MILWAUKEE -- This season, you want to think about something, anything, in the past or in the future. But tonight was just tonight.
Whether or not this was a matchup of teams battling for the 21st best record in the NBA (it was) this was one satisfying evening. In the very first quarter on seperate plays, the Clippers aggressively closed out on Luc Mbah a Moute on the perimeter and left Carlos Delfino wide open for a corner three. And though that may sound like it, these are not the same old Clippers. But they were the same Clippers as the ones we saw run and jump over and over and over the Bucks in Los Angeles a few weeks back. The difference, was the Bucks.
And what a difference a couple weeks, a couple nights make. After hitting the lowest of 13-games-under lows against Indiana over the weekend, Milwaukee gave some reason to believe that the Pacers game actually was the lowest they will go. A win against what is now a 4-21 road team and which was without its leading scorer (Eric Gordon) might not turn out to be a turning point, but a performance so evenly worthwhile both offensively and defensively gives hope that the team is at least past its low point.
Brandon Jennings scored 11 straight points through the middle of the first quarter capped by three on a pass from John Salmons (noting this for a reason or 12) to give Milwaukee an early lead. But instead of that spurring Jennings on to some sort of historic individual scoring outburst, it curiously paved the way for the Bucks to share, cut, pass, and move on offense like they almost never have before this season. Baron Davis was a bit much for Jennings to handle in the second quarter, but the Bucks threw the ball in Bogut effectively enough to score 25 more points despite making just one three-pointer and two free throws in the second quarter. However, they closed poorly, as was the trend, and Ryan Gomes sank a three at the halftime buzzer as the Clips came all the way back from 13 down to draw within two at the break.
Blake Griffin was on the move after halftime, and the crowd made sounds that they only make for certain visitors -- a mix of disbelief and delight that makes normal Bucks fans forget which team they are cheering for and/or remember which player they paid to watch. The Bradley Centerers pounded Randy Foye with boo's for his decision to lay the ball in rather than toss a lob up to Griffin, but by the fourth quarter it was rocking in the right way again. A narrow Milwaukee lead ballooned and did not deflate early in the fourth quarter as Carlos Delfino took it all over. Three threes in just a shade over three minutes to start the final period for Carlitos, and John Salmons was piecing it all together. Fittingly, Delfino hit a three with 21 seconds remaining to not only move Milwaukee past the century mark in points, but also single-right-handedly beat the Clippers 16-13 in the fourth quarter.
Luc Mbah a Moute. This is the player. The player who hauls in more than half (4) of your offensive rebounds, the player whose defensive prowess is never quantified statistically (1 steal, 0 blocks), the player who plays 38 minutes without a turnover or missing a shot (he missed only a 40-footer at the first quarter buzzer), the player who defends and frustrates and tugs at the other team's star player, every team's star player, even as his own home crowd is cheering for that star player (add Blake Griffin to that list which already includes Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, etc.). This is the player you miss, someday.
Carlos Delfino. Tonight's gamebreaker. Delfino dropped in three triples in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, ending the Clippers, on his way to hitting 5-6 threes in the final period. In fact, he outscored the Clippers all by himself in the fourth quarter -- 16-13. Carlitos hit five of his career-high seven threes from his corner sweetspots, along with a no-hesitation 26-foot bomb from the right side of the arc. Delfino's three-point form (31.9 % entering tonight) had not justified his 6.0 threes attempted per game (second most in the NBA), but he was well worth the 10 attempts this eve. Whether Carlos shoots 30.0 % or 40.0 % from deep from here on will swing the team more than a few games in some direction.
John Salmons. Salmons assisted on seven of Milwaukee's 11 three-pointers, including passes to Delfino for the first two threes of the fourth quarter -- and then he hit one from deep on his own. Not just in the clutch though, John was really excellent all evening, and Coach Skiles called it his best game of the season afterwards. Aside from missing four out of five from long distance, Salmons was just about all right tonight. Combine those 12 assists with zero turnovers and you can see at least on this night why Skiles stayed with Salmons for 45 minutes.
+27. Luc Mbah a Moute's differential, best of all.
2. The Bucks scored just two fastbreak points (compared to 18 for the Clippers), which means they were playing some mean halfcourt offense to score 102 points. Their 21-30 mark from the free throw line did not hurt, but most of those trips to the line came from plays in the halfcourt as well.
18. In the fourth quarter, the Bucks made 6-11 three-pointers (for 18 points) compared to 0-4 (for 0 points) for the Clippers. That 18-point advantage represents the 31-13 final quarter differential in favor of Milwaukee.
Point guard by committee. Something of a role reversal with John Salmons making the bulk of plays for others while Brandon Jennings played the better part of shooting guard, the Bucks nonetheless thrived as Salmons, Jennings, Delfino, and Dooling all took turns running an efficient offense that only got better and better after shooting a respectable 45.0 % shooting in the first quarter.
No Blake Superior on Lake Michigan. Blake Griffin went for 19/12/6, but he also went for 0/2/1 in the fourth quarter. Coach Skiles rode a Jon Brockman/Luc Mbah a Moute frontcourt out of necessity after Andew Bogut fouled out early in the fourth quarter, but nothing could have worked better to shut down Griffin, as the duo of Brockman/Mbah a Moute not only did not allow Griffin to score a point in the fourth quarter, but they limited the Rookie of the Decade to one shot attempt in more than seven fourth quarter minutes -- an awkward miss at that.
Party like it's 2009-10. I vaguely remember you, flury of Brandon Jennings points, rock Andrew Bogut defense, corner Carlos Delfino threes, crafty John Salmons playmaking, and stifling Luc Mbah a Moute defense.
Three One Bad
Ers. Ersan Ilyasova left the game after just a minute after getting hit in the right eye. Because that is how this season works.