Bucks 108, Cavaliers 101: Gooden Great

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Box Score / Highlights

MILWAUKEE -- Now if he could just drop triple-doubles against all of his former teams.

Drew Gooden, who scored 15 points, hauled in 13 rebounds, and honestly dished out 13 assists, loquaciously quipped after the game that the closest he ever came to 13 assists prior to tonight was maybe in practice, where he tries to be like Magic Johnson. Later, he added "More like Tragic Johnson, sometimes." But he also made more astute observations:

I was actually getting a lot of my assists off a guy making a pass to me in a position to score, and then me kicking it out.

And sometimes, not even getting assists. In the first few minutes of the game, Brandon Jennings found Gooden, who immediately found Luc Mbah a Moute, who immediately passed to Jennings for a three. These were almost touch passes. The game flowed like that. It's not as though Milwaukee has not passed the ball this season -- they have done so excruciatingly and pointlessly and constantly. But these were not just passes around the perimeter, as they so often have been. As Gooden said, the team made passes to players in positions to score, who would then draw defensive attention, leaving others more open, more in rhythm. For once, they forced the defense to react. For once, the Bucks actually passed the ball with more than just that one pass in mind. For once, they were playing ahead.

Now, the Cavaliers bring these things out in teams. They are not only a dreadful offensive team (29th), but also an equally dreadful defensive team (29th).

But the idea before the game that the locker room could have a genuinely upbeat atmosphere after the game was not an idea at all. With the NBA's worst team in town and Milwaukee hosting a game for the first time since officially being eliminated from playoff contention, there really was no best-case scenario, just a varying series of boring ones. This is how every Cavaliers game felt this season: that every minute, every play was at most an evaluative practice, that every win was a loss of ping pong balls.

Yet the quirkiness of Gooden accumulating 13 assists on his way to a triple-double in a high-scoring game between the two worst offenses in the NBA made for an unpredictably endearing night.

Is it better to have had hope and lost it than to have never had any hope at all? Maybe not, as we only officially got to give up on this season a few days ago, whereas the Cavaliers knew back on July 8, 2010 that the 2010-11 season was already over. No matter your answer, with games like this from Gooden and John Salmons (14-18 for 32 points), you are stuck with hope again next year.

Three Bucks

Drew Gooden. The last Buck 6'10" or taller to reach 10+ assists in a game was Toni Kukoc. But Kukoc was a brilliant passer who reached double-digits in assists 26 times in his NBA career. This was the first time Gooden eclipsed eight assists.

And while the assists are the most fascinating part of his triple-double, Gooden also earns major kudos for cleaning up the defensive glass. Cleveland centers Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden did not secure a single offensive rebound all night in 47 minutes together, while Gooden hauled in 12 defensive boards.

John Salmons. It's never too late to get hot. Not only did Salmons make an impossible 14-18 shots from the field for a game-high 32 points, he never turned the ball over in 40 minutes (including the final five minutes -- heyo). Salmons made 9-12 from outside the paint in a real shooting masterpiece. Furthermore, Salmons was the clutch shotmaker when Cleveland pulled to within 99-95 on a Ryan Hollins dunk with 1:24 in the fourth. Like so many other times this season after an opponent made a run near the end of the game, the Bucks called a timeout and gave the ball to Salmons. But this time he pulled up for a nifty ten-footer and actually sealed it.

Brandon Jennings. After the game, all of the reporters flocked to the lockers of the first two players listed, but Brandon quietly turned in a pretty commendable floor game with 14 points, 9 assists, and 2 turnovers in the 108-point attack. If Cleveland has an area of strength, it is at point guard, and Baron Davis (19/3/6) and Ramon Sessions (15/3/5) did pretty well while carrying almost all of the playmaking responsibilities. But Jennings moved the ball well himself, added three steals, and showed that he isn't necessarily going to shoot you out of a game if you are in a game in the first place -- if a couple teammates are actually ready to legitimately help carry the scoring burden.

Three Numbers

13. Entering tonight, Drew Gooden had played 32 games for the Bucks. In exactly half (16) of those games, Gooden registered zero assists. In nine other games, Gooden totaled one assist. In three games, he racked up two assists. And in the other four games, he had three assists twice and four assists twice. So 13 is something of an outlier.

6. Larry Sanders only played six minutes, but with Drew Gooden going all Magic on us and the forwards all playing competent ball, there was not a lot of time for the rookie.

Before the game, I asked Coach Skiles if games like this one provide an opportunity to give Larry Sanders increased minutes, with the playoffs no longer a possibility (and Jon Brockman out).

Larry has to earn his minutes. I know that's another common thought, that just playing somebody does him some good, but if they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, all you're doing is reinforcing bad habits. Like everybody else, he has to earn his minutes out there. He has to come in the game, he has to have energy, he has to know what we're doing, he has to be focused, he has to know who he's guarding.

There is a lot of stuff he's still working through. Like a typical rookie, some nights he's effective, some nights he's not. He's definitely improved, there's no doubt about that.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that often times too much is given too soon to young people. That leads to potential problems.

3.10. Thanks largely to Drew Gooden (13) and Jennings (9), the Bucks tied a season-high with 31 assists. And they only turned the ball over 10 times, for a stellar 3.10 assist/turnover ratio. For perspective, the Rockets lead the NBA in assist/turnover, at 1.76, and the Bucks began the night ranked 24th at 1.38.

Three Good

A real number on J.J. In our pregame notes, Frank observed J.J. Hickson's bizarrely bad averages (2.7 points on 22.0 % shooting) in three games against the Bucks this season. Tonight, Luc Mbah a Moute's defense rendered Hickson (who came into tonight averaging 22.0 points in April) nearly invisible offensively for most of the game yet again.

He finished 3-7 shooting with 11 points, which actually stands as easily his best effort against the Bucks this season, following games of 1-4, 1-4, and 2-10. Hickson, it should be noted, is arguably the team's best player.

Other teams also not having ideal seasons. Over the past week, the Bucks have played the Magic, Heat, Pistons, and now Cavaliers. And if the misfortune of other teams and fans provides any solace in the face of a miserable season for the Bucks, then these were some ideal matchups.

From preseason championship thoughts and regular season blockbuster trades only seeing Orlando fall from the top three in the East for the first time in four season to Miami's daily charade, multiple extended losing streaks, and overall failure to live up to media-created and self-created expectations to the infighting, insubordination, and declaration by John Kuester that all starting jobs were up for grabs in Detroit to Cleveland's epically doomed-from-the-start season and 26-game losing streak, the Bucks are not alone in confusion and disappointment. Although, the Bucks are confused and disappointed.

Corperryale L'Adorable. Manny Harris is not short for Manuel Harris. Manny Harris is short for Corperryale Ladorable Harris, per the official Cavaliers game notes. Although a Google Search shows Corperryale L'Adorable (with the ') Harris as the correct spelling.

Two Bad

No TV. Another Bucks win not televised locally. That makes at least three this season.

Winning. Bucks record while alive in playoff race: 31-46. Bucks record while not alive in playoff race: 2-1.

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