Can we go home now?
Outjumped by the Clippers and outgunned by the Suns, the Bucks finished their supposedly "easy" trip out West in appropriately disappointing fashion, as the Warriors outclassed them down the stretch behind the dynamic guard tandem of Monta Ellis (24 pts) and Stephon Curry (12 of 16 points in the second half) to claim a hard-fought 100-94 win. Playing again without Andrew Bogut (bruised knee) and with Brandon Jennings medically restricted to 20 minutes of mostly ineffective play , the Bucks still led for much of the night thanks to Ersan Ilyasova shooting the lights out early (19 of 23 pts in the first half) and Corey Maggette filling it up late (19 of 21 points in the second half). But the Bucks simply surrendered too many good looks on the perimeter (12/24 GS threes) and couldn't stop Ellis and Curry when it mattered most.
Purely from the perspective of shot selection, tonight's first half looked strikingly similar to the opening two quarters in Phoenix: lots of jump shots, no easy buckets (10 points in the paint in the half), and no one appearing capable of finishing around the hoop. But some of the Bucks' jump shots actually went in--namely 5/14 threes--and the Warriors don't have Steve Nash to tear them apart in P&R. More importantly, Ilyasova was again gunning from the perimeter early and often, but tonight everything was going in--in stark contrast to his 1/8 start in Phoenix. Playing as an undersized pivot, the Turk had no problems finding open looks against the interior-oriented Andris Biedrins, piling up 15 points in the first quarter alone as the Bucks kept the pace modest and let the Warriors miss enough jump shots to claim a 22-18 first quarter edge.
In the second it was Carlos Delfino's turn, as the Argentine scored nine of his 12 first half points--all on jump shots, natch--while Mbah a Moute worked tirelessly as seemingly the only Buck who ever set foot in the paint. Prince snagged six of the Bucks' surprising 11 first half offensive rebounds as Milwaukee piled up an 8-1 edge in second half points and clung to a 47-46 halftime lead. We all know the Warriors have been a terrible defensive rebounding team since the beginning of time, but really?
The trend continued in the third, as Mbah a Moute started the period with a tip-in and a tumbling drive, hoop and harm. Keith Smart took away most of Ilyasova's open looks by putting the smaller Dorell Wright on him, but Delfino scored another six and Maggette woke up slightly from his first half slumber with seven. Not that the Bucks made it easy on themselves. Jennings botched consecutive fast breaks and then saw Ilyasova twice packed at the rim by Biedrins, the second time when he tried to finish a fast break by himself rather than pass ahead for the streaking Maggette.
But the Warriors also began to punish the Bucks' collapsing defense, stroking four threes in the third and nailing three more triples in the opening minutes of the fourth. Maggette came back in to knock down a pair of left elbow jumpers, but the Warriors' star guards scored seven points in three possessions and the Bucks' offense retreated back to the primordial ooze from whence it came. Maggette mishandled the ball twice with the shot clock running down, fumbling the ball nearly back to the Bucks' bench (75 feet from the hoop) as the shot clock expired.
Then the Bucks almost did it again as Dooling was forced to huck a prayer that had no chance at the end of the clock next time down. To call the Bucks' execution amateurish at that point would be an insult to all the weekend warriors playing pickup hoops, so it wasn't at all surprising that their next possession saw Delfino inexplicably flail on a corner three--I guess he was trying to draw a foul--that hit the top of the backboard. Really, it's amazing to watch professionals look so completely flustered at the first sign of the opponent pressuring the perimeter in crunch time. To make matters even worse, the Bucks fell asleep as the Warriors advanced the ball, allowing Ellis to take a pass on the wing and inexcusably cruise in for an easy dunk as Maggette and Mbah a Moute stood idly by.
That seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back, and not even eight points in the final 95 seconds from Maggette would be enough. Isolating on the elbow, Maggette dropped a pair of long jumpers and made two free throws to bring the Bucks within 94-92 with 33 ticks left, but a P&R forced Ilyasova to defend Ellis in space at the top of the key, and one quick yank later Monta had stroked what appeared to be a dagger 20-footer to restore the lead to four. However, Maggette continued to carry the Bucks on his shoulders, catching on the right wing and driving baseline past Wright--Dorell, you know that's the only way he goes, right?--for a layup and foul.
Sadly, this game wasn't meant to be. Maggette's free throw rimmed out and Curry hit both free throws to ice it, guaranteeing the Bucks an 0-3 road trip against the lower-middle class of the Western Conference.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Just a monster effort from the Prince, who simply outworked the bigger Warrior frontline to grab 11 of the Bucks' 20 offensive rebounds and finish with 15 points (6/12 fg), a career-high 19 boards, and five assists.
Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova was a non-factor in the second half, scoring just four points and falling short of his career high (25) despite scoring 15 in the first quarter and 19 in the first half. The Warriors' move to put smaller defenders on him more or less took away all his open looks, and he finished the game 1/8 after his blistering 9/12 start. His 23 points and 13 boards is hardly something to complain about...but it would have been really nice if he did something in the second half, right?
Carlos Delfino. It seems kind of crazy to leave Maggette (21 pts on 14 shots) off this list given his monster fourth quarter, but Delfino did a lot of everything (8 boards, 5 assists, 5 steals), even if he needed 22 shots to score 20 points.
20. Second chances were the only reason the Bucks stayed in this game, but not even 20 offensive boards and a 49-36 rebounding edge (without Bogut) were enough to pull out a win.
51%. The Bucks just couldn't stop the Warriors after the first quarter, surrendering 82 points over the final three and watching the Warriors catch fire from the perimeter (12/24 threes, 39/77 fg overall).
31. The Bucks dished out a season-high 31 assists (on 39 made field goals), which seems strange given this wasn't a particularly great offensive night (104.9 pts/100). Then again, with no one able to create one-on-one the Bucks were mostly just catching and shooting.
Luc's work. Seriously, that was some amazing work. Despite his obvious size disadvantage, he put up the same scoring line as David Lee while outrebounding one of the league's better rebounding PFs 19-7.
Ersan's first half. It's taken a while for Ersan to get going this season, but thankfully he seems to be getting there. While his second half left something to be desired, overall it was the seventh time in eight games that he's shot 50% or better from the field.
Going home. On paper this was an easier road trip than the December trip that saw them go 2-1 against the Lakers, Kings and Blazers, but don't tell the Bucks. The good news is that the rest of the month looks awfully soft, beginning with home games against the Pistons and Raptors. Hope springs eternal?
Offensive execution. We don't even need to list this anymore, do we? Let's just make it "Two Bad" every night and you can just assume the offense stunk. Though the Bucks finished slightly better than their terrible season averages in pts/possession, down the stretch they looked hopeless doing anything other than isolating Maggette on the wing. It's not just missing shots either--the Warriors simply upped their ball pressure and the Bucks looked incapable of responding. Lacking athletes who can drive on the defense is part of it--especially with Jennings watching from the bench down the stretch, the Bucks just become too easy to defend.
Defense. Always good when you can list both offense and defense among the "bad." Bogut's absence is certainly part of it, but the bottom line is that the Bucks haven't defended well enough to win games of late.
Opportunity knocks...and isn't answered. The Bucks could have really used two wins on this trip, and even one would have been palatable given the injuries and the fact that, well, the Bucks generally stink out West. But instead they're back to 10 games under .500 with just 34 games left, further narrowing their margin for error the rest of the way.