Among the many sobering lessons learned by Bucks fans in recent years: few commodities are as precious in the NBA as road wins. That means a nervous 101-96 overtime win in Memphis should suit the Bucks just fine, even if Scott Skiles might have seen his blood pressure rise a bit in the process. Yet again the Bucks dug themselves a deep hole early, falling behind by as many as 16 in the second quarter--before storming back with a 27-15 third quarter that tied it going into the fourth. But unlike against the Spurs on Wednesday, the Bucks couldn't hold off a late Grizzlies' comeback, blowing an 84-76 lead with 2:26 remaining, in no small part due to turnovers on three of four possessions.
But just as all was looking lost, Ramon Sessions (20 points, six boards, four assists) stepped up to drill a triple from the top of the key, giving the Bucks a new life that they made the most of in OT. Following an O.J. Mayo miss and a desperation heave by Sessions to end regulation, the teams traded baskets in OT before the Bucks pulled away in the final minute. For Memphis, Mayo was the man early with 15 first half points (and 25 total) while Rudy Gay took up the burden late (24 points), but the Bucks' more balanced effort managed to eke it out.
Prince Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Charlie Villanueva's future as a starter is looking decidedly bleak right now, as CV's pulled hammy paved the way for the Prince to set new career highs in both points (19) and rebounds (17). As you might guess from his ugly shooting line (6/16), Mbah a Moute didn't have his jumper working, but the good thing about energy guys is that they don't really need it to contribute. The Bucks outworked the Grizz on the glass all night long, with Mbah a Moute single-handedly outrebounding Memphis on the offensive glass (ten to eight). Time and again he wriggled past Darrel Arthur, Marc Gasol and Hakim Warrick to snatch Bucks' misses, earning the Bucks' crucial second chances on a night where they made just 39% of their shots.
- Ramon Sessions. OK, I think we can safely say that Sessions' Rookie-of-the-Month performance last April has now been validated--this kid's very much for real. Playing in just his 25th game as a pro, Sessions made 8/16 shots and was again the major catalyst off the bench before joining Luke Ridnour in the backcourt in crunch time. Just as importantly, his three with 9.2 seconds remaining kept the Bucks alive when their collapse seemed imminent.
- Luke Ridnour. Though Richard Jefferson led the Bucks in points (26), differential (+14), and also hauled down ten boards, let's take a moment to acknowledge Ridnour's rock solid performance: 14 points, six boards, seven assists, and zero turnovers. Sessions has deservedly been getting all the buzz of late, but Ridnour was a steadying influence all night and iced the game by going 6/6 from the line in the final minute of OT.
- 62-36. The Bucks utterly annihilated the Grizzlies on the glass, outrebounding them by 26 in total. In fact, the Bucks grabbed nearly as many offensive rebounds (23) as the Grizzlies managed defensive boards (28), a feat I can't recall happening anytime recently. The Bucks' poor shooting certainly created more opportunities to chalk up rebounds, but full marks to Mbah a Moute (17 total), Bogut (15), and Jefferson (10) for outworking their opponents all night.
7. Bogut continues to struggle to find ways to get involved offensively, though 5/8 fg would normally suggest he needs the ball more. Still, it's hard to argue that with a straight face on a night when he also racked up seven turnovers.
48:35. Jefferson tallied more than a full game's worth of minutes for the second time this season, the OT game against Washington being the first. And while his stroke was eluding him (8/26 fg, yikes), Jefferson has clearly become the Bucks' undisputed leader with Michael Redd on the sidelines--playing big minutes, being a go-to guy late, defending opponents' top wing scorers, and frequently taking his younger teammates aside for veteran wisdom. At this point he often gets by more on savvy than pure explosiveness, but Jefferson has also shown a renewed effort on the defensive end and on the glass. So far, so good.
Road wins are good wins. Yes, I'm going to say this every time the Bucks get one. The Bucks now have three road wins in six tries; they need just four more wins away from the BC to match their paltry 07/08 total of seven. And while great teams might have the luxury of complaining when they win ugly, the Bucks should be thrilled to escape Tennessee with a win.
- Kiddie patrol! With Redd and now Villanueva on the shelf, there's been plenty of opportunity for Sessions, Mbah a Moute, and Joe Alexander (who also was productive in his 13 minutes) to earn playing time in Scott Skiles' rotation. And let's give the new coach plenty of credit, too. Bulls fans were almost taunting us in the preseason that Skiles would prefer guys like Malik Allen and Tyronn Lue over talented but inconsistent youngsters, yet aside from the opening couple of games there's been very little of those boring old vets--and justifiably so.
- Ready to rebound. The Bucks aren't exactly deep up front, but that hasn't prevented them from being among the league's best on the glass. The key? Getting above average rebounding from basically every position. Going into tonight's game, Bogut ranked 8th out of 47 centers, Villanueva 5th out of 69 PFs, Mbah a Moute 6th out of 51 SFs, and Ridnour 6th out of 65 PGs. Jefferson, Sessions, and Alexander are also all average or better.
- Sweating with the Oldies. Like most fans, I admit to being rather biased when it comes to the bench: I'd much rather deal with the rough edges of Sessions and Alexander than watch steady-but-perpetually-below-average guys like Allen, Croshere, and Lue. So I won't worry too much about Allen and Croshere getting some early but unproductive minutes in Memphis, though the Bucks will likely need them to contribute at some point.
Lucking out. Marc Iavaroni doesn't have a ton of job security in Memphis, and the Grizzlies' offensive strategy might give you some idea why. After riding Mayo's hot hand early, the Grizz got away from the early ROY favorite for long stretches of the second half, despite the Bucks' struggles to contain Mayo in basic PnR situations from the top. Instead, the Grizz allowed the disappointing Mike Conley--who still can't shoot or get to the rack against NBA defenses--to handle the ball most of the time. That greatly simplified the Bucks' task.
- Bell's blues. Charlie Bell's stroke still doesn't look right, which becomes all the more troubling given the Bucks' lack of scoring depth without Redd and Villanueva. In spite of back-to-back solid efforts against Cleveland and Phoenix, Bell's 0/4 effort in Memphis now has him shooting just 32.7% for the month of November.