The Milwaukee Bucks got off to a rollicking start against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, falling behind 11-0 thanks to some truly atrocious offensive execution early in the game. But Dallas has been surprisingly incapable of building on positive vibes this season, and was never able to stretch the game beyond a reasonable margin. It was the sort of game that inspires a bunch of "Bucks are lucky to be down just..." comments, and all were justified. Milwaukee didn't play particularly well for 7/8ths of the game, but they managed to make things difficult enough for everyone other than Dirk Nowitzki (21 pts, 20 rebs) to keep the contest within reach.
The first half featured Milwaukee's tried-and-true recipe for a mess: Larry Sanders foul trouble and bad shots from Brandon Jennings (8 pts on 3-11 shooting, 6 asts) and Monta Ellis. Thankfully for the Bucks, the medicine was equally familiar. Mike Dunleavy (13 pts) and J.J. Redick (14 pts) came off the bench to provide some fast-acting offensive punch, racking up 9 points apiece on efficient shooting to get Milwaukee back in the game.
So, as stated, the Bucks clawed and mucked their way to a 5-point halftime deficit that felt like a gift. Halftime certainly seemed to help, as Milwaukee came out with greatly improved energy in the 3rd quarter. The defense looked more active and Monta Ellis gradually began shifting into good-Monta mode: more driving and dishing, fewer jumpers. A decent third quarter sliced a single point off the margin, but finally gave way to what became a remarkable final period for Ellis and Sanders.
Those two guys completely took over their respective halves of the floor. Larry Sanders was switched onto Dirk Nowitzki, who had made some tough jumpers despite a respectable effort from Ersan Ilyasova (10 pts, 8 rebs) to stop him. Dirk went scoreless over the final 3:12 of the game, committing two turnovers and missing both of his shot attempts. Meanwhile Monta Ellis orchestrated a quick offensive burst for Milwaukee with a hand in 11 straight points over two and a half minutes. His stepback jumper from the right wing put Milwaukee up for good 92-90, allowing Sanders and the defense to shut down Dirk and Co. A few tough Ilyasova rebounds in traffic led to free-throws, of which he sank 3 to earn the final margin.
Monta Ellis (22 pts, 9 asts, 6 stls). It wasn't a great start, but Monta's second half just got better and better as it went along. He gradually phased out the bad stuff (5 threes is still too many, even if he made 2 on the night) and cranked up the good stuff (9 assists on characteristic interior and transistion passing). It should be pointed out that some of his big shots down the stretch are the same ones we lament when they miss, but when they're falling, Monta is every bit as "dynamic" as sportscasters like to say he is.
Larry Sanders (13 pts, 13 rebs). He locked up one of the most lethal and reputedly unguardable players in the game to close things out. He grabbed a third of Milwaukee's total rebounds and 6 more than his closest teammate. During the game I wondered aloud who the best offensive comparison for Sanders' defense was. Responses included LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Michael Jordan, Space Jam Edition. The guy is a beast.
J.M. Redleavy (27 pts on 9-17 shooting). May actually be a terrifying hybrid of two people.
18. The Bucks held an 18-point advantage in points from behind the arc despite attempting only one more three-pointer than the Mavs. Nowitzki hit Dallas' only 3 on what wound up being a 4-point play.
20. The Mavericks helped keep Milwaukee in the game with sloppy ball control all night. It was especially bad in the second half when Dallas turned the ball over on a full 25% of their possessions. Many of the turnovers were of the live-ball variety, which helped ignite fast breaks.
Fearless Leader. FSWI announcers Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin made note of how important it is for a player to forget earlier misses when the time comes to knock down a late-game shot. That's a risky proposition for a player like Monta Ellis, who might be better served just making a few more shots and avoiding the situation altogether. But it's comforting to know he'll always be prepared to launch that 19-foot game winner, right?!? Well, at least it's familiar.
Boylan Benches Brandon. This could easily be considered a "bad" when viewed in wider context, but it was nice to see Jim Boylan pull Brandon Jennings in favor of J.J. Redick late in the game. Redick was the more effective player all night and deserved to be in the game over Jennings. And I'm sure that's the last we'll hear of this forever.
Slow Start. The trouble continues. Before Jennings got the Bucks on the board with a wild-looking shot 4 minutes in, the Bucks missed 6 shots and committed 3 turnovers, 2 on offensive fouls. This simply can't keep happening, not against good teams.
Block Picnic. Hardly a party when Sanders only gets 1 rejection, but it does extend his streak to 37 games with at least one swat.
Gassed on the Glass. Both Milwaukee's 66.0 DRR and 16.7 ORR were well below average, and there were a number of occasions where offensive boards for the Mavs led to open 3-point looks. On a non-disastrous shooting night for Dallas, the result could have been very difficult.