MILWAUKEE -- Just how they Drew it up.
Although the atmosphere suggested that an elite team was in town tonight, the Lakers are officially on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now in the West, whereas the Bucks bumped their way up into the final playoff spot in the East as things stand.
That might arrive as bad news for anyone hoping that the team loses its way into the (high) lottery this season, but if you are a Bucks fan and you were at the Bradley Center tonight, or even not at the Bradley Center tonight -- and I trust that no one wearing a Kobe jersey or Kobe jeans (h/t Jeremy Schmidt) is reading this far -- you would have to go pretty far out of your way to not be pleased with the result.
And not just the end result, but the entire game. Because as much as we try to break the game down into a science, it is at its base an art. The Bucks and Gooden drew something tonight that can only be considered abstract -- at times it was peculiar, even frustrating or difficult to comprehend, but always it made you think -- in the beginning of the night and at the end of the night it was memorable.
So while defeating a team with three players and one road win hardly earns grandiose words on merit alone, and while this win admittedly in no way advances the team on a path to a title in five years and very well might prove meaningless in a quest to lose to the Bulls or Heat in the first round in a few months, today is just today, and so you also don't have to feel bad about feeling good.
Drew Gooden. If nothing else, Gooden is wildly consistent in his tendency to amuse. In the best of times and in the worst of times, his play is uniformly evocative. Tonight he built on his comfortable league lead in passes off the backboard to himself (did not work out this time), and managed to pick up a technical for glaring down an official after cruising to the hoop for a basket.
And speaking (typing) of baskets, he made plenty of those, hitting 9-15 from the field, highlighted by 14-point, 6-7 shooting effort in the usually hazardous third quarter. On the first possession of the game, he hoisted a flat jumper, but he stayed aggressive throughout.
Defensively, he was also game. Andrew Bynum is just massive, and not light on talent either, but Gooden gave it his all. On one play in the first quarter, Bynum had established strong position in the post, so Gooden tried to reach around to steal the entry pass. While he was not quick enough to get to the ball, he was quick enough to recover and deliver a hard, decisive foul that didn't allow Bynum a good look at the basket and instead forced him to the stripe.
Finished with 23 points -- almost as many as Bynum (15) and Gasol (12) had combined.
Also made a three-pointer for the third straight game, and after the game Skiles said they are okay with him taking that corner three when open.
Shaun Livingston. This starting shooting guard only took 9 shots and only scored 11 points, but he may have had as many highlight plays as the other starting shooting guard.
Livingston started the first quarter with a nice spinning, contorting and-one over Kobe Bryant, and he followed that up one-handed throwdown dunk in transition on a nice pass from Carlos Delfino (who tends to make good decisions on the break).
In the third quarter, he hit Kobe-like turn-around fadeaway jumper for an and-one over Bryant, and then he picked an overdribbling Bryant to spring Brandon Jennings free for a layup.
And the thing about all of these highlight anecdotes, is that Livingston's game is ultimately silky and subtle. Scott Skiles lauded the team's ball movement multiple times after the game, and 30 minutes of an involved Livingston tends to keep the ball moving.
Mike Dunleavy. Los Angeles was hanging around late in the fourth quarter, and we all know how fast the Black Mamba can strike. So it was calming to see Dunleavy nail two straight jumpers in the last couple minutes of regulation -- the second one really sealed the game, a three to give Milwaukee a 96-85 lead with 1:23 to go.
In all, Mike made 6-8 shots from the floor and 2-3 three-pointers for 15 points in 22 swell minutes off the bench.
15-4. The Lakers do not have the fleetest feet these days, and they came into the game ranked 25th in fastbreak points per game, averaging 8.8. But they did not even make it halfway there, scoring just 4 points on the break. Meanwhile, the Bucks were 6-6 on the break for 15 points. Considering some of the transition defense issues of late, this was refreshing.
21-8. No Buck had more than two turnovers on the night, and overall the Bucks dished out 21 assists compared to just 8 turnovers, for a 2.6 assist/turnover ratio. To put that in perspective, the 76ers have the by far the best ratio in the NBA this season at 1.9.
3. So the bad news is that Larry Sanders has made two field goals since Jan. 9 and shot 0-5 tonight, but the good news is that he blocked 3 shots in 15 minutes and earned praise for his defense from Scott Skiles in the post-game presser.
Back That Pass Up. Beno Udrih has underwhelmed at times in Milwaukee so far, but he moved the offense with flourish tonight, connecting for seven assists (and zero turnovers) in just 15 minutes off the bench. And over the past three games, Beno has racked up 18 assists to just 1 turnover in 48 minutes.
Front Four. Facing the Los Angeles frontline of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol without Andrew Bogut (and still without a real center) spelled trouble for Milwaukee. Before the game, Mike Brown noted that the Lakers would try to establish an inside game early. And that they did, as the Lakers jumped to an 8-2 lead on two easy baskets each by Bynum and Gasol.
From there, however, the front four of Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders worked hard individually and as help defenders. Mbah a Moute versatilely guarded often against Gasol and Bryant, not shutting them down of course, but making them labor for every point they got.
And in the end, the Bucks actually outscored the Lakers 44-42 in the paint.
Ilya's Not Ova. Ersan's week-long renaissance continued with a 7-9 shooting night along with 4 rebounds for 15 in a game-high 24 minutes off the bench. Over the last five games, Ilyasova is averaging 11.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in 21.8 minutes.
Joshing Around. Josh McRoberts bizarrely punched a basketball into Mike Dunleavy in the first quarter.
Steph-Out. Stephen Jackson was suspended for the game, and it was heartening to see that he expressed apology to fans and referred to the situation as a "lesson learned." But Jackson has been down this road before -- you might recall that he was ejected after two quick technicals the last time he visited the BC as an opponent (in what was actually a very fun game). And he even sent a letter of apology to Bobcats fans for his actions another time. In any event, the team has the depth to absorb losing him occasionally (they are 2-0 without him this season), and this is just something that comes with the Jackson territory.
So, not really worth getting worked up about at this point.
Insufferable Lakers Fans. Although they are commended for taking the long trip from California and then finding parking and braving the cold on the walk to the Bradley Center.