The Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls could not be in more different places. Milwaukee is in the midst of a season-long identity crisis, with one of their best players still on the sidelines for another few weeks and another going through more peaks and valleys than a road trip through Appalachia. Chicago, on the other hand, finds themselves amongst the Eastern Conference elite, two games ahead of second-place Miami and owners of a
seven eight game winning streak.
The Bucks didn't roll over, though. They played the Bulls tough all night, and had the game tied up at 73 going into the fourth quarter. Scott Skiles let Ersan Ilyasova and Beno Udrih have a chance at keeping Milwaukee in the game, and they matched the Bulls shot for shot for nearly the entire period. Derrick Rose had tried his best to pull the Bulls away, but his shot was simply not falling (8-22 on the night, including 0-5 three pointers).
The last possession came down to Derrick Rose vs. Brandon Jennings. This is a mismatch if I've ever seen one, but I was surprised by two things: Jennings played Rose as well as anyone could, and Rose took as terrible of a shot as you can in basketball. A 20-foot, inside the arc fadeaway with a hand in the face? An impossible shot that very well could have segued into overtime. Of course it swished through the net.
So perhaps that this game came down to the final shot is surprising? Though we can't necessarily be shocked that the result was pro-Chicago.
Ersan Ilyasova. Ersanity was on full display Wednesday night, as Ilyasova registered a career-high 32 points, as well as 10 boards, making it his tenth double-double on the season, with 7 of them coming in the last 10 games.
As usual, Ilyasova got his points from all over, scoring both inside and out, and actually tied the game up with 24 seconds to go. His recent stretch of impressive play makes people wonder if he's starting to put everything together, making him legitimate trade bait for a contender or a candidate for Milwaukee to re-sign in the offseason.
Drew Gooden. With his recent 3-game stretch in mind, the Bulls doubled Brandon Jennings often, forcing him to make a choice between taking difficult shots or giving the ball up. Jennings missed all three shots in the opening period (including two layups), but didn't force the issue, instead passing out of his double team. The ball usually found its way into Drew Gooden's hands, who scored 16 in the first quarter, including a stretch of 12 straight.
On the night, Gooden scored 27 points, including a pair of threes. He also tied with Brandon Jennings as the Bucks highest plus/minus at +4.
Beno Udrih. The starting point guard's shots were not falling, but the backup was steady. This is the PG recipe the Bucks followed two years ago, and they found great success with it. They may not have succeeded tonight, but Udrih showed his value by adding 11 points on 4-5 shooting, including 3-4 from the free throw line. He was also the Bucks' best distributor, ending the night with 7 assists (Jennings was second on the team with 6).
14-18. Ersan Ilyasova's record from the field against Chicago. Matched up against the Bulls' power forwards, he was able to put his perimeter game on display, as well as hustle his way into good positioning for rebounds and layups.
29. The total number of assists for Milwaukee. Everybody was moving the ball around, which is historically the only way this offense works. The passing was led by Beno Udrih (7), Brandon Jennings (6), Mike Dunleavy (5), and Carlos Delfino (5).
14-14. Derrick Rose was perfect from the free throw line, earning fouls in bunches and making the Bucks pay in full. Just goes to show you the value of having a player who can get to the line consistently and make them once they get there.
Ersan's big night. Ilyasova has been lukewarm at best to the prospect of resigning in Milwaukee, but he hasn't played like someone who wants to leave (cough Stephen Jackson cough). The top teams in both conferences should be looking at Ersan as a possible piece to add at the trade deadline (only a week away!), which means the Bucks could get a nice collection of assets instead of losing Ersan for nothing in a few months.
Keeping pace. With the way this season has gone, especially against Chicago, it was nice to see the Bucks at least keep up and force Derrick Rose to play the hero. But a loss is a loss, which is all the Bucks faithful care about (all 20 of us).
+7. The turnover battle might be more important in football, but they have a place in the outcome of basketball. The Bucks continued taking care of the ball while taking it away on defense, committing only 10 turnovers to Chicago's 17.
Jennings' shooting. Brandon was red-hot going into Wednesday's game, and the Bulls did not ignore it. They doubled him early and often, and generally made him uncomfortable. He somehow took 18 shots on the night despite the defense, connecting on only 4 of them. He also didn't get to the line as much, taking only one trip. This was the type of game where a basket or two could have swung the entire contest, and Brandon missed 14 of them. Even I have to recognize that.
Home court advantage? The Bradley Center is in Milwaukee. But yet again, the crowd was decidedly pro-Chicago. Mike Dunleavy got an "air-baaaaall" chant, for crying out loud. Does Andrew Bogut have to turn the entire arena into a Squad 6 mob when the Bulls come to town?
No Court Time for Young Men. Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer are generally well-liked around these parts, and everyone is clamoring for them to get more burn. But burn they did not receive; Harris started at small forward, but finished the game with 14 minutes, and Leuer only got in for 2 minutes. Although with as close as the game was, it's hard to fault Skiles with playing his veterans in pursuit of a win.