against a team that had beaten 78% of its opponents coming into the game.
The Bucks weren't lacking in energy early, busting out to a 29-16 lead early in the second quarter thanks to Jennings' passing, Bogut's size, and Mbah a Moute's typical hustle around the cup. But the Bucks never managed to run away and hide like they have of late against lesser teams. Even without the best player on earth, Cleveland is a well-coached team that works defensively--sound familiar?--and the hot-shooting combination of Delonte West (28 pts) and Antawn Jamison (30 pts) was enough to reel in a Bucks team that wasn't firing on all cylinders offensively.
Jamison drilled a pair of mid-rangers to start the second and then watched West go to work on Luke Ridnour with 10 straight points. Jamison apparently felt one-upped, so he replied by scoring 11 straight of his own as the Cavs fought back to lead 36-33. Meanwhile, the Bucks were finding it tough sledding now that their jumpers weren't falling, as Cleveland was challenging every drive--even without Bron-Bron, the Cavs don't defend like the Wizards.
Fortunately, the Bucks got back on track in the third, starting the period with a 16-4 run punctuated by a Jennings three and pull-up jumper to give the Bucks a 58-45 lead. Unlike Cleveland's two-man show, the Bucks just pressured the ball, created turnovers, and did their balanced attack thing: Jennings (5), Defino (4), Bogut (4), and Salmons (3) all getting in on the fun.
The Cavs didn't go quietly in the fourth, but they simply didn't have the firepower to make the Bucks nervous, as Milwaukee led by at least seven the rest of the way.
Brandon Jennings: 36 min, 25 pts, 6/14 fg, 5/7 threes, 8/9 ft, 6 ast, 2 reb, 2 stl, 1 blk, 4 to
Jennings hadn't scored more than five points in any of his last three games, and his miserable shooting has been the elephant in the room for quite some time. So watching Jennings erupt (relatively speaking) for 25 on 14 shots was in many ways just a relief. The downside was another poor night inside the arc (1/7 fg), but a scorching night from deep and plenty of freebies too boot.
Jennings also deserves plenty of credit for his ball-hawking on defense, an area where I've generally found him somewhat disappointing. I like his willingness to pressure the ball up the court and he hasn't gambled as much as his summer league suggested, but he's surprisingly poor at moving laterally and his tiny frame makes for an easy target on pick & rolls. Fortunately the Bucks' help defense is nothing short of fantastic, which helps mask the defensive shortcomings of their perimeter players. However, tonight it was Jennings do a commendable job on his own, harassing Mo Williams (3/17 fg) all around the arc and into more contested shots than he normally gets with LBJ around.
Carlos Delfino: 42 min, 16 pts, 5/13 fg, 4/8 threes, 2/2 ft, 13 reb, 1 ast, 1 to, 2 stl
Like Jennings, Delfino couldn't score inside the three point line (1/5 fg) but his marksmanship and monster night on the glass definitely made up for it.
Andrew Bogut: 36 min, 15 pts, 5/9 fg, 5/6 ft, 9 reb, 3 blk, 1 stl, 2 to
Shaq has always caused Bogut problems, and a total of 11 points from Bogut in the first two matchups with Cleveland this year didn't do much to dispel that notion. Fortunately, Shaq (thumb surgery) is on his annual two month in-season vacation, and with Zydrunas Ilgauskas also missing that left Cleveland much smaller than they were the last time these teams met. It looked like it in the game's first 30 seconds, as Bogut sent back J.J. Hickson's driving hook and then scored over the Cavs' second year man on the next possession. Bogut certainly didn't have an easy time of it--Varejao was not surprisingly more effective than Hickson on the defensive end and the Cavs doubled Bogut on most of his touches in the post. But he was patient and overcame some second half foul trouble to put together about an average line: 15 pts on nine shots, nine rebounds, and another three block night.
40.5%. The Bucks shot poorly even by their mediocre standards, but they chucked up plenty of threes (11/29) and still made more freebies than the LBJ-less Cavs (17/21 vs. 10/16). Not good, but good enough.
13. The Bucks committed a season-low 13 fouls. Not that cutting down on fouls has always been a recipe for success--they lost the two games in which they committed 14 fouls (@Dal, vs. SA).
9. The number of games it had been since Jennings made better than 40% from the field.
The Rooster crows. The JS recap offers some explanation for Jennings' shimmying and gestures at the Cavs bench--apparently James joked to Jennings early in the game that the Cavs should "let the rooster shoot." That's generally been a good strategy for opposing defenses, but it seems LBJ would have been better off letting sleeping dogs lie. Then again, we all know LeBron loves dancing.
D on D. The Bucks have moved all the way up to 4th in defensive efficiency and didn't suffer any letdowns tonight, but the Cavs showed they're also no slouches on that end of the court.
Delfino getting it done. John Salmons had his worst game as a Buck (5/17 fg), but Delfino picked up the slack and has now scored in double figures in six straight and logged two double-doubles in the past three games.
Hangin' around. I actually think Danny Ferry's done a pretty nice job surrounding James with complementary talent, so it's not like the Cavs are complete pushovers even with LeBron in street clothes. Obviously there's no replacement for James' playmaking on offense, but Cleveland's defensive mentality seems to carry over regardless of the personnel on the court.
That said, there's no doubt the Bucks can play much better than they did tonight. It's tough to complain too much with a win, but it's unlikely the same performance achieves similar results against the Celtics on Tuesday.
Screamers. To the woman who screamed maniacally every time the Cavs made a basket: shut up. Please.