The Philadelphia 76ers (10-3) are a buzz saw. Despite lacking a headliner star and a media side-story to drive any national narrative, Philadelphia owns the best defense in the NBA and by far the highest efficiency differential of any team in the league. They are now one of four remaining teams (Bucks, Bulls, Spurs and 76ers) with a perfect record at home, while the Milwaukee Bucks are still one the three teams (Wizards, Bucks, Spurs) yet to win a game on the road. When the schedule makers ordered the Bucks (4-8) to go up against a buzz saw in Monday's matinee game, what did you think would happen?
No watershed moment ever emerged, and the 76ers never overtly flashed their dominance, but they kept spinning their blade and slowly tearing the Bucks into pieces en route to a comfortable 94-82 home victory. After keeping it close for the first 8 minutes, the Bucks never held a lead in the final 40 minutes. That's how a buzz saw works when operated correctly: it initiates a slow but deadly separation that simply cannot be undone.
The Philadelphia 76ers executed their deadly efficient style of basketball over the course of the afternoon, never allowing the Bucks to jump ahead after 10 lead changes early in the first quarter. The bloodletting began with just over four minutes left in the first quarter, when a 16-13 Bucks lead abruptly vanished without a single second coming off the game clock. Stephen Jackson fouled former Bucks' second-round pick Jodie Meeks on a missed three-point attempt with 4:10 remaining in the first, Meeks calmly drained all three free throws and Jackson picked up his fifth technical foul of the season before the Bucks could even inbound the ball, allowing Meeks to hit his fourth consecutive free throw and give the 76ers a 17-16 lead. Jackson responded with a quick right-handed runner in the lane on the next possession, but from there the Bucks never again played from the front.
Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala did most of the damage on the afternoon for Philly. Jrue paced all scorers with 24 points on 11-17 shooting, while Iggy followed closely behind with an even more efficient 21 points on 9-14 from the field. Aside from their scoring, both players truly disrupted the Bucks' offense on the perimeter. Holiday swiped five steals and held Brandon Jennings to just seven points and a paltry two assists, while Iguodala collected three steals and two blocks and limited Stephen Jackson to just nine points. The other standout for the 76ers was sixth man Lou Williams, who finished with 17 points and 6 assists. The more I see the 25-year old play, the more I think he represents the best hope for Brandon Jennings going forward. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as Williams' 58.3% TS and 23.7 PER signal his impact so far this season, but the comparison no doubt favors the 76ers' sixth man at this stage in their respective careers.
Don't blame Andrew Bogut for the loss. After missing Friday's blowout road loss to the Dallas Mavericks with concussive symptoms, the big Aussie returned to action and looked very good from the get-go. Bogut won the jump ball at center court to open the game and never looked back. He seriously outplayed 76ers' center Spencer Hawes, using low-post isos and mid-post face ups to generate a game high 12-points on 6-10 shooting in the first half. Perhaps even more importantly, he grabbed more rebounds than any other player and helped the Bucks earn a 41-39 advantage on the glass. His final line of 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks marked his third double-double of the season and his best performance of the young season.
Veteran guard Beno Udrih also jumped back into the fray after missing the previous five contests with a shoulder injury and got off to a hot start -- 4 points, 2 assists, 0 turnovers in 7 first half minutes -- on his way to 10 points on 3-4 shooting and 3 assists in 20 minutes. Bucks rookies Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer represented the other two bright spots for Milwaukee. 76ers coach Doug Collins elected to open the game with Elton Brand offering Leuer a 10-foot cushion when he caught the ball at the three-point line. Rather than panic or hesitate, the savvy second-round pick calmly used one dribble to find a comfortable range and hit an uncontested 18-foot jumper to open the scoring. Needless to say, Collins had his defenders play Leuer straight-up for the rest of the afternoon. With each passing game he continues to show he deserves his place as an NBA starter, which can only be considered a good thing for the Bucks. Not to be outdone by Leuer's 11 points on 5-8 shooting and 3 rebounds, first-round pick Tobias Harris bested his teammate by attacking in the paint and dropping 12 points on 5-8 shooting with 3 rebounds. If it helps to soften the loss, the team's 2011 draft class looked very good on Monday afternoon.
Now the Bucks get to push their road woes to the side and once again focus on their home dominance as they prepare for a quick turnaround against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Let's hope they can continue to perform well at home, because this road thing isn't working out too well right now. Hey, at least they don't have to play the Sixers for a while.
(Note: Frank Madden provides the usual recap items below)
Andrew Bogut. Bogut's season-high 20 points marked the first time he made better than 50% from the field all season, and he also added season-high-tying totals of four assists and three blocks to boot. While Bogut's passing has always drawn praise, his passing out of the post has typically lagged behind the vision he shows when facing up from the top of the key. That wasn't the case today, as he found cutters on a handful of occasions and deal well with the bodies Philly began to throw at him over the course of the game.
Tobias Harris. Another solid effort from Harris after a couple of wobbly efforts over the past week. Though he's yet to show much of a perimeter game, Harris continues to look at ease on the block and cutting in along the baselines, showing an excellent understanding of where to be and how to use his body against defenders. While the Bucks aren't exactly loaded with effective scorers, it still says something that the first two plays of the fourth quarter went to Harris inside, including a tricky entry pass from Bogut that Harris did well just to catch. And yes, he finished both of them.
Beno Udrih. We could easily go with Leuer here, but Udrih deserves credit for serving as a stabilizing presence off the bench while Jennings spent much of the night struggling on both ends.
11/23. The Sixers curiously put up identical shooting numbers from both at the rim and three point range, which means that a) they didn't finish well at all and b) it didn't matter because they buried nearly half of their 23 triple attempts.
60. The Sixers were unstoppable in the odd quarters, totaling 60 of their 94 points in the first and third while holding the Bucks to 44 in the same span.
20/31. Holiday and Iguodala were the two Sixers who scored from all over, beating the Bucks off the bounce (7/11 at the rim), with pull-ups (4/4 on long twos), and with their ability to stroke open threes (5/9).
The real Bogut? He didn't have much help, but Bogut finally delivered the sort of comprehensive performance we've been hoping for since the beginning of the season. It's difficult to see the Bucks not pulling themselves together if Bogut can consistently bring games like this with more regularity. Sounds familiar, eh?
Finishing. The Sixers entered the game as the league's best finishing team, converting 72% at the rim, but shot under 50% thanks to a combination of Bogut challenging shots and the Sixers missing chippies. In contrast, the Bucks were a sparkling 19/23 around the hoop, with Bogut (7/7) and Harris leading the way (5/6).
Getting...healthy...slowly? The Bucks should have the depth to deal with injuries in the backcourt and wings, but there's no replacing Bogut and he showed why today. Meanwhile, Udrih showed he can also deliver some scoring punch off the bench, especially when Jennings is off his game. That's the good news. More on the bad down below.
Perfectly imperfect. Losing eight consecutive road games isn't easy, especially for a team that has a reasonable amount of talent. But that's where the Bucks currently stand, and it doesn't get much easier for the remainder of the month: the Bucks travel to New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago over the next two weeks, with home games sandwiched in against the Nuggets, Hawks and Lakers. The Bucks don't get any "easy" (OK, probably not the right word for an 0-8 team) road games until early February when they face Detroit, Toronto and Cleveland.
Cold wings. The Bucks' starting guards/wings (Jennings, Jackson and Delfino) combined for just 23 points on 31 shots compared to 54 points on 39 shots from their Philly counterparts (Holiday, Iggy and Meeks). Jennings in particular was notably outplayed by his old buddy Holiday, whom the Bucks nearly selected instead of Jennings in the 2009 draft.
Getting...healthy...too slowly? While the return of Bogut (mainly) and Udrih makes a big difference, the question remains: what if anything will it take for the Bucks to turn the corner? You can count me among Luc Mbah a Moute and Mike Dunleavy's biggest fans, but the Bucks should still be able to keep things together without them, right? While the absence of rotation regulars is bound to create problems for any team's continuity--especially without a training camp--the Bucks can only lean on that excuse for so long.