It might not have looked a damn thing like him, but Caron Butler sure seemed to like his bobblehead.
A week after voicing his disappointment at his marginalized role on the league's worst team, Butler justified his bobblehead night with 30 points, seven boards and five assists, inspiring a plucky Bucks comeback and helping Milwaukee snap its nine game losing streak with a 104-101 home win over the Pistons. Draft picks be damned, it feels good to actually win a game, doesn't it?
Brandon Jennings went off for 30 points including 20 in the first half, but everyone's favorite former Buck missed his last five shots as the Pistons made just 4/19 shots in the fourth and were held to 16 points in the period. Rodney Stuckey scored 23 points off the bench and Greg Monroe imposed his will early on en route to 18 points and 9 rebounds, but Monroe didn't score in the final 20 minutes due in large part to some inspired work by Miroslav Raduljica on both ends. Brandon Knight added 16 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds against his former team, but he also made plenty of mistakes with six turnovers and an ugly 5/17 shooting line.
Ugly as it may have been, it was a relief-inducing win for the Bucks, who overcame sloppiness (18 turnovers) and some horrid transition defense (27-8 fast break points) by moving the ball well (29 assists) and somehow finding a way to outrebound the enormous Pistons 45-40. And just as Jennings seemed to have a hop in his step against his former team, the Bucks seemed energized against a team that had already manhandled them twice this season.
Not that they always channeled that energy in productive ways--see the numbers above--but Butler had his long two game going all night and the Bucks' unselfishness helped Milwaukee erase an 80-68 deficit late in the third and take a 96-94 lead on Luke Ridnour's long three with just under six minutes left in the fourth. Three Piston free throws restored Detroit's lead shortly thereafter, but Knight found Butler for a pick-and-pop jumper to give the Bucks the lead for good with 4:28 remaining. Knight's free-throw line jumper gave the Bucks a 104-101 lead with 98 seconds left, and from there it was all nerves and no points: neither team would score again, with Josh Smith missing two free throws with five seconds left and Rodney Stuckey missing a contested corner three off the side of the backboard at the buzzer.
The game started at a fast pace that saw the Pistons race to a 20-11 early lead, though the Bucks' reserves helped them draw back to within 28-25 by the end of the first. Jennings had room to roam on his way to eight first quarter points, while the Pistons' halfcourt sets saw Monroe bully Henson for 10 first quarter points including two quick fouls on the Bucks' second-year big man. Not that fast meant pretty. The oversized small forward matchup of Ilyasova and Smith each started the game by bricking perimeter shots, though Ilyasova offered some redemption with an out-of-nowhere dunk on Smith--out of a left block post catch, no less.
The game's ragged pace continued in the second as Jennings began to feast on Bucks' mistakes. Ten Milwaukee turnovers in the half led to 14 Piston points, including two on a breakaway slam from Jennings that Giannis Antetokounmpo was a millisecond too late to chase down. Jennings then added two threes late in the second to give Detroit a 56-50 halftime lead, and he continued to have his tough-shot-making-game going in the third as he added another eight points in the third.
- The combination of Butler's big night and a good two-way performance from former Piston Khris Middleton meant fewer minutes for Giannis, who struggled to find shot opportunities in the Bucks offense but still had his usual flashes of brilliance. Giannis' only field goal was a terrific Euro/Gyro-step drive and reverse lay-in in the third quarter, and he added a couple brilliant passes in addition to a volleyball spike block of Andre Drummond. Still, he also had a number of defensive lapses against the smaller Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on his way to tallying 4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and an ugly -18 differential in 26 minutes.
- Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo missed out due to the flu (they don't give these guys shots? C'mon), though that didn't prevent Larry Drew from countering the Pistons' starting size with his own jumbo lineup featuring four guys 6'10" or taller: Knight, Antetokounmpo, Ilyasova, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh. They didn't fare particularly well before Henson went to the bench with two quick fouls, and hopefully we won't see that lineup again.
- I can't imagine what it must be like to root for Josh Smith right now. Smith's preference for standing around launching ill-advised jump shots was critical to the Bucks' second half success, as he connected on just 2/10 shots and scored 8 points to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists in 34 minutes.
- Henson was pushed around by Monroe early, but came back to score 8 of his 12 points in the decisive period. He played alongside Raduljica and Butler down the stretch, with the seven-foot Serb making a huge impact on both ends with 8 pts, 8 rebs and +17 rating in 20 minutes. Miro was the only Buck who seemed capable of bodying up Monroe defensively, and he flashed terrific footwork and finishing against the big Detroit line on the other end. I've been skeptical of whether he could be more than a situational big man, but nights like these suggest that he could be a bona fide rotation guy.