Alas, if only the NBA rules didn't insist on playing a full 48 minutes.
The Bucks restored some of the dignity they surrendered in New Orleans on Monday, but unfortunately not embarrassing yourself isn't enough to win games in San Antonio. Milwaukee led almost the entirety of the first half and played the Spurs even through three, but Gregg Popovich's bench blitzed the Bucks with a 21-3 run early in the fourth to blow open what had been a competitive game through 36 minutes. With Tim Duncan (17 pts, 10 rebs) and Tony Parker (22 pts on 11 shots, 10 ast) watching from the bench, Gary Neal scored half of his 22 points and Tiago Splitter added eight of his 15 points to fuel the Spurs' decisive run, as the Bucks let an opposing bench put the game away early in the fourth quarter for the second straight game.
The Spurs came out looking rusty in missing their first 11 shots, but many of those were putback attempts and the Bucks weren't able to take full advantage despite shooting a high percentage throughout the period. They led by just six after San Antonio's brick-laying start, and midway through the second quarter led only 36-31 despite a 63% to 30% shooting disparity. Starting his first game of the season, Larry Sanders was energetic and impressive early on, but predictably picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes and suffered a similar fate in the second half. Meanwhile, the Bucks' backcourt struggled from the field throughout the game including a 4/20 start, but Ersan Ilyasova kept up his habit of alternating good and bad games by following up an ineffectual night in New Orleans with 17 first half points against the Spurs.
Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova looked great early on, working the pick-and-pop game perfectly with Jennings and confidently punishing the Spurs for giving him open looks. His 17 first half points were the biggest reason for the Bucks' six point halftime lead, but he took just two shots and went scoreless in the second half. Unfortunately, the Spurs simply paid closer attention in the second hallf and Ersan wasn't a factor. Also: the Bucks always seem to look overwhelmed on the boards when Ilyasova is in the game. Not a good sign.
Monta Ellis. Another ugly shooting line from Ellis (5/19 fg), but he made up for it by continually attacking the Spurs' defense (season-high 10/11 ft), getting teammates involved (11 ast) and actually taking care of the ball for a change (no turnovers). Not surprisingly, Ellis' ugly shooting line was rooted largely in his incorrigible affinity for long twos: he made just 1/9 shots between 16-23 feet and was 4/10 from everywhere else.
Marquis Daniels. I'm not altogether thrilled with the idea of starting Daniels now that Luc Mbah a Moute is back in the fold, but with Dunleavy out again with a sore knee and Tobias Harris out of favor (rightly or wrongly), we saw Daniels once again start and play significant minutes (29). He did just fine, too, scoring 12 points on 10 shots while earning the distinguished title of the only Buck with a positive rating (+4).
33.3%. The Spurs were hardly world-beaters tonight, but they made up for their early shooting struggles by nabbing a third of their own misses and outrebounding the Bucks by a hefty 53-36 margin.
-17. The Bucks didn't take full advantage of the Spurs' early shooting problems, but their 58-52 lead at halftime was still worthy of praise. Unfortunately, their shooting went into the tank in the third quarter (27%) and didn't recover much in the fourth (36%) as San Antonio outscored the Bucks by a combined 17 points in the final two periods.
11. Ellis'' assist numbers were a season-high, but Jennings's four assists means he's had five or fewer in six straight games.
Ersan and on and on. Can Ersan make it two straight quality outings for the first time this season? We'll find out on Friday against the Bobcats, but here's the bright side: Ersan playing well every second game is better than him not playing well at all. Baby steps.
Wing defending options. Just a general observation: even if Daniels is getting too much burn, it's nice that the Bucks at least have the option of rolling out two competent wing defenders, isn't it? As much as it pains me to say it, if Daniels does anything at all offensively he immediately becomes more useful than Tobias Harris, who for all his offensive skills remains mostly clueless on the defensive end.
Mbah a Moute is still playing his way into form, but there's something fundamentally enjoyable about watching him chase and harass guys like Ginobili on the defensive end, right? Moreover, his aggressiveness on the offensive end has been a positive (if not always productive) thing, and tonight it earned him 10 points on five shots. Hell, he even hit that corner three we've been dreaming of him making for the last four years. He also just missed out on the highlight of the night when he backironed a dunk attempt over Tiago Splitter (see picture above) after driving most of the court with the third quarter clock running down.
Three quarters. The Bucks had no business losing to the Hornets on Monday, much less getting blown out, so I suppose there's something to be said for the way they hung with a great Spurs team for three quarters. This is nothing less than we should expect, so perhaps this doesn't really qualify as "Good" so much as "Not Awful," but it's more than we saw on Monday.
Bricklaying guards. Jennings has hit at least half of his three point attempts in five straight games and his three point percentage is up to a healthy 37%, but all the talk of him taking a demonstrable step forward in his contract year has died down over the past couple weeks. Brandon hasn't been bad overall--his assists are up marginally and his steal numbers are way up--but with 20% of the season gone the numbers are what they are. And maybe Brandon is who he is? After some big assist numbers early, he's had five or fewer assists in six straight games and his true shooting percentage--which wasn't good to begin with--is down a couple points from last year. Other than the steals, his defense still looks marginal and his finishing around the hoop has regressed. Hopefully he turns it on going forward, but we don't have to worry about Jennings commanding a max contract right now.
Foul trouble. Sanders' first start was derailed by foul trouble five minutes in, and he earned one of his trademark cheap technicals for punching the ball out of play after getting hit for a cheap foul on a Tony Parker and-one early in the third. John Henson--who averaged fewer than two fouls per game in college by the way--wasn't much luckier. He picked up two fouls on Tim Duncan in the span of about 90 seconds in the first half, which paved the way for Sam Dalembert (now a third stringer I guess) to get some decent run (17 min, 4/6 fg, 8 pts) after two straight DNPs.
#9. This position is all too familiar, isn't it?