There are good teams, there are bad teams, and then there are teams like the Bucks.
By all rights they should have won Saturday night's matchup with the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers; after all, they'd beaten Cleveland ten straight times, the Cavaliers had lost six straight overall, and Byron Scott's team was without Anderson Varejao for good measure.
But here's the thing: when a bad team doesn't play so badly, the Bucks have to do more than just show up. And that's about the only thing that they did on Saturday, and what they got for their troubles was a swift kick in the teeth from a balanced, motivated Cavaliers team.
Balance and effort are supposed to be the Bucks M.O. of course, while the Cavaliers are supposed to be the Kyrie Irving-and-a-cloud-of-dust gang. Instead, the Bucks were the one-man show, Monta Ellis in this case, while the Cavaliers' cloud of dust featured six guys in double figures, taking the pressure off Irving (15 points on 12 shots) for once. The Cavs' cloud of dust also closed out on the Bucks' shooters and crowded the Bucks inside, while generally refusing to do the Bucks any of the favors that they seemed to be counting on. Milwaukee on the other hand executed like it was the preseason; twice in the first quarter Larry Sanders took a handoff and then found himself standing alone without a guard to take the ball out of his hands, and that seemed to set the off-kilter tone for the rest of the night.
In the end, resident whipping boy Ellis was essentially the only Buck worth a damn; he hucked up a few ill-conceived jumpers, sure, but he was mostly driving, floating, finishing and making Dion Waiters look pylon-esque on his way to a season-high 37 points on 15/27 shooting. Waiters (18 points on 17 shots) did his share of damage, too, but let's give Monta a pass for once.
Other than that, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh had their usual moments defensively, but nothing else worked for the Bucks. A ten point halftime deficit swelled to 20 with four minutes left in the third, before Ellis and Mike Dunleavy sparked a 16-2 run that reeled the Cavaliers back to within eight entering the final period. That seemed manageable enough, but there were no switches to be flipped by Milwaukee tonight. Ersan Ilyasova Mason Crosby'ed a three that sailed two feet wide of the rim and out of bounds. Brandon Jennings was MIA after playing 48 minutes last night, scoring as many points as Luke Walton (7). Sanders traveled when an easy dunk seemed more likely, and failed to hit a shot for the second time this season.
And that was it. At no point in the fourth quarter did the Bucks even hint at the resolve or execution needed to come back and actually win this game, which is a remarkably disappointing thing to say given the circumstances. Their 14-12 record heading into Christmas is hardly something to feel broken about, but lost opportunities like these will leave us continuing to wonder what to expect of this team in the new year.
Monta Ellis. A vintage scoring night for Ellis, who accounted for 45% of the Bucks' points and nearly half of their field goals (15 of 31).
Larry Sanders. Twelve boards and five blocks are numbers we'll take from Larry any night, and thankfully we're getting accustomed to seeing them pretty regularly. Not so nice: 0/3 from the field and four turnovers, compared to 14 points and 14 boards from opposite number Tristan Thompson.
Sam Dalembert. Dalembert dressed but didn't play for the sixth straight game, so he deserves credit for having nothing to do with what happened on the court. He's also probably overtaken Drew Gooden and Joel Przybilla for the coveted title of most enthusiastic cheerleader, which is nice to see. I guess?
10%. A night after going for a combined 37 points and 16/25 shooting, Sanders and Mbah a Moute made 1/10 shots and combined for six points.
26-23. The Bucks should have made a living beating up on the Cavalier bench; instead C.J. Miles' 16 points on nine shots nearly equaled that of the entire Milwaukee bench.
39%. The Bucks didn't shoot well, and that's something we've been saying an awful lot over the past month.
Monta. Ellis was nothing short of electric for most of the night, and even snapped out of an 0/11 slump from three-point range with a 2/5 night from deep.
Beno. The Bucks' backup point guard hasn't played in three weeks, but he did get some shots up before the game. Get healthy soon, Beno.
No TV! No team goes untelevised in its local market as often as the Bucks, and for one night at least that was something to be thankful for.
Playing down. The Bucks have had their share of off-color performances of late, but barely competing against a 5-23 team at home? Merry Christmas, fans. Having to play 24 hours after an overtime game in Boston on Friday night didn't help, but the Cavs played on Friday night, too.
Bench mobbed. If the home opener was any indication, the Bucks' recipe for success would involve using their superior depth to beat up on the Cavs' reserves. Not even close.
Home. If the Bucks can play 7-6 ball on the road, how are they only a 7-6 team at home? I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Bucks so-so performance at home is the main reason for their dwindling attendance--I'd attribute it mostly to Milwaukee fairweatherness--but it certainly doesn't make it any easier to motivate fans to spend their night at the BC.