The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
The Milwaukee Bucks kick-started their quest to fight back into the Eastern Conference Playoff picture by thoroughly trouncing the New Jersey Nets, one night after dropping a hotly-contested game against the Miami Heat. Although their next two games are daunting, the Bucks have the NBA's easiest schedule from here to the end of the season. Hopefully that means a few more games like this.
Milwaukee looked like a team possessed for most of the night, despite not having Andrew Bogut, who sat out with flu symptoms (Has every player in the NBA had the flu? Don't these guys get shots?). Didn't matter. Milwaukee took advantage of a soft New Jersey interior defense and turned portions of the game into something more resembling a layup line. With Devin Harris inactive, this wasn't a Nets team particularly full of talent, especially with Brook Lopez mired in such a slump.
Leading by 13 after one quarter and 23 after three, the game wasn't ever really in doubt. Aside from Jordan Farmar and Derrick Favors, the Nets starters were totally ineffective, and Kris Humphries' strong game made no difference. How could it, when the Bucks shot fifty eight percent from the floor? That number doesn't even seem real. Combined with a 25-29 night at the free-throw line, Milwaukee's offense was mechanical in its efficiency. It's almost disconcerting to write those words.
I'll be honest, there just isn't much to say after this one. I've spent the better part of two months rationalizing the Bucks' poor play or grasping for positives as they slide down the standings. It's been minor variations of the same few stories every night. Either the Bucks play like they're shooting at a coffee can and lose big, or they scrape and claw for the entire game and come up just short. Every once in a while the good stuff lines up and we get to talk about how this team has the capability of beating any team at any time, but nobody invested in the Milwaukee Bucks feels much satisfaction in that.
Tonight, qualifying words and heaping praise are replaced by a long exhalation, a collective shrug and smirk from this website and all others who have dedicated time to the Bucks' organization. Because we all knew what Milwaukee was capable of, we just wish we saw it more often. This wasn't a surprising result. It didn't make Bucks fans shout, "Wow!" It made them sigh, "finally."
Ersan Ilyasova. Filling in for a flu-stricken Andrew Bogut, Ilyasova kept the pivot position vibrant, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds and dropping 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He also had 4 assists and 3 steals in an all-around excellent performance. Ersan hasn't been immune to the team-wide shooting malaise, but he absolutely does not stop playing. He does everything he needs to do, whether that's stretching the floor with a timely three or banging inside for rebounds. Ilyasova might not be a consistent...anything, but he's a decidedly valuable player who performs above his pure ability.
Chris Douglas-Roberts. Happy Birthday CDR! For the second night in a row, Douglas-Roberts paced the Bucks' offense. For significant parts of both games he's looked like the best player on the court. CDR made 9 of his 14 shots en route to 24 points. He stayed active on the defensive end, finishing with three steals. He's operating as a spot-up shooter one possession and a creator the next. The Nets are currently waist-deep in trade rumors that will surely bring in a caravan of talented players, but right now I'd be willing to bet there's a bit of seller's remorse.
Everyone else. Corey Maggette could be slotted in here for earning eleven free throws and making ten. Or it could be Earl Boykins for another efficient offensive performance (17 points on 12 shots). Or any of the other Bucks who contributed to the result in ways a box score can't record. The truth is, everyone looked good tonight.
58.3% You see that? That number there? That's Milwaukee's shooting percentage from tonight. No lie. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. It's tough to say precisely until a box score goes up with shot-location data, but Milwaukee's excellent shooting wasn't just lucky. They executed a solid gameplan and got tons of good shots.
126.7. Milwaukee's estimated Offensive Rating. 'Nuff said.
42. I feel obligated to include something bad here, and it's worth noting that New Jersey's 42 points in the paint is well above the 35.8 Milwaukee's opponents typically earn (which, by the way, is 4th best in the NBA). Andrew Bogut, it would seem, does make a difference.
Balance. Brandon Jennings is still Milwaukee's leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, so you never know where the scoring punch is gonna come from. Against New Jersey, four players scored more than 17. Those four players combined to shoot 31-of-49 (.633). Larry Sanders and John Salmons were the only Bucks to shoot under .500, and Salmons' 3-for-3 mark from deep still earned him a .615 TS%. Everyone was on.
Better than candles. Chris Douglas-Roberts turned 24 tonight, and scored a point for every year. Nice.
Just the Nets. Let's admit, this was a game that everyone expected the Bucks to win. Despite all their struggles, it remained difficult to say that New Jersey was a significantly better team than Milwaukee. You have to beat the teams you're supposed to beat, and the remaining schedule is full of teams under .500. Still, I'd feel better if the Bucks could turn in such a strong performance against a tougher opponent.
You know what? Who cares. Let's just keep winning.