Losing at home: painful. Losing at home to a team you're battling for playoff positioning: doubly painful. That's what the Bucks will be dealing with tonight following their 102-99 loss to the Heat. The Bucks dug a hole for themselves early, trailing by double digits in the second quarter, though interestingly it wasn't Dwyane Wade (5/20 fg, 17 pts, 13 assists, four TO) who was killing them--at least not directly. While Redd was doing as well as could be expected staying with Wade, the Bucks' decision to consistently help whenever Wade drove meant open looks for everyone else, notably Daequan Cook (6/8 threes, 24 pts). Fortunately, the Bucks then got a boost from their bench as Joe Alexander scored seven points to help the Bucks claw back to a 55-55 tie at the half.
Too bad the half ended, because the intermission seemed to kill all the Bucks' momentum. Miami went on a 9-0 run to start the third to put the Bucks on their heels for the rest of the second half, and a valiant late comeback fell short.
While the Heat started missing some of their threes, they seemed to make everything else and the Bucks, Richard Jefferson in particular, couldn't take advantage of a couple late chances to tie. Michael Beasley scored 21 on just 11 shots, connecting on a number of circus shots that underscored why Miami couldn't pass him up in June. Alexander's last ditch attempt to tie it with a buzzer-beating three wasn't close, which marked a cruel ending to probably his best game as a pro.
Joe Alexander. Alexander's viral campaign for the dunk contest has contrasted his limited role on the court, and with all the speculation about the possible trade to Memphis it seems strange to be talking about his actual game. But Alexander showed he's more than just hype, pacing himself enough to flash his all-around skills with 13 points (6/8 fg), five boards and five assists in 17 energizing minutes. Alexander easily led the Bucks with a +16 differential.
- Andrew Bogut. Putting up 12/11 in 37 minutes normally isn't a big deal for Bogut, but it seemed like a minor miracle given how Bogut was wincing in pain for the majority of the night. In truth, many of those buckets came courtesy of good looks inside from his teammates, so it wasn't like Bogut was dominating out of the post. But even with his balky back he provided a reassuring presence in the middle and on the glass. The concern now is with how the big man's back will feel tomorrow.
Luke Ridnour. Ridnour gave a Mo Williams-esque performance with 25 points (11/21 fg), nine boards and four assists while his counterparts Mario Chalmers (nine minutes, 0 points) and Chris Quinn (1/5 fg, 32 minutes) were largely ineffective. He wasn't as effective creating for others tonight and coughed it up five times, but he hit a number of big shots that helped keep the Bucks in it.
- .533. In keeping with their disturbing trend of late, the Bucks once again conceded a scorching percentage from deep (8/15), the fourth time in five games they've allowed a better than 50% shooting night from their opponent. The final numbers don't tell the whole story, though--the Heat actually made their first eight from deep before missing their last seven. Weird. Daequan Cook made 6/6 to start the game as the Bucks time and again collapse on Wade.
0. Michael Redd's had a hotter hand of late--41.2% threes in January--but he took the collar from deep tonight with an 0/6 night, the first time in 10 games he hasn't hit a three. Strangely his biggest contribution may have been in hounding Wade on the defense end, but he scored just 16 on 21 shots in addition to one rebound (albeit a big one late) and no assists.
- 25%. Wade entered the game scoring a league-leading 29.1 ppg, but he made just a quarter of his shots as the Bucks were determined to wall him off whenever he tried to penetrate. In the process they dared the rest of Miami's roster to beat them--which they did.
- See Joe Play. This game definitely won't make me feel any better if the Bucks do decide to deal Alexander to Memphis. In the first half he found Bogut three times for easy buckets down low in addition to hitting a face-up jumper, driving layin, and breakaway dunk. He finally made a second half appearance early in the fourth and paid dividends with a short turn-around, an open jumper from the top and a huge block on Shawn Marion at the cup. With Udonis Haslem mostly a jump-shooter, Alexander also had a fairly straight-forward defensive assignment: Haslem isn't big and can't handle it, so Alexander's athleticism was generally an asset in containing PnR action.
- Aussie toughness. I first noticed Bogut in pain midway through the second quarter after he barely got off the ground for an open dunk. He was clearly not moving well and frequently grimacing, but he stayed in the game and continued to get the job done. However, Skiles pulled him with three minutes remaining as Miami was going small--the back might also have had something to do with it.
- Jefferson. It wasn't a memorable night for Jefferson even before the final minute of the game, when he twice wasted Bucks possessions with the Bucks trailing by two. With 51 seconds left he drove, got up in the air and, not knowing what to do, threw the ball out of bounds. Sigh. But Luc Mbah a Moute picked off Wade's pass on the ensuing possession, giving the Bucks another chance to tie. This time Jefferson thought he saw daylight in the lane, only to get his shot rejected by Marion. In the process I think RJ may have supplanted Redd as the token big-money guy that Bucks fans want shipped out of town.
Perimeter defense. Miami made some absurd shots, especially in the second half, but in the first half it was again an inability to get out on shooters that nearly killed them. Same old story.
- Bogut's back. It's discouraging to say the least that the Bucks have lost two of three winnable games since Bogut returned, and it will only get worse if his back injury lingers. Cross your fingers, kids.