Milwaukee went down by eight at the end of the first quarter at the Bradley Center against a team that began the evening 0-19 on the road. And that seemed fortunate. There was some debate on press row about whether the crowd was booing the Bucks or a fellow walking around with a Bears jersey on, but the Bucks earned the ire early.
In the first quarter, you could see why John Wall is the kind of player who can alter a game without scoring. And why the Bucks are the kind of team which just doesn't score. After two bad losses to two not bad but closer to bad than good teams, Milwaukee was paving a road for Washington's first road win with polished lanes to the basket lined with shiny new bricks.
More than anger, dispassion was setting in. And that is even worse. If the Bucks were to lose this game, to a team that had played more than two and a half months without winning away from home, it would officially draw moot the idea of the supposed "easy schedule" moving forward.
But the Bucks moved easily around Washington's "defense" for the final three quarters. And this game, in which John Salmons (sore right hip) joined Brandon Jennings and Carlos Delfino on vacation, was not a winner in many ways, but it was a winner in the end.
Normally I use this space to encapsulate each quarter, and the very end of each quarter proved illustrative of tonight's uneven affair. To wit: Earl Boykins chucked and missed a jumper to close a wretched first quarter for the Bucks, who made 5 of 18 (.278) from the field en route to one of the most depressing offensive performances of the season given the context of the game.
On the last play of the first half, Boykins professionally dribbled around, eventually kicked to Ersan Ilyasova at the top of the key with a few seconds on the clock, at which point Yi Jianlian closed out, put an arm up, inexplicably ran past Ilyasova with a couple seconds to go, only for Ilyasova to brick the open jumper. Washington's defense was porous in the second period, and other than Ersan (0-3), the Bucks made shots, particularly Keyon Dooling (3-3), to get back into the game (down 49-47 at half).
To close the third quarter, John Wall needlessly committed two straight fouls away from the hoop on Boykins (who had a good game, regardless of the previous anecdotes) to put Boykins (one of the best free throw shooters ever) on the line for two (made) free throws with four seconds to go in the third quarter. Rookie stuff, that. The Bucks took the lead for good in the third quarter thanks to continued hot shooting and some amateur play by the Wizards.
By the end of the game, Larry Sanders was on the line shooting for 100. Well, he was shooting for his first two points, but he got them, and he got the Bucks to triple-digits -- a fittingly weird way to cap a weird but welcome win. Welcome, eventually easy, a dougle-digit margin, and an even 100 even.
But while we have been hearing that the schedule only gets easier now, it will not get any easier than tonight.
Keyon Dooling. I waited around for some time after the game in the locker room for Dooling, but the player whose name was in the sky tonight did not oblige. This was Dooling's best game as a Buck, and looking back through his game logs, this was probably his finest night in more than two years.
He missed twice all evening, and they both looked on. Other than that, he made his other nine shots, and the really wild thing about that is seven of those hits were from outside of 13 feet. Dooling does not possess the prettiest shot, but they were pretty much all on line tonight.
Earl Boykins. After racking up 17 assists in his last two games, Earl went back to his scoring ways tonight, tallying 19 points on 5-10 from the field. And he found open teammates too, lobbing a nice alley-oop to Corey Maggette in the third quarter and taking care of the ball with just one turnover in 30 game minutes.
Corey Maggette. He shot and shot 18 times, seven more than anyone else. But he also shot and made seven free throws. And tied for the team lead and tied his season high with four assists. So Corey was active as can be on the offensive end, a part of most everything offensively, and while that normally would not be a compliment to a Buck, this was no normal night in Milwaukee.
10-0. In the first quarter, the Wizards totaled 10 assists, and the Bucks had none. John Wall had seven all by his lonesome, and this is the beginning of a story in which we learn how a team can somehow manage to lose every single road game, no matter.
54.5 % After the first quarter, the Bucks shot 30-53 (.545) from the field. Straight fire. Milwaukee scored 81 points in those final three quarters combined, which is to say, more than they have scored in four quarters combined on seven different ocassions this season.
8.3 % Rashard Lewis entered tonight making 39.0 % from outside, right on his career average of 39.1 %. But he shot 0-5 on threes tonight, and this comes after he made just 1-7 from deep while contributing to a Bucks win as a member of the Magic on Dec. 4.
Lewis has looked really awful during both of his visits to Milwaukee this season, which is why it's so hard to believe that he came into the game shooting 48.3 % from the field (second highest of his career), and averaging 7.5 rebounds (highest of career), and 3.3 assists (highest of career).
Lucky lineup #13. The Dooling/Douglas-Roberts/Maggette/Ilyasova/Bogut starting fivesome represented the 13th different starting lineup for the Bucks in 39 games. A new starting lineup every three games, on average.
And while they got off to a slow start, they won, and won with a starting lineup that is comprised of 80 % reserves, ultimately. It's hard to declare Milwaukee's ideal starting group -- the most common one so far (Dooling, Salmons, Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Bogut) is 1-6. But tonight's also is not the right one, and so a win, even against the now-0-20-on-the-road-Wizards, is an accomplishment of sorts for a team that is a different team one out of every three games.
3rd century. 100 points. For the third time this season.
PG backcourt. Understandably, the point guard on pregame minds was John Wall, not the Rookie of the Year, but the Rookie of the Draft Class. And Wall was fine. But Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins were quite clearly the two best players of the game.
And not only were they pretty fantastic individually, they teamed up on the floor together to cause Washington all sorts of problems defensively. Curiously, that is not something new. Boykins and Dooling came into the game having shared the court together for 181 impressive minutes before tonight. During that time, the Bucks had outscored their opposition by 17 points.
Tonight, Scott Skiles rolled with a two-man point guard attack for the entire second quarter. And not-so-coincidentally, the invigorated offense piled up 28 points. They combined for 12 points on 6 shots, the Bucks pushed it on the break to the tune of 6 fastbreak points (the Wizards had 0), and they just turned the game.
And after sitting Boykins for almost the entire third quarter, Skiles went back to the Dooling/Boykins combination for the entire fourth quarter, during which time the Bucks pulled away for the win.
Firstly. Dreadful start.
Probably absolutely not the best worst time for him to sit one out with the somewhat road-weary Wizards in town, but less than an hour after Scott Skiles did not mention anything different about the starting lineup, the Bucks distressingly tipped off the game sans Salmons. No, he has not lived up to his expectations, but it's not like Chris Douglas-Roberts is consistently killing it either. Salmons sat out with right hip soreness, and it doesn't sound like anything major, but it does sound like something that could linger.
Also, the only real starter left on the Bucks didn't score in the first half. And after the game, Andrew Bogut (6 points, 9 rebounds), who has been battling an apparently mysterious virus since the team's road game in San Antonio more than a month ago, said he still isn't feeling right:
I've been struggling with something for three weeks now and it still hasn't gone away. It's frustrating and I have been trying to push through it and trying to play through it. But it's really hit me this last two or three games. We kind of don't know what it is, which is really the most scary thing about it.
faster, stronger. So it's not just about speed, strength, athleticism. The Bucks could not match the Wizards in those regards in any way. But for all of their physical tools (I'm staring at you, Andray Blatche, and glancing at you, Javale McGee) the Wizards totally lacked awareness, ingenuity, and harmony. Flip Saunders is dealing with some real pieces of work.