Would you like the good news first? Sure: Milwaukee led 2-0.
And the bad news? That was the only score combination in which Milwaukee led.
The Bucks lost 107-99, were tormented in particular by former Buck T.J. Ford (34 points), and Indiana was without far and away its best player, Danny Granger, who was a late scratch. In the process, they were beaten by a fellow midwest team drowning deep below .500 --- again.
To make matters worse, Luke Ridnour left the game early in the fourth quarter with a nose contusion, joining fellow starters Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut in the infirmary, at least momentarily. The Bucks also mocked my pregame triple-digit prediction by dribbling it out at the end stuck on 99.
A snoozing start by the Bucks resulted in a quick 18-point deficit in the first, but the Pacers invariably allowed Milwaukee to make a run. A bit of inspired play and rare swished jumpers brought the Bucks within two at 72-70, and the Pacers were unable to completely put them away until less than 20 seconds remained.
But the Bucks' red jerseys only served as another reminder that Michael Redd (and Andrew Bogut) are sorely missed.
- Charlie Villanueva. Leading the club in points (28), rebounds (8), and assists (4) will tend to help earn this accolade. CV is playing like it's a contract month here in January. Even his evening ended unceremoniously though, as everything inside three minutes went wrong: a turnover, a case of unsure hands on a jump-ball won by Mbah a Moute, and three fouls crammed in.
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Unfazed coming off a strange, seven-minute night against the Wolves, the Principal was on the court in crunch time tonight, and for good reason. He was accurate from the field (5-6) and strong defensively, which also showed up the boxscore (3 steals).
- Ramon Sessions. Not the best of nights for Ramon, but he attacked the basket (8-10 from the line), finished with 16 points, and even had a block. Strong candidates are lacking.
- 25. Charlie Villanueva (10-11), Ramon Sessions (8-10), and Richard Jefferson (7-10) combined to shoot 25-31 from the line, making more the entire Pacers team (20-31) did from the stripe. RJ surely wishes he could have a do-over on a couple of those late tries though.
- 4. The Bucks pulled down just four offensive rebounds, and Ramon Sessions (with one) was the only started with any. Milwaukee did miss 37 shots, but Jeff Foster and Troy Murphy protected the glass. This is all just code-talk for: The Bucks need Andrew Bogut back.
- 34. T.J. Ford netted 28 points the first time these teams met, establishing a season-best. Tonight the former Buck matched his career-high with 34 points.
- Villanueva/Ford. I remember writing something like this last season. Eternally linked after the trade, both brought it tonight. If only these two could always play each other... Further research confirms these two always ball when they meet up on the court head-to-head.
- Almost call it a comeback. The Pacers held a double digit lead for 19:56 of the first half after taking a 16-6 lead. But if we know anything from the zany first matchup, it's that you can't really know anything when these two meet. The Pacers reversed the script this time by taking the big early lead and allowing the Bucks back in the game before closing for the victory. The Bucks quietly charged back thanks to some excellent individual efforts by Mbah a Moute and Richard Jefferson and tough team defense during Indiana's daily third quarter collapse. Yet while the Bucks struck within two points, they never completed the comeback.
Conseco. The squeak of the sneakers, the simple design of the hardwood, the baritone bark of the ball hitting the backboard -- I really wish I were in Indiana tonight, and those are not words I'll often string together. Located in the heart of basketball country, Conseco Fieldhouse is high on my list of NBA arenas to visit.
- Pacers' pace. Lots of first quarter frowns: Indiana, the third fastest team in the league, ran all over Milwaukee, bursting to a big early lead against the depleted and overmatched Bucks. The first quarter onslaught featured 12 points by Ford's little engine that could. With Bogut/Redd out, Dan Gadzuric only reportedly on the roster, and a diminutive starting backcourt, you would think the Bucks could hang with the speedy Pacers. Instead, they looked uncomfortable playing on Indiana's turf, playing Indiana's style. They were careless with the ball, and didn't get back in transition quickly enough.
- Slashed by the 'stache. Mike Dunleavy rained three-pointers early, T.J. Ford brought buckets late, and Jeff Foster was steady in the middle throughout, as the 'stache movement carved out a sixth consecutive win in Indy. Fifty-five points on 33 shots for that trio. It doesn't feel good to lose to that type of facial hair.
- It's a problem... when you accumulate three fouls in the first quarter, but make it to the final five minutes of regulation without a rebound, assist, steal, or block to your name. That was just one of Richard Jefferson's dilemmas tonight. He also was one of two players (Joe Alexander) who fouled Mike Dunleavy on a three-pointer in the first seven minutes of the game. Stunning stuff. Even when RJ's shot was falling in its rightful place in the basket in the third quarter, he frustrated by whipping a pass off the side of the backboard while driving baseline. Jefferson also missed a pair of huge free throws with the Bucks down 101-97 and two minutes to go. He proceeded to miss a couple more jumpers. RJ demands thank yous for helping lead the third quarter comeback, but this transition of power from Redd to Jefferson is not a smooth starter.