With the new, old starting five back in place, the Bucks had just won two games in a row. They scored in triple digits both times. The fourth worst team in the NBA was in town. And their best player was unavailable. This was not only a game that Milwaukee had to win, but a game they very oddly seemed sure to win.
Scott Skiles, before the game:
We've got to play our game. It's obviously another game we have to win, we can't have a setback. Nothing against Sacramento, but a team with their record we can't have a setback against, especially at home. We've got to come out and win this game.
Instead, the Bucks came out and won the first quarter. And lost the rest of the quarters, and lost the game, in a lost season. A high-energy start led by Carlos Delfino and Luc Mbah a Moute gave way to a progressively and criminally lame final couple hours of basketball.
The culmination was watching the adored starting five shoot, pass, and bump its way out of the game. Delfino drained a three with 3:58 remaining to draw within two points at 89-87. After that, the team only scored three more -- another Delfino hit with 1:10 to go. Other than that? Brandon Jennings was invisible other than missing a three-pointer. Luc Mbah a Moute was not an option. John Salmons missed a jumper and a three. And Andrew Bogut committed two offensive fouls -- the first one a moving screen for Jennings with the Bucks down 92-90 -- within the final 43 seconds.
If you are still watching, this was all too believable.
Carlos Delfino. Carlitos played his first 373 NBA games without reaching 30 points. Since then, he has hit the mark twice in a row. Delfino's 12-point first quarter masked problems elsewhere, but those problems were not on his account. More of the same gamebreaking defense (four steals) we have seen all month along with pretty solid man-to-man stuff by Carlos. Couple that with on another career night on the offensive side and you have someone who Coach Skiles could find no reason to sub out at any point during the final three quarters of the game. Delfino played all but one minute and eight seconds tonight. This was another dead-eye shooting night (5-9 on threes) for Carlos, but he also knifed his way to the basket for a couple hoops in the first quarter, moved off the ball well, and drained a couple of clutch threes as his teammates choked away the game.
Larry Sanders. Stood out in all of the good ways. This was the kind of night when the dribble-through-the-legs, turnaround, fadeaway was falling. And an emboldened Sanders is hit-or-miss, but this was all hit. He made jumpers, he confidently took on Demarcus Cousins one-on-one on a fast break, and along with Delfino was the only Buck to not look like a rookie at some point in the game. Stats do not tell the whole story, but three blocks and two steals in 15 minutes paint the picture of havoc that Sanders drew on the defensive end.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Scored nine points in the first quarter, two points in the second quarter, and none in the second half. But if the Bucks cannot figure out how to beat Sacramento at home without getting more than 11 from The Prince, then this is a lost cause. And it is.
54-34. The Kings outscored the Bucks 54-34 in the paint. Even in the feel-good first quarter, Sacramento piled up 16 points (8-11 shooting) in the paint, a major red flag going forward. The Kings entered the night fourth in the NBA in points per game in the paint, averaging 44.7. The Bucks are last.
22/4. The starting frontline of Andrew Bogut and Luc Mbah a Moute combined for 22 points in the first half -- 11 each. In the second half, they added up four (all Bogut) together. Neither player scored in the fourth quarter (Salmons also did not score in the fourth).
17. Before the game, Coach Skiles warned about how Sacramento won the battle of the boards in the first matchup earlier this season:
They've got big bodies and hurt us in Sacramento, pretty much dominated us on the glass.
The Kings hauled in 17 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Milwaukee 47-32 overall tonight.
2. After disrupting and pushing their way to seven fastbreak points in the first quarter, the Bucks accumulated just two more fastbreak points in the final three quarters. The Kings allow 17.1 fastbreak points per game, third most in the NBA.
Windyiana. The Pacers destroyed the Bobcats 111-88 this evening, pushing the Bucks back to a full 3.0 games behind for the last playoff spot.
Backcourt blues. The Bucks have been Beno'd before. Historically Udrih plays better against Milwaukee than against anyone else -- he came into tonight averaging 12.3 points and shooting 56.8 % on threes in 12 career games against the Bucks. So Udrih's (25/6/6) utter domination of Brandon Jennings (6/4/6) in every facet of the game was highly disappointing but not inconceivable. Unfortunately, Marcus Thornton (27/6/4) also made the previously-hot John Salmons (8/4/3) look like he was born in 1969 instead of 1979. The normally soft-spoken and reserved Salmons earned a technical for dissent tonight and was particularly despondent after the game. The quote that really stuck out, when asked about both the team's play and his individual play:
It's a shame.
And when Milwaukee turned to its backups the results were even more dreadful -- Keyon Dooling (1-6) and Earl Boykins (2-7) were comedically errant and error-prone. I am not sure how Corey Maggette is supposed to work his way back into the rotation, but all of the guards were experts on how to play themselves out of a rotation.
Starting five. A hopeless final hope.