Too bad the Bucks can't play the Nets 82 times a year.
The Milwaukee Bucks' 108-93 win over the Brooklyn Nets had a healthy share of scares, headlined by an early fourth quarter surge from Brooklyn that closed the gap to four points. However, like nearly every one of Milwaukee's now 13 straight victories over Brooklyn, there was never really a sense of looming danger, as if the Nets had somehow solved a puzzle they've been working on for over three years.
As it turns out, Milwaukee followed up that 12-2 Nets run with a rapid fire assault from downtown, hitting three straight three pointers to extend the lead back to double digits for good. Brooklyn was forced to play without star point guard Deron Williams, who hasn't had a very Deron Williams year, but nevertheless remains the most talented player on their roster.
Wins against big market teams often carry with them a bonus sense of pride, knowing that, for at least this once, an NBA David can bounce a rock off the expensive cranium of a big city Goliath. But the Nets have felt more "ho hum" than "ha ha!" in recent years.
There's a sense of pride knowing that, while things in Buck Land aren't exactly peachy, they could be much worse. Milwaukee could be a destitute land of bloated, aging contracts, where the size of a pocket book doesn't always buy a map leading in the right direction.
The Nets have bigger names, the Bucks have a better team. At least for another few weeks.
Monta Ellis. Ellis has played some of his best basketball over the past two games (32 ppg - fittingly, the team is 1-1 in that span), but Wednesday night's effort was probably his most comprehensive of the season (20 pts, 7-14 fg, 3-3 3fg, 7 asts, 6 rbs, 6 stls). Ellis was a crucial part of the Bucks' big plays early (scored or assisted on five of the team's first six makes) and late, as he was directly involved in the fourth quarter hat trick of consecutive three pointers that pushed a four point lead up to 11.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings led the team with 25 points (9-15 fg, 3-4 3fg, 6 asts, 4 rbs, 1 stl), and was incredibly adept at getting looks on his preferred left side of the floor (4-5 fg, 2-3 3fg). He scored 16 points on eight first half shots, and paired with Ellis for a vintage fast break-dominant performance that felt like the stuff of recent legend we've only heard about in dreams.
Ersan Ilyasova. If anyone should get the efficiency gold star in a game that gushed smart shots and timely passing, it's the Ersanator. In 14 second half minutes, Ilyasova scored 12 of his 17 points on just 5 shots, grabbed six of his 11 rebounds, and worked seven free throws out of an overrated and undersized Nets frontcourt that probably could've used Kris Humphries.
25-12. Over nine minutes stretched between the middle of the second and first part of the third quarter, The Bucks proceeded to regain and fortify their lead with the game's defining scoring run, dominating the Nets in the paint (18 vs. 4 pip), and crashing the boards with energy (15 vs. 7 rebounds). Milwaukee scored 13 of their 19 transition points, while limiting Brooklyn to a goose egg, during this span.
19. The Bucks were off and running at every possible opportunity, and it reflected in their final scoring line on the break. Ellis and Jennings predictably led the charge, but the return of Beno Udrih, beloved consistency of Mike Dunleavy, and freakish length of Larry Sanders warrant accolades for their integral role in the Bucks' most recognizable offensive strength.
23.9% vs. 51.5%. Through two games versus the Bucks, the Nets connected on less than a quarter of their shots from downtown (11-46 3fg). In contrast, Milwaukee has hit over half their three point attempts (17-33 3fg) against Brooklyn. Thank whatever impulses tell CJ Watson, Jerry Stackhouse, and Joe Johnson that bad threes are better than good twos.
No Deron, no problem. The Bucks' luck against good to elite teams continues, as Deron Williams spent Wednesday night on the bench. Kris Humphries' rebounding prowess was also absent, perhaps more noticeably than usual because of the Nets' general troubles on the glass in the game's biggest moments. Williams is certainly having an off year by his standards, but his threat as a scorer and distributor remain undeniable.
Joe Johnson. Johnson took every isolation opportunity as a chance to milk the shot clock for 10 seconds before begrudgingly pivoting in the paint and heaving up a contested 10 footer. He has been known to torch the Bucks on occasion (18.3 ppg, 41% 3fg, 4.9 apg, 4 rpg lifetime vs. Milwaukee), but the combination defensive efforts of Marquis Daniels and Dunleavy made the 31-year-old look every bit as plodding and aged as his 31,524 minutes-burdened legs would imply.
Shots in space. After the game, Dunleavy and Skiles talked about how, in the preseason, the team believed long range shooting would be one of the team's primary fortes. The merits of this on-paper conjecture should be discussed at a later time, but its no coincidence that the return of Udrih and presence of Dunleavy open up everything around the perimeter, including catch-and-shoot opportunities for Jennings and Ellis.
Turnovers. If there's one thing Brooklyn does well against Milwaukee, it's turn turnovers into points the other way. The Nets have posted the first and second most points off turnovers against the Bucks this season (29 and 27, respectively), with Jennings and Ellis combining for 47% of the team's 36 turnovers in those games. Those numbers are negligible when both players are getting good shots, but it's fairly obvious they can be had going against bigger teams that aren't afraid to get physical at any spot on the floor.
The Nets just aren't very good. Even with Deron Williams, the Nets have considerable flaws. They are a bottom five team in scoring and defensive rebounding, and don't defend the paint or beyond the arc particularly well. If this were a team consisting of a 2008-09 Wallace/Johnson/Williams trio, it would be a different story.
Turn up the Heat. We would be doing you a disservice if we spent an entire recap post gushing about the Bucks while ignoring the back logs of error files that make up a larger part of the team's bigger picture situation. Here's the reality check: the Bucks are a respectable 14-12, and about to face a gauntlet comprised of the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Indiana Pacers over the coming week. Enjoy this win, because the real test of the Bucks' playoff mettle starts in less than 72 hours.