At long last, Milwaukee's playoff hopes have been put to rest. That's should be the story of the night, but we've all seen it coming from far off in the distance. Sadly, such a realization makes this victory bittersweet: the only concrete good that can come of the rest of this season is improving lottery odds.
But hell, it was fun all the same.
Sometime during the second half, the Indiana Pacers closed out a blowout win over the Washington Wizards, simultaneously closing out Milwaukee's hope of playing basketball past April 13. Either nobody told the players, or they found some other source of motivation. We'd like to hope it's the latter.
Milwaukee started the game exceptionally well, opening up a ten-point lead in the first quarter before encountering a frustrating zone defense that threw a wrench in their offense. Still, Milwaukee managed to hang around (they're good at that, at least) and go into halftime with a five point lead.
Both teams traded six- and eight-point runs in the third quarter, but the Heat shaved another five points off the Milwaukee lead to tie it at 63 entering the fourth. The Heat used a pair of offensive rebounds on their first possession to chew up 46 seconds before Joel Anthony's hook shot gave the Heat their first lead since being up eight to six.
The Bucks' defense didn't fold though. As Milwaukee dug in, the Heat turned to their stars to close it out, but the Bucks made it tough. Chris Bosh was the high-scorer in the quarter with eight points, but it took him nine shots to get them. Meanwhile, LeBron missed all three of his shots from behind the arc.
The Bucks got contributions from everyone in the final frame: a pair of buckets and free-throws from Corey Maggette, some timely threes from Delfino and Jennings, plus five rebounds, two assists, and a block from Andrew Bogut. Bogut finished with four swats (Doesn't it seem like he should be averaging over three blocks per game?).
It sucks to think that the Bucks officially have only four games remaining this season. It's never fun to fall short of expectations. But tonight at least, this team exceeded expectations on the one place it mattered: the court.
Carlos Delfino. At a glance, this was actually a pretty poor game for Delfino: nine points on the same number of shots with little extra production. But his corner three with 24 seconds remaining was tremendously huge. Giving the Bucks a four-point lead allowed Milwaukee to lean on its defense, not its typically anemic offense, to close out the game.
Corey Maggette. The entire Bucks bench performed quite well tonight, with Maggette providing a nicely efficient scoring performance of 14 points on only 7 shots. He drained all six of his free-throws and even dished three assists. He looked like his familiar wrecking-ball self at times, barreling down the lane and avoiding the offensive fouls that have plagued him this year.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Luc compiled the only double-double for the Bucks tonight, and he did it in typical Luc fashion: laying in easy buckets made possible by excellent off-ball movement and a few tip-ins. He also played tough defense down the stretch, guarding LeBron James on a night where it seemed inevitable that LeBron would take over. Also, our pal Palomba tweeted this, so now it's official. Boom. Luc, anytime you wanna hook me up with an autographed jersey, I'll send you my address.
100%. The Bucks went 15-15 from the line, an important place to make your shots in a tight game like this one. It helped that most of the freebies came from Milwaukee's best foul shooters, although Drew Gooden did sink three very deliberate free-throws. I think Tim Duncan is the only other player who speaks to the rim before shooting his foul shots.
1/2. The Bucks played the spoiler role tonight, dropping the Heat a half-game back of the Celtics for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Milwaukee's next three games come against fellow lottery-bound teams before closing the season against Oklahoma City.
1. Since the All-Star break, the Bucks have outscored their opponents by a total...of one point. Milwaukee has scored 2099 points and given up 2098.
Hot Start, Warm Finish. The Bucks came out firing, with an excellent first quarter that left them up by ten. Milwaukee's ball movement was absolutely beautiful, with many shots coming after five or more passes. Players drove to the basket with determination and purpose. They found each other in the paint and avoided taking a slew of jumpers--the kind of shot Milwaukee normally hoists and misses with great consistency. The Heat outscored the Bucks by five in the 2nd and 3rd to tie the game at 63 entering the 4th, where the Bucks earned their five-point victory.
Playing in the Paint. Despite another near no-show from Andrew Bogut, the Bucks piled up points in the paint, especially early. Milwaukee finished with 42 points in the paint, well above their NBA-worst 35.5 point average. Aside from their top dogs, the Heat aren't stocked full of excellent perimeter defenders, and Milwaukee took advantage to get into the lane frequently. Coupled with lots of good off-ball movement (which would be nice to see a little more often), Milwaukee found themselves with a number of open layups right under the basket.
Slow Down. Miami's transition attack is one of the most dangerous things in the NBA, but Milwaukee managed to keep Miami from running away with the game. While the absence of Dwyane Wade probably had plenty to do with that, Milwaukee managed to limit the Heat to only four fast break points. The Bucks forced the Heat to play half-court offense and Miami struggled, turning it over 16 times. LeBron and Chris Bosh were the only Heat players to score in double-figures, and even Bosh shot poorly (6/15 FG).
Where's LeBro---OH CRAP THERE HE IS. LeBron James is an excellent on-the-ball defender. As it turns out, LeBron is also quite fast. Such a combo allows LeBron to go from off-the-ball to on-the-ball in quite a short amount of time. LeBron single-handedly killed three Milwaukee fast breaks with a pair of blocks and a steal, all of which came seemingly out of nowhere. One in particular was a block from behind after Jennings burned through a group of Heat players and went up for a layup early in the game. On the plus side, it might have been the fastest I have ever seen Jennings move with the basketball. The kid's got tools, he just needs to learn how to use them.
No Playoffs. I'd be remiss if I didn't include this as a "bad." We're all disappointed in the season, but if the Bucks can play competitive basketball the rest of the year, at least they'll be easier to watch. Of course, all that will do is damage their draft position. CURSE THIS CRUEL PARADOX OF FATE!