With their big man out of commission, the Bucks got hammered on the offensive boards and struggled to contain Derrick Rose all night. The Bulls boast a talented and physical front line that abused Milwaukee's patchwork defense to the tune of 20 offensive rebounds. Chicago grabbed 40 percent of their own misses. While Drew Gooden racked up his own numbers under the basket (15 total rebounds), Brandon Jennings was Milwaukee's second-leading rebounder, perhaps a telling fact in itself.
Yet for a team that supposedly hangs its hat on defense, the Bucks trailed by just one point at halftime and clawed back into the game late in the fourth quarter despite routinely getting torched by the reigning MVP. The Bulls currently boast the 2nd-best defensive efficiency in the NBA, but they had no answer for the hot-shooting Brandon Jennings in the first half. It was a point-guard duel wrapped up in a clash of styles, as both Jennings and Rose kept the pressure on in their own trademark fashions.
It was a scorching start for Jennings, who came out firing from deep and beat a sluggish-looking Bulls defense for buckets in close. After he sank an off-balance three under heavy pressure from Rose, you could've been forgiven for thinking a truly epic performance was unfolding in the United Center.
But the second half was another story, as Derrick Rose quickly set about swinging the needle on the point guard matchup back toward himself. Aided by little more than a high ball screen, Rose had the Bucks' defenders spinning in circles as they tried to predict which direction his crossover would take him. Rotating defenders stepped up to cut off drives, only to see him sidestep his way to an easy layup. To borrow a line from Steve, Rose was the brush coloring the painted area. Even with a relatively poor showing from the free-throw line (6-10), he scored 34 points to lead all scorers.
Still, the Bucks hung around after the break, buoyed by an unlikely source: Jon Leuer, back from the grave (or so one might have thought)! Leuer came off the bench in relief of Ersan Ilyasova, who had a promising-looking performance derailed by foul trouble that limited him to only 10 minutes. Leuer showed no signs of rust on offense, sinking his first three jumpers and stepping up as a reliable pressure valve for a Milwaukee offense that found the going a bit tougher without Jennings raining shots from deep.
Without Bogut, though, the Bucks couldn't hold back the metaphorical flood waters, and with Jennings' deep shot failing him in the second half, there were precious few ways to claw back into the lead. So the game ended as many might have expected, albeit with a surprisingly thrilling beginning and middle.
Brandon Jennings. If I could single out first-half Brandon Jennings, I would. Brandon looked unstoppable in the early going and finished the half with 19 points on 7-11 shooting (including an end-of-half heave). Unfortunately, he couldn't keep it up for the final 24 minutes, shooting just 3-11 after the break. That included a few clutch buckets late in the fourth quarter to keep the score close, but the many misses certainly took the sheen off a glittering start. Still, it extends Jennings' streak of consecutive 20-point games to 6.
Drew Gooden. Drew somehow flailed, chucked, and stumbed his way to a strong overall performance. Going 10-10 from the free throw line to offset 6-14 shooting, Gooden scored 23 points, grabbed 15 boards, and dished 6 assists (which led the team). He committed his fair share of Goodenisms, throwing passes 4 feet above teammates heads and rocketing shots off the backboard, but he pleased his fantasy owners if nothing else.
Jon Leuer. I remember this guy! It took a broken ankle from Bogut and foul trouble from Ilyasova just to get Leuer back on the court, but he quickly set about reminding everybody (Skiles) why he earned the starting gig only nine games into his career. Leuer hit from everywhere on the court, sinking his only shot from behind the arc and finishing a couple in close. We're all still searching for the reason why he was banished to the bench in the first place. If he ends up back there after tonight, I'm organizing a mob. Keep your torches and pitchforks at the ready, folks.
10.6. The Bulls turn the ball over on only 13.3% of possessions, good for sixth in the NBA. The Bucks are fourth in the NBA in forcing turnovers. But Chicago won the battle of ball control, finishing with an exceptional 10.6 turnover rate.
60.6%. The game could've been far worse for Milwaukee if Chicago hadn't struggled at the foul line. The Bulls made just 20 of their 33 free-throws.
Brandon Without Bogut. While Bogut's absence clearly affected Milwaukee defense and rebounding, it didn't slow down Brandon Jennings. Brandon's ability to carry the team without his imposing center was an obvious question, and after one loss it hasn't totally been answered. But a strong individual performance at least inspires some confidence that his own season won't be derailed thanks to a teammate's broken ankle. At this point, it's a welcome silver lining.
Developing an identity. With Bogut potentially out until April, the Bucks have to reassess where this season is headed. Do they continue to push forward and fight for a playoff spot? Do they go with a youth movement, subtly shrugging off loss after loss in an effort to boost their lottery chances? It's a sad reality, but the sooner they settle on a decision, the better.
Bucks Blocked. Milwaukee is used to relying on a bevy of their own shot blockers, but tonight they saw nine of their own attempts swatted away. The Bucks got just one block apiece from Gooden and Larry Sanders.
Lacking at the Line. Sure, the Bucks made 15 of their 16 free throws. But ten of those came from Drew Gooden, meaning the rest of the roster mustered only 6. Milwaukee's shooting and ball movement are much improved this season compared to last, but they still can't get to the stripe with any regularity. As long as they rank near the bottom of the NBA in free throw rate, they'll have a hard time breaking through to the upper-level of NBA offenses.