Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
With new head coach Jim Boylan roaming the sidelines, the Milwaukee Bucks emerged from Tuesday's fracas against the Phoenix Suns with a 108-99 win. However, there was little about this game that suggested the team is poised to assume a new identity in conjunction with a new coach.
The more everything changes, the more it stays the same.
That phrase, originally attributed to French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, dictates that, no matter how much something might morph over time, the roots of its reality remain relatively stagnant.
Even though the Milwaukee Bucks won their first game 108-99 in the post-Scott Skiles era, there was nothing new against the Suns that signaled forward progress for this team, or steps backwards for that matter. Rather, everything looked like a normal Bucks win against a below average opponent.
We've seen slow starts (Bucks started in a 14-5 hole vs. the Phoenix Suns), sloppy play (8 first half turnovers), and traffic cone help defense (26 first half Suns points in the paint) that snowball into full games that lead you to question whether this team really beat the Miami Heat in a convincing fashion not two weeks ago.
Then, as we've also seen, there was a communal offensive resurgence (25 assists), a prison lockdown on defense (Phoenix shot 33.2% in the second half), and a collection of highlight reel blocks/dunks that sealed the win against a team that should be put away by a bonafide playoff contender within the first 15 minutes.
Ultimately, we can call Jim Boylan's first game as Bucks' head coach a success, even without answering any questions we had coming into this game.
"Everyone brought something to the table, everyone contributed, so that was a real positive. That's the message I'm trying to get through to the guys. We can all do something to help the team," said Boylan after the game. "We just got to get out there and be productive. The game looked easy for them. But then in the second half, we tightened up a little bit, got a little more aggressive defensively, got a bunch of stops, were able to get out in transition, score the points. We had some really nice ball movement. Guys just played well together. It was a good all around win, now it's on to Chicago."
Brandon Jennings. 29 points on 15 shots, five threes, and six free throws. Jennings worked within the Bucks' quick hand-off system all night, capitalizing off the Suns' lethargic defensive covers along the perimeter and penetrating enough to open the floor for kick out opportunities. I hesitate to make some connection between Scott Skiles' absence and this performance, so I won't. Instead, here's Boylan:
"Brandon was great today. He was under control, he was aggressive, but yet he was looking for his teammates, He was playing the game, which is great for him," Boylan said. "Kind of a simple statement, but shoot when you're open, pass when you're covered. They were getting up into him, they were being physical and he responded. It was great to see him bounce back a little bit."
Monta Ellis. Every doomed teen in a Freddy Krueger movie has a fear begging for exploitation. For Ellis, Marcin Gortat was that fear Tuesday night. Ellis took 12 of his 19 shots at the rim, so penetrating wasn't a problem. It was Gortat's magnetic like slides to deny Ellis even the simplest of finger rolls. Which, as we all know, are far from simple even without a behemoth Pollack in the way.
Larry Sanders. Sanders had six blocks, all of them incredibly fun to watch. One came in transition on Jared Dudley that snapped the crowd into consciousness, and another on a subsequent possession involved overpowering the Polish Hammer, straight up. He also sent a Luis Scola lay-in out of bounds at half court, and gave a driving Shannon Brown the business with less than a minute remaining. Late in the game, Sanders flashed a Tony Yayo salute after drawing an And-1 from a tip in (he missed the free throw, which had comedic timing written all over it).
51.9%. Along with points off turnovers (22), it was the Bucks' sharpshooting from deep (against a very forgiving Suns defense) that saved Milwaukee in its time of need. The Bucks drained six of their nine treys in the second half (6-10 3fg), each one seemingly coming at a time when Phoenix was threatening to close the gap within two possessions.
10. The Suns finished the first half with a 26-24 advantage in paint scoring, mostly from Jared Dudley basket cuts and the physical combo of Gortat and Luis Scola. They finished the game in a 46-36 hole, shooting 23.8% (5-21) at the rim over the final two quarters. Amazingly enough, Phoenix only hit 10 shots elsewhere throughout the entire second half on their way to a cumulative 41.1% fg.
17-16. Playing under a new coach, and about to head out on the road for seven of their next 10 games (including a four game road trip out west that somehow starts in Toronto), the Bucks can use all the wins they can scrape together. Getting over the .500 hump before a showdown with the Chicago Bulls at the United Center is much better than the alternative of losing to the second worst team in the Western Conference.
Our preferred starters! Seven Bucks finished the game with double-digit scoring totals, including all five starters. It wasn't as finely tuned as some would like (46 points on 49 shots, sans Jennings), but the starting lineup of Jennings-Ellis-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute-Ersan Ilyasova-Larry Sanders is the exact one we coveted a week or two ago, and one in which Boylan seemingly places significant confidence. All it took was a Skiles departure.
Alley-Oops. Two years ago, Corey Maggette was the most athletic Milwaukee Buck. How things have changed. Along with blocks and threes, no play ignites a crowd like an alley-oop, and the combination of Sanders and John Henson throwing down passed from Jennings was incredibly fun to watch. Both players had a pair of oops that were effortless extensions of their own natural length. It reminded me of that Futurama where space mutants take on the Globetrotters, and one of the mutants has long enough arms to block a shot and dunk without moving from half-court.
John Henson. Not sure if you knew this, but Henson has a three game double digit rebounding streak going and is likely to stick around in the regular rotation for a while.
"John is still trying to find his scoring in the NBA, but as you can see, he gets the ball in some places and he's so long, he really gives people a hard time when he's gathered around the basket with his pump fakes," Boylan said, "and the ability for him, he's a right handed player but when he shoots it left handed, you'd swear he was a left handed player. It's a pretty tough cover for most defenses."
Transition defense. Early on, the Bucks were really forgiving defensively on the Suns' fast break offense, which is nothing short of average (12.9 ppg). It was a continued trend from Saturday's slow reactions during the Houston Rockets game, leading Skiles to conclude the loss was one of the worst collapses he'd ever witnessed.
Rebounding. Phoenix entered the game ranked fourth worst in total rebounding rate (47.77) and third worst in defensive rebounding rate (71.02). Milwaukee isn't far behind, ranking fourth worst in defensive (71.41) and 10th worst in overall (48.79) rebounding rate. The Suns' girth was clearly overwhelming at times (50 vs. 46 rebounds) against the beanpole trio of Henson, Mbah a Moute and Sanders, and the generally savvy skills of Ekpe Udoh and Ilyasova.
The Suns. Again, if the Bucks want to set their sights on making waves in the playoffs, they have to make games against bottom feeders irrelevant before tip-off. Threatening playoff teams don't compare or brag about regular season wins; they collect them in a nonchalant way and prepare for June.