While most of the normal U.S. audience fawned over Selection Sunday for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, a few brave souls tuned in to the Sunday afternoon matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. It was meh. Even though the Bucks enjoyed a rest the previous day while the Raptors stumbled through a 105-86 road loss to the downtrodden Detroit Pistons you certainly couldn't tell after the tip. Milwaukee played a flat-footed first three quarters, but managed just enough to get it done in the fourth. Ersan Ilyasova kept up his torrid pace, as he scored a game-high 31 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, and Drew Gooden added 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists, then the Bucks snatched a 105-99 road win in Canada.
Toronto's starters nailed their first six shots, assisted each other on 11 of their 13 makes and jumped out to a 28-21 lead after one period. In the first nine minutes, Brandon Jennings started 0-3 with two points and two assists. His counterpart -- backup point guard Jerryd Bayless -- dropped in four points on 2-3 shooting and four assists. Drew Gooden led the charge with seven quick points and two assists, but he picked up a pair of fouls and grabbed a handful of bench. Jon Brockman entered the game before Jon Leuer. That same disappointing tone resonated throughout the game for everyone except Ers and Gooden, even if the pitch changed slightly. Heck, Leandro Barbosa's tantalizing breakaway floater, the most exciting play of the game, didn't even count.
Gooden maintained his strong start with 13 points and five assists by the half, while Ersan joined in the fun and added 13 points of his own along with seven rebounds, but it could only shrink the Raptor lead to 56-51 by intermission, even with a 7-0 Milwaukee squeezed in before the buzzer. The Raptors TV crew started talking about the mild Canadian winter at one point. The Bucks never led at any point during those 24 minutes.
Foul trouble started to change the complexion of the game from there. Amir Johnson flashed his fatal weakness and picked up his fifth foul less than three minutes into the third quarter, while Drew Gooden had to tap-dance around and still suffered his fourth personal with 7:39 remaining in the third. Skiles and crew gambled by leaving Drew in the game, and our favorite bald-headed big man rewarded their patience by avoiding further trouble.
For some reason, the Raptors continued to feed DeMar DeRozan in isolation plays after the halftime break, and their assist total stalled as DeRozan struggled through 1-5 shooting for two points in the period. Bayless carried the load by scoring 10 more points, but the Bucks wrestled away a one-point lead for 22 seconds as Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden kept their foot on the gas. Through three quarters, Ersan had 24 points and eight rebounds and his partner added 19 points and five assists. At that point, Ersanity and Mr. Jetski had already combined for 15-22 shooting, but the rest of the Bucks were 14-36 (38.8 percent).
Milwaukee never really got their act together. Toronto never got their act back together. They still had to play 12 more minutes, according to NBA rules, so they did. The Bucks grabbed the lead by revisiting a set where Ersan caught the ball in a high post at the free throw line and offered a hand-off on a middle curl to Jennings, who rounded towards the left elbow and passed to Dunleavy streaking to the wing off a down screen, who then made the real decisions with the ball. That play showed up more than a few times in the second half, and worked well enough do outdo half-baked offense from Toronto.
It would have been nice if Brandon Jennings (11 points on 4-14 shooting and six assists) had outplayed Jerryd Bayless (16 points on 7-13 shooting and six assists), but he didn't. It would have also been nice if Tobias Harris could have mustered more than two rebounds, one assist and a whole bunch of goose eggs in 12 minutes of action, but he didn't either. Ersan and Gooden made sure it didn't matter. Ers left his mark with a 31-point, 12-rebound double-double and Gooden pumped in 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists. That's how the Bucks won, 105-99. They are now one game back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Three Bucks AND Three Good
Ersan Ilyasova. Um...Did I say Ersan scored 31 points -- one off his career high -- and pulled down 12 rebounds? Yea, he's been really good recently.
Drew Gooden. He successfully battled foul trouble and managed to do all of the good Drew Gooden stuff without any of the bad. Not only did he score 21 points on 7-11 shooting and 7-9 from the line on second efforts and pump fakes, he also made good decisions with the ball and only committed two turnovers in 34 minutes.
Mike Dunleavy. He worked well in the set described above and became the leading playmaker in the offense to close the game. In the second half alone he dropped in 11 points and distributed five helpers on his way to a 19/6/6 line.
All three of these guys were good for the Bucks on Sunday, and have been good for the Bucks for most of the season. I don't think anyone would disagree at this point.
Brandon Jennings got outplayed by Jerryd Bayless. Jose Calderon touched up Jennings for nine points and 15 assists in the last meeting, but he sat with an ankle injury this time and ceded the floor to Bayless. The bizarro Jennings (seriously, look at their rate stats some time) outplayed his more fortunate parallel self for the entire night.
Carlos Delfino's shooting. He hit two of his first three shots, and then finished the game without scoring a single additional point in his next 17 minutes. Skiles rode him hard in the first quarter (he played every second) and Delfino faded again. Maybe it's time to try a different approach.
Tobias Harris. Zero points on 0-3 shooting in 12 minutes isn't his best work. Even worse, the 2011 first-round pick failed to really make any positive impression in the game. Might be headed back to the bench soon at this rate.
1.0 - The Bucks are now 1.0 games behind the New York Knicks for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Feel free to enjoy the moment if you would like to do so.
4 - The number of minutes Jon Brockman played.
0 - The number of minutes Jon Leuer played.