Come 12:01 a.m., it was evident Wednesday, January 30, 2013 was not the Milwaukee Bucks' day.
After demolishing the Detroit Pistons 117-90 Tuesday night, plane troubles forced the team to take a Wednesday morning flight back to Milwaukee. Less than 12 hours later, the Bucks tipped off the second night of a back-to-back against an elite, rested Chicago Bulls defense, while also missing Larry Sanders (flu).
Fast forward forty-eight minutes (NBA time, of course), and Nate Robinson had just completed his tour de vindicta (24 pts, 9-11 fg, 2-3 3fg, 4-4 ft, 4 asts, 3 stls). The rest of the Bulls muscled, rotated, and ran the Bucks to a 104-88 victory that featured all the stereotypes we expected heading into this game (even with Carlos Boozer sidelined).
Milwaukee trailed by as much as 20 in the first half, ceding 17 points on 11 turnovers and connecting on a robust 39% of their shots while allowing 51.1% shooting on the other end. After trailing by as much as 20 in the first two frames, the Bucks managed to (sort of) flip an 18-point halftime hole into an eight-point deficit midway through the third quarter.
Brandon Jennings was the main catalyst of the second act surge, scoring 11 of his 15 points and dishing three assists during the quarter. Despite those efforts, that was as close as Milwaukee would get, as the Bulls Family Robinson continued to find a plethora of scoring opportunities off the Bucks' broken defensive rotations. Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah dunks were not in short supply.
In general, the Bucks had few answers for the Bulls' interior attack (66 points-in-the-paint), and played most of the game with the offensive energy of Honey Boo Boo's mom after eating Sketti. Look it up. It's disgusting and totally backwoods Georgia.
This game was hardly befitting of a playoff team. Thankfully, there are 38 to go.
Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert is proof that not all points are created equal. He took 14 minutes to register 10 points and 10 rebounds (finishing with 14 pts/13 rbs, 4 blks). But rarely was he more than an inadvertent beneficiary of circumstance (all three of his second-half baskets were tip-ins). Basically, Sanders puts up the same line while forcing defenses to respect his playmaking. Dalembert's limitations allow for opposing defensive flexibility. I like Dalembert as a center off the bench, but a starter he is not.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings scored 11 of his 15 points in the third frame, continuing a recent trend (15.3 average points in the third quarter over the past four games). He also notched eight assists, and hit both of his three balls at significant points to whittle the deficit to eight. His most memorable moment, for better or worse, was an ejection with 2:54 to play. Jennings didn't take too kindly to getting called for a push-off charge with Robinson defending, and begged for an early trip to the showers. The play itself was inconsequentially debatable (yet somehow, people will care/talk about it), but it was kind of fun to watch.
Larry Sanders. No Buck should be smiling after this game. Except Larry Sanders. Zach Lowe's favorite caps lock player has to be projecting his financial future in an Excel spreadsheet, because everything about this game screamed, "We need Larry." Without Sanders, the Bucks' paint defense was nothing short of lethargic and sad, and Ersan Ilyasova's typical open looks were anything but open (18 pts, 6-18 fg, 2-3 3fg, 7 rbs).
-26. In Milwaukee's previous three games against Chicago, the defense held its own inside (46% fg in the restricted area). Wednesday night, the Bulls shot 57.4%, thanks to a hefty load of Gibson/Noah/Jimmy Butler dunks, and a general malaise befalling the Bucks' interior defense. We love you, Larry, oh yes we doooo...
17. The Bulls suck in transition (24th in the NBA - 10.7 ppg). They didn't Wednesday night (17 points on fast breaks). If a slow-the-pace team is finding easy opportunities in a full court blitz, the odds are pretty high that you aren't winning that game.
2-13. This is the Bucks' record when registering fewer than 21 assists in a game. It goes without saying that the lack of a superstar forces teams towards a left-leaning basketball strategy, but the Bulls are currently operating under such constraints and they're clearly a top team in the Eastern Conference (relative, I know). Either way, pressure Milwaukee beyond the arc, and the offense stagnates. It's a simple, effective, scary strategy that will undoubtedly be copied by playoff-caliber defenses over the next couple months.
Three Two Good
Brandon Jennings' third quarter. He scored 73.3% of his points and registered 37.5% of his assists in the opening frame of the second half. Hooray, unexplainable consistency!
Just two more games against division foes. Weird as it may sound, the Bucks only have two more games against the Central Division (2/9 vs. Pistons, 3/22 at Pacers). Milwaukee is 7-7 in those matchups, which isn't particularly encouraging, but does give them the ability to semi-observe the rest of the division tear itself apart. The one downside is that Cleveland has played 11 games (second most), winning just two...both against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Big men rotations. If ever there were skepticism over the impact Sanders has on the Bucks' defense, this game puts that to rest. Secondary factors obviously could be viable reasons why the team's plethora of big men failed to cover backup and weak side assignments. Although it's very evident, as referenced by Bucksketball during the game, that Sanders is the team's best option in the pivot.
Playoff preview? The Bulls currently sit 1.5 games behind the New York Knicks for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are firmly entrenched in the seventh seed. It's not entirely unrealistic to assume these teams will meet again in the first round. To make things even more interesting, both teams are 0-2 on their home court against each other.
Scuttlebutt. This word haunts me like a Freddy Krueger nightmare.