Bucks vs. Spurs recap: When really good isn't good enough

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks fell 117-110 to the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night, thanks to a dismal first quarter that game the Spurs an 11 point lead they would never relinquish on their way to a seventh straight victory.

Score 110 points. Shoot 48.9%. Win the free throw (+3) and rebounding (47 to 40) skirmishes. Lose anyways.

So it goes for the Milwaukee Bucks in their 117-110 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. So it goes for any team playing the most fundamentally sound bane of David Stern's existence lately.

The Spurs entered Wednesday night's matchup with the Bucks winners of seven straight, averaging 110.8 ppg on a scorching 54% shooting overall and 47% on threes. Expect two of those three eye-bulging statistics (117 pts, 52.9% 3fg vs. Bucks) to improve with a data refresh across all NBA stat tracking sites.

Few NBA teams have pissed excellence for a decade or more without some slight burning. Consider the Spurs the NBA's daily diuretic of success.

"You have to do a lot of things well to be in the game with that team," coach Scott Skiles said. "All the details of the game, screening angles have to be impeccable, defensively you have to be sharp. You have to be in the right spots, you have to make multiple efforts. That's just three or four things right there, but there are about 20. We didn't do enough of them.

Against elite, fundamentally sound and superbly coached teams like San Antonio, imperfections turn to scars pretty quickly.

San Antonio has played against every NBA offense and defense under the sun, knowing full well how to attack and counterattack even the most creative sets, of which the Bucks have very few.

Early on, the Spurs forced Milwaukee to operate out of the half-court (0 first half transition points), and drew Bucks defenders to the rim only to kick the ball out to a teammate waiting with open arms along the perimeter (9-17 3fg).

Although the Bucks closed a 23-point deficit to 5 with 30 seconds remaining, it never felt like they had a legitimate shot at pulling out a victory. Ultimately, the entire game played out like a killer whale playfully tossing a doomed seal in the air before consuming it in a single bite.

Three Bucks

Brandon Jennings. Jennings (31 pts, 13-26 fg, 4-4 ft, 5 asts, 2 blks) looked impressive around the cup (6-9 fg at the rim, 5-9 from 5 to 9 foot range), despite issues around the perimeter that manifested in five turnovers (to go with five assists) and a 1-5 shooting night from beyond the arc. Still, Jennings was aggressive penetrating and releasing shots quickly within whatever window he was allotted.

John Henson. Henson got his first burn midway through the second quarter, and kept on playing thanks to his eclectic array of hook shots, solid post moves, and off-the-dribble finishes. It bears reminding that this performance has no bearing on future playing time, but it's also worth noting that Larry Sanders had a fair share of good performances as a raw, sporadically used rookie.

Mike Dunleavy. My wife and I have a cat that is personable (to a fault) like a dog. She's convinced he would benefit greatly from a feline companion that would be available 24/7 to play and share common cat interests. That's how I feel about Mike Dunleavy and his shooting prowess: 3-7 from beyond the arc is more than acceptable, but it's not enough when the rest of the team finishes 2-10 on treys. He needs a Robin.

Three Numbers

18. This is how many minutes it took the Spurs to reach 50 points in the first half.

110. Milwaukee scored their second highest point total of the season against a team that had previously given up a shade over 90 points-per-game over their last six.

29.4%. Milwaukee took just as many shots from deep as San Antonio (17), but the four-make difference lied in how each team created these opportunities. For the Spurs, it was often within the flow of the offense, with a shooter stationed on the weak side waiting for a kick out pass. For the Bucks, it was often in desperation or off a screen that was unlikely to be repeated.

Three Good

46 minutes, 40 seconds. Milwaukee kept the game close enough to force San Antonio to play starters until the 1:20 mark in the fourth quarter. If Gregg Popovich rests his stars tonight against the New York Knicks, you know who to blame.

John Henson's pivot, reverse pivot, fake, pivot-to-hook shot. It was more aesthetically pleasing than Ekpe Udoh's power dribble into traffic and futile George Costanza-like leap to the rim.

Stephen Jackson airballed a corner three in front of the Spurs' bench. Bucks fans seemed to enjoy it immensely. For about 10 minutes.

Three Bad

The Bucks frontcourt offense (non-John Henson edition). Marquis Daniels, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Larry Sanders (all starters, mind you) combined for 15 points on 4-12 shooting. The bench mob was equally ineffective, with Ersan Ilyasova and Ekpe Udoh combining for 5 points on 1-7 fg. When asked about the team's lack of a real post threat, Skiles said this after the game:

"That's our team though. That's the way we're designed right now. We're a more penetrating, draw-and-kick, jump shooting team, as are most of the teams in the league right now. We weren't rolling to the basket hard enough in our pick-and-roll game, so we weren't able to open them up."

You could easily apply this quote to most of the Bucks' other 13 losses.

Opening frame. Once again, NBA rules and regulations on time doomed the Bucks. Remove the first quarter, in which San Antonio built an 11-point lead, and Milwaukee edged out the Spurs 88-84.

"When you dig that kind of hole against a team like that, you're in trouble," Skiles said. "Their spacing is good, they shoot a very high three point percentage. They spread you out and make good decisions with the ball. You have to make them feel you, and we didn't do a good enough job of that early in the game."

Reality. The Spurs are a marvel of basketball efficiency. The Bucks are consistently inconsistent. These are eternal truths we're likely to see etched in Basketball Reference stone by season's end. Head, meet ceiling.

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