Note: Mitchell was in Philly for the game and will be providing a more detailed report later.
Who needs Andrew Bogut?
For that matter, who needs a healthy John Salmons?
Not the Bucks apparently. Or at least not against the lottery-bound Sixers. Granted, wins like these don't tell us much about how the Bucks will fare in the postseason--Saturday's game against Boston will provide a much better test in that sense--but under these circumstances every win feels like a big deal. And pleasantly surprising.
Taking a step back, I'm still not really sure how good a Bogut-less Bucks squad is supposed to be--.500 seems rather generous--but with forty-five wins already in the bank it kind of feels like we're playing with house money at this point. It's a weird combination of "wow, we're really good!" and "we have zero expectations!" Which if you ignore the frustration of losing Bogut makes for good, care-free entertainment.
As for the actual game, it was your typical win-by-committee Bucks game. As they've done on so many occasions this season, Carlos Delfino (23 pts, 5 ast) and Luke Ridnour (18 pts on 12 shots) took turns carrying the Bucks offensively, helping offset the fact that Salmons (flu) started but looked well-below 100% (24 minutes, 7 pts). Delfino did most of the work early with 13 in the opening period to get the Bucks off to a fast start (24-15 after one), while Ridnour was the Bucks' go-to guy late, scoring half of his 18 points in the fourth. With Salmons largely ineffective, Skiles played Ridnour and Brandon Jennings (16 pts, 4/17 fg, 7 ast, 5 stl) together for much of the fourth, and not surprisingly the Bucks were once again living and dying by their jump-shooting. Not an enviable position to be in, but if Bogut and Salmons aren't available then it's reality.
After a good first half, Jennings missed all seven of his second half shots, most notably a gimme layup with 28 seconds left that would have given the Bucks a seven point lead and sealed the game. Thankfully, he atoned for it somewhat by making four free throws in the final 18 seconds, and he also added seven assists and a career-high five steals in addition to registering the second dunk of his career (a breakaway two-hander in the second). Still, it was another reminder of how remarkably inconsistent Jennings' shooting is and how important it is to have Ridnour around to pick up the slack.
Not to be overlooked, the Sixers were downright awful from the foul line, making just 9/20--barely better than their shooting from three (9/22). In contrast, the Bucks not only attempted more free throws (23) but also shot them exceptionally well (21 makes, 91%). Weird, right? It was generally a strange night for the Sixers, who started the game shooting well from three (5/8 to start) but struggling mightily everywhere else. To their credit, the Bucks did pretty well challenging shots and keeping the Sixers from getting layups early, as Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric combined for five blocks. That also helped force Philly into more in-between shots than they might have preferred, but many of the misses still seemed a bit uncharacteristic.
Things normalized a bit in the second half--Philly had about 15 alley-oops, outscored the Bucks 28-10 in transition and cooled down from deep--but they could never quite get over the hump. In the third, Iguodala's technical seemed to give them a bit of a boost as they came back from 13 down to get within five after three, and the pivotal sequence of the fourth also included a Sixer technical--except this time around it worked in the Bucks' favor. With the Sixers down six midway through the fourth, Mareese Speights was bodied by Kurt Thomas on a layup attempt, earning a T for arguing the no-call. Two free throws and a three by Delfino later, the Bucks were back up 11.
To their credit, the Sixers didn't give up, but Ilyasova buried a huge straight-away three with 58 seconds to make it a seven point game and seemingly put the Bucks out of reach. But Jennings' miss and threes from Holiday and Iguodala meant the Bucks needed their free throws to finish things off. As he's done most of the season, Jennings took care of business, but so did Luc Mbah a Moute, who rounded off a fine evening (13 pts, 9 boards) by hitting two freebies to make it 93-90 with eleven seconds left. Holiday then badly missed a contested three on the ensuing possession to assure the Bucks' 45th win of the season.