A win is a win is a win, and the Milwaukee Bucks sure could've used a convincing one Tuesday night.
Beating the Portland Trail Blazers 102-95, playing without Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee showed sparks of end-to-end, sustainable effectiveness absent from most of their recent games. But of course, the specter of precedent reared its head at a few turns, as Portland surged a few times in the second half, but was unable to close the gap any closer than seven points.
It was another tale of two halves (aren't they all?), and Charles Dickens would've been proud (or angry; probably angry). The Bucks' 16-0 second quarter start was nearly wiped out by the Blazers' own 12-2 run at the beginning of the third quarter.
The best of times were Monta Ellis drive and kicks to JJ Redick and/or Mike Dunleavy. They were Brandon Jennings juke-happy fast breaks (12 first half Bucks points in transition) and three pointers (3-5 3fg in the first half). They were swarming reinforcements and aggressive box outs. They were eight-foot jumpers from Samuel Dalembert.
The worst of times were dribbling in circles and apprehensive shot-put runners into the defense's teeth (7-20 within 5 feet of the hoop in the second half). They were lackadaisical close outs on corner threes, top-of-the-key threes, and pretty much any shot beyond 23 feet (Portland: 13-26 3fg, 7-10 in the fourth quarter). They were eight-foot jumpers from Samuel Dalembert.
Monta Ellis. Not particularly efficient as a shooter, Ellis did his part to fill up nearly every column in the stat sheet, tallying 21 points on 18 shots, hitting two fourth quarter threes (He's now 7-7 over his last two games!), nabbing nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and a career-high three blocks. Once again, he was strong in crunch time (8 pts, 3-4 fg, 1 ast in the fourth quarter), and played nicely off Jennings' hot shooting hand.
Brandon Jennings. Scoring 24 points on 20 shots, Jennings was his usual play-making self, running the break, opting against contact on drives (4-9 fg at the rim), and dropping three balls (4-7 3fg) while dishing seven assists. His shots weren't particularly bad outside of the painted area, but he also committed six uncharacteristic turnovers (four in the second half).
Samuel Dalembert. Sammy D was a wrecking machine in the first quarter, scoring 10 of the team's first 12 points (5-7 fg) on a healthy dose of turnaround corner jumpers and putbacks. Dalembert played nine of his 19:47 minutes in the first quarter, finishing the game with 16 points (8-14 fg), and seven rebounds (five offensive). He's good for a night like this on occasion, and his production (like most role guys) is often dependent on the situation in which he's placed. Tuesday night, he deserved to start.
31-8. Milwaukee held Portland to a season low eight-second quarter points on 2-20 shots. The quarter started with a 16-0 run, and was capped by a Brandon Jennings buzzer beating trey that pushed the lead to 27 at the half.
13. The Bucks were caretakers in the first half (4 TO, 0 pts) and drunken sailors in the second (8 TO, 13 pts). If any there were a stat that perfectly illustrates a team's descent into indifference, turnover margins would be it.
-20. Losing the second half 64-44 kind of defeats the purpose of running a 58-31 lead in the first, doesn't it?
Three Two Bad
Don't relax; it's not Klements time. Don't call it a chillax effort in the second half. Wait; go ahead and do that. Larry Sanders basically admitted as much after the game:
"Well it wasn't quite rest, but according to the last couple games we played, we got to relax a little bit more down the stretch. So, I mean, it felt good."
We can tell the team slouched a bit in the third and fourth quarters, but you don't have to say it. Either way, it's not good to go into a game with playoff implications having your three best players coming off 39+ minutes the night before. Boylan didn't seem too worried, though:
"The guys that I play the big minutes, they just seem to be, knock on wood, energizer bunnies, they just keep going and going."
24 (and counting). It has been 24 games since the Bucks won by a greater than 10-point margin (Jan. 29 117-90 win over the Detroit Pistons). In case you were wondering, they've lost six games by 11 or more points during this time frame. After all the Monta Ellis improvement, JJ Redick incorporation, and quiet consistency of Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee still has yet to string together four consecutive quarters of solid basketball on any given night, be the opponent the Pistons, Blazers or Miami Heat.
Second quarter. After the game, Boylan was understandably boastful about the team's play during the second frame:
"We played with a high level of energy. We contested every shot. Our defensive shell was the best it has been in months. The little intricacies that we do with our defense, and they had not been there recently ... for a good portion of the game, they were there."
Let's do that again sometime, shall we?
Sweet stat reference, Batman! First Redick drops some Usage Rate knowledge on us at his introductory press conference, and now the Bucks' head coach is referencing defensive metrics. Specifically, contested shot percentage:
"We contested just about every shot in the first half. Any look they got, we were there with a hand up, and that's a big key to having a successful defense," Boylan said. "That's what we've been preaching over the last couple days to try to get that number back up. We charted every game. We like to be above 75%, and recently we've been down in the 60s and on occasion even in the 50s."
It's common knowledge that the Bucks are at the forefront of the statistical revolution, and contested shots really aren't an "advanced" stat. However, I love any glimpse we can get into what the team values as a Key Performance Indicator.
Brandon Jennings' defense on Damian Lillard. Over two games, Lillard and Jennings shared the floor for 69 minutes. Lillard scored 22 points on 6-20 shots (30% fg, 14.3% 3fg), including 3-8 at the rim, and racked up 18 assists to go with seven turnovers.
Forgive me once again for the plethora of Boylan quotes, but Milwaukee's two-games-above-.500 head coach believes Jennings' defense had a ripple effect with his teammates:
"Brandon was excellent against him. He got up in the backcourt right away, just like he did out in Portland, and got into (Lillard) to let him know what kind of game it was going to be," Boylan said. "He had (Lillard) back on his heels a little bit, and it was a great effort. When Brandon plays like that, it just permeates through the team. It's a lot on his shoulders, but that's the position he plays."