Bucks vs. Sixers recap: A win encased in the first half nutshell

USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 94-92 Wednesday night. It was, once again, a tale of two halves that fittingly defined the team's best and worst efforts from the first half of 2012-13.

"Peaks and valleys."

If ever there were a pristine encapsulation of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2012-13 season, and their 94-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, it's the above quote from Jim Boylan.

"We seem to get on a nice roll and play really well for a while, then we dip back down again and go pretty low down," Boylan said. "What you want to try to do is play at some certain level as much as you possibly can."

Philosophically applied to Wednesday's win, he's correct. Flip the order to valley then peak, and it's damn near perfect.

Down by as much as 13 in the first half, the Bucks were congested and plodding in transition, slow to recover defensively on the interior, and pretty much indifferent to the monomania of Nick Young (14 pts, 4-5 fg, 2-3 3fg). The end result was a seven point 50-43 deficit to a Philadelphia team that has scored fewer than 90 points twice as many times as they've scored 100 points in regulation this season.

"We came out a little flat early. We didn't have the energy we thought we would have," Boylan said. "Sometimes you fall into that pace and you don't even realize you're playing at it. I think that's where we were at in the first half. It's not that the guys aren't trying, I think that you just get stuck into that slower motion."

But, as leads are wont to do during Bucks games, the Sixers' advantage was fleeting as the second half rolled out. Milwaukee's deficit ebbed and flowed between two and nine points until a Mike Dunleavy layup capped off a 10-1 Bucks run, tying the game with 2:29 to play in the third quarter.

Three minutes into the final frame, a Monta Ellis baseline runner gave Milwaukee its first lead at 78-77. Ellis traded baskets with the Sixers on consecutive possessions, before a Luc Richard Mbah a Moute three-point play pushed the Bucks' lead to four. Philadelphia managed to get within one on a few occasions, and had a last-second shot opportunity, but Milwaukee's controlled aggression (and a Mbah a Moute steal on the final play) secured the Bucks' victory.

"I thought our pick-and-roll defense got a little bit better. We got a little more aggressive. We got up on the screen," Boylan said. "The big defending the screener got up and had more of an impact on the ball quicker, sooner, earlier. We kept Holiday from getting in the paint. I wouldn't say all the time, but enough that they were playing more on the perimeter. I thought that was the difference for us defensively."

Three Bucks

Monta Ellis. Ellis was at his best when the Bucks needed him most, single-handedly exchanging the lead with Philadelphia on a couple fourth quarter possessions with a combination of drive and scoops and (hold onto yo' butts) smart jumpers. He scored 13 (5-9 fg, 3-4 ft) of his 27 points (11-24 fg, 5-6 fg, 4 rbs, 5 asts) in the fourth quarter, and played the entire second half on his way to a season-high 46:09 of floor time.

Brandon Jennings. Like Ellis, Jennings (21 pts, 8-21 fg, 2-8 3fg, 3-3 ft, 5 asts, 4 rbs, 4 stls) played all 24 minutes of the second half. What Ellis was to the Bucks maintaining a lead, Jennings was to the team's comeback in the third quarter (12 pts, 5-8 fg, 2-4 3fg, 3 asts, 2 stls). Jennings was much better around the rim (5-9 fg) than Monday's loss, and it resulted in a few scoring opportunities for his teammates. Neither Jennings nor Ellis were godsends of efficiency, but during the moments where they synced together, the entire offense felt the effects.

Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert was the U.S. Treasury of rebounders Wednesday night, bailing out the oft-errant shots of Bucks wingmen consistently, and contributing a couple electric dunks in the process. Dalembert's 17 points on 8-13 shooting, to go with 14 boards (seven offensive) ran his double-double total to six in nine games. Dalembert's trade value has never been higher in Milwaukee. Conversely, his value to the Bucks as a fill-in for Larry Sanders has peaked. Decisions, decisions.

Three Numbers

+12. Considering the Bucks entered the break even with the Sixers in paint points (24 apiece), the second half was a remarkable turnaround that resulted in a 30-18 scoring advantage in the painted area. It's also no coincidence that all 10 of the team's blocks came over the final 24 minutes.

4. With the win, Milwaukee stays four games up on the Sixers for the right to get demolished by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Then again, the other six teams have similar, albeit delayed, fates.

48.8%. During the first half, Milwaukee shot an appalling 35.6% from the field, allowing 55.9% shooting from Philadelphia (12-16 from the restricted area). The second half could not have been more different. The Sixers saw their paint success plummet (40.9% fg at the rim), while the Bucks shot a very respectable 15-24 inside (62.5% fg).

Three Bad

Transition illusion. The Bucks are classified as a team most successful on the move, but there are far too many times where the team's fast break spacing and execution leave much to be desired. Some of that is the result of Sanders' absence (for some reason, Dalembert doesn't move nearly as quickly out of the break), but in general, the Bucks are a team that has a few moving pieces and a lot that play catch up too often.

Consistent inconsistency. Game-to-game, half-to-half, quarter-to-quarter, possession-to-possession, nothing is ever guaranteed with this team. That is nothing new. Even though the break is welcomed by coaches and players alike, five days off alone does not fix the ailments infecting this team. Listening to Boylan post-game, he understands there's still a lot of work to be done, which is pretty much all you can ask from an interim coach tasked with taking a mediocre team to the playoffs.

The Sixers have two players with strictly zeros on their jerseys. Jeremy Pargo (0) and Spencer Hawes (00). They have to be the only NBA team to employ this numbering strategy.

Three Good

All-Star Break. From Larry Sanders' back to Jennings' abysmal February to me having to hear Gangnam Style every game, the next five days of rest will be good for everyone.

"We need to take this time to recharge our battery a little bit," Boylan said. "Like I said earlier, I feel like we're a little low right now. Our energy level is not where it needs to be. We come back and we have Brooklyn twice. We put ourselves in a good position by winning this game tonight. That's the message I sent to the team."

Fourth quarter defense. It was encouraging to see the Bucks big men lock down the paint when it became an absolute necessity late in the game. Their struggles defending and communicating inside without Sanders during the four game losing streak have been glaringly obvious, so it was nice to see Dalembert & Co. rise to the challenge in a time of need.

Mike Dunleavy went crazy once. This is old, but I really enjoyed it. I have an exponentially growing admiration of Dunleavy.

Enjoy the All-Star Break, Brew Hoopers.

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