The glorious presence of momentum blanketed over the Bradley Center crowd from the tip-off.
Fueled by Monday's 27 point atonement against the Chicago Bulls, the Milwaukee Bucks cracked their knuckles before breaking the spirits of an already fragile New York Knicks team coming off their own a soul-crushing defeat at the hands of an upstart rival.
The Bucks did their best Of Mice And Men impression, effortlessly smothering the Knicks' NBA-best perimeter offense. They forced Carmelo Anthony into bad Zach Randolph impressions from the mid-range. Milwaukee's Tube Men chewed up the Knicks interior and spit them all over the gaggle of No. 7 shirseys perched along the sidelines. All thanks to the momentum cultivated from an amazing one-point victory over an opponent missing its superstar.
There's only one problem: none of the previous 123 words happened on Wednesday night. The reality was much more sobering and real.
The Knicks cluster bombed from deep at every turn (7-11 on threes in the first half alone, 11-21 for the game). The Bucks threw more passes in the stands than their big men had points. They rotated on defense with all the urgency of a Juggalo at 2 a.m. on the last night of their Gathering. Worst of all, Carmelo Anthony's offensive clinic (29 pts, 9-18 fg, 3-4 3fg, 8-9 ft, 8 rbs) made Grey's Anatomy look like Children's Hospital.
Whatever semblance of "momentum" there was, it definitely wasn't wearing a white, green, and red jersey in Milwaukee.
"You would hope that you have enough professionals in there that one game either way didn't do anything. The players' approaches were the same every day. Because typically that's what the great pro players are like," Scott Skiles said, before the game. "They aren't riding this up and down wave. Having said that, there are a lot of young players in the league right now and it is an emotional game. Controlling their emotions and learning how to be pros are big things."
The moral of the story is that game-to-game momentum is just a fantasy storyline that is often written independent of any on-court actions. We assume players react the same way as fans, using every big/abnormal win as a way to boost expectations and confidence. A single loss doesn't wreck a season any more than a single victory vindicates a season. As Skiles said, the best players and teams don't need extra motivation to be successful.
Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings. This was probably the most efficient combined performance from Jennings and Ellis so far (35 points on 19 shots, 9-10 on free throws, 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals). Sure they made Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton look like Steve Nash at times, but...offensive efficiency! Free throws! Shot selection!
Beno Udrih. Once again, the Master Of Spot-Ups kept calm and carried on (18 pts, 8-12 fg, 2-2 ft, 2 rbs, 1 ast) while the world collapsed around him. Udrih has been the unheralded leader of the Bucks' bench mob this season. That could have something to do with his early flights from the locker room after games.
Ersan Ilyasova. 13:16 minutes, 0-1 fg, 0 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. Believe whatever you want about Skiles' lineup shuffles, but nefarious intentions are never a part of the thought process. If Ersan can't produce, he's not playing, especially if there are better offensive (or defensive) options.
6. Bucks big men went scoreless until the 5:13 mark in the second quarter (an Ekpe Udoh lay-in, of all things). For the game, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Samuel Dalembert, John Henson, and Ersan Ilyasova combined for 6 points on 3-14 shooting. It almost felt like they were the Sandlot kids, afraid to challenge the beast authority that is Tyson Chandler.
3:13. Doron Lamb hit his first NBA three pointer at this point in the second quarter, a pretty stroke from right of the key. It was a shooting star moment amongst a black hole of embarrassment.
18-14. Rather than highlight the Knicks' 65-44 scoring advantage between the second and third quarters, I figured the Bucks' 18-14 fourth quarter victory was much more resounding. Simply put, when a scoring line like that is posted and no one makes a sound, it tells you the game ended 12 minutes earlier than it should have.
Three Two Good
James Jones, Charles Woodson, Robin Yount. It's amazing how crowds react when athletes from different sports are illuminated on the scoreboard. It was easily, justifiably, and unfortunately the loudest cheer of the night when these three were successively introduced on the JumboTron.
Friday is a new day. If you believe teams don't derive additional motivation from thrilling wins, you have to believe the same about deflating losses. As such, take solace in the fact that tonight has absolutely no bearing on the Bucks' performance Friday against the Timberwolves. If it does, we have a bigger issue to discuss.
Muchas problemas. Jennings and Ellis have defensive limitations on the perimeter. The Bucks have no scoring options in the post. Outside of Mike Dunleavy, no one can shoot the three ball consistently. A good bench should be a compliment to solid starters, not a remedy for their own inconsistencies. These are all issues that concerned the Bucks after Game 1, and should concern them now.
Knowing how to fail. Before the game, Skiles said the Bucks would lose if they allowed the Knicks to get good looks around the perimeter. Eleven treys and 52.4% 3fg shooting later, they did, and they did. Losses are even worse when a coach's pre-game press conference becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The team clearly knew what needed to be done, but it didn't happen.
Momentum. See above for the badness ingrained in adhering to this philosophy.
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