The Basketball Gods must be crazy.
Rarely can a team mid-range shoot itself to victory, against a decent opponent no less, but the Milwaukee Bucks came within free throws of defying the laws basketball's governing spirits use to define success.
The Bucks lost 104-99 to the Atlanta Hawks Sunday afternoon, in a game that looked far less contentious in-person than the end score displayed. From start to finish, the game featured 23 lead changes and 15 ties, the final turning in favor of Atlanta with 22 seconds remaining.
The Hawks' efficiency (threes, free throws, short twos) waged a 47-minute war on the Bucks' inefficiency (long twos, turnovers), triumphing only after Milwaukee's abnormal mid-range shooting (59% fg) and Monta Ellis' late game ignition (3-3 3fg in fourth quarter) flattened under the weight of time and regression to the norm.
The Bucks' 19 offensive boards and 24 second chance points offset a lot of their problems defending the Hawks' drive-and-kick offense, but those slow rotations and athletic mismatches against Josh Smith (23 pts, 9-17 fg, 9 rbs, 4 asts) and Al Horford (24 pts, 10-16 fg, 7 rbs, 6 asts) finally caught up and dealt a tough blow to Milwaukee's hopeful rise up the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
At the end of the day, the Bucks almost won a game they deserved to lose. I'd imagine I'll write that a few more times before the 2012-13 season is all said and done.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings (12 pts, 4-15 fg, 1-5 3fg, 13 asts, 3 stls) started the game 3-6 from the field and ended 1-9, with the single make coming on a third quarter four point play that was also the team's first triple of the game. Jennings added 13 assists and a solid defensive effort on Jeff Teague (14 pts, 5-13 fg, 0-4 3fg, 8 asts, 5 TOs), but the team's general struggles in big moments kind of mitigate this evolution in his game. Especially when Jennings falters at the rim (2-7 fg) and beyond the arc (1-5 3fg).
Monta Ellis. I'll buy whatever Ellis (20 pts, 8-15 fg, 3-4 3fg, 4 asts, 4 rbs) drinks before the fourth quarter. He scored 11 points on 4-7 shots in the final frame, including a trifecta of triples that kept the game within reach. Of course, Ellis also played a huge role in the team's biggest late-game failures (passing to an inattentive JJ Redick (9 pts, 4-11 fg, 1-6 3fg, 4 asts, 3 rbs) with the game tied, heaving a contested three with 10 seconds left to play). Coach Jim Boylan took credit for the Redick blunder, but this game reaffirmed my belief that Ellis is the most consistent Buck when it comes to influencing a game, both good and bad.
Ersan Ilyasova. In his first game back from injury, Ilyasova (19 pts, 7-16 fg, 0-4 3fg, 5-8 ft, 10 rbs) extended his double-double streak to four games. For the most part, it was a classic Ersan display of board crashing (6 orebs), jump shooting (5-6 fg from mid-range), and getting worked over by a physical opponent (Josh Smith). When Ilyasova stretches the floor as well as he did Sunday, he pulls out interior defenders and creates more areas of opportunity on the offensive glass.
92. An Al Horford jumper was the Hawks' only mid-range basket in the first half. Atlanta finished with just 12 points from the middle area; everything else came in the paint (23-38, 60.5% fg), beyond the arc (10-26 3fg, 38.5% 3fg), or at the line (16-21, 76.2% ft). Poor defense aside, Atlanta's first half was an efficiency junkie's wet dream.
19-32. The Bucks shot 59.3% from the mid-range, overcompensating for Milwaukee's putrid 48.6% shooting at the rim and 23.8% 3fg beyond the arc. These splits are what made the Basketball Gods laugh.
19. Thanks to a shipping error, the Bucks were overstocked with offensive rebounds. Related, they finished with a 24-8 advantage in second chance points.
Defense. Both teams had some issues preventing shots. However, in an ideal basketball world, it's better to force a team to beat you from the least efficient spots on the floor (9-23 feet from the basket). In that sense, Atlanta was destined for victory. Conversely, Milwaukee was slow to help, getting beat with drive-and-kicks to the weak-side (hard to defend) and top of the key (inexcusable).
Boylan coaching choices. As Frank said, it was a questionable choice to leave Ilyasova in the game, in a must-foul situation, with five fouls under his belt and a heightened team need for shooters. Likewise, Boylan acknowledged his role in the Ellis-Redick blunder during his post-game presser. Late game missteps have become a staple of Bucks basketball over the past couple years, but there's little doubt Boylan has struggled in these situations far more than his predecessor.
Crunch time. In last two minutes, the Bucks missed two free throws, committed four turnovers that turned into eight Hawks points, and clanked all five of their shot attempts off the iron. Ugh.
Three Two Good
Post-game locker room. Fans always take losses harder than the players, but it was an especially jovial locker room after the game. Ellis was singing one line from a Drake song, Drew Gooden and John Henson were jabbing each other over the Kansas-UNC game, and Jennings suggested the Jayhawks point guard take a three if its open. That might perturb fans expecting somber attitudes, but it's good to see they have short memories with bad losses.
Jennings' sharing attitude. Jennings has been one of the NBA's best passers since the All-Star Break (8.9 apg - 3rd in NBA). That surge has put him in pretty good company among former Bucks point guards. As if the Bucks' offseason needed more hype.