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Recap: Bucks 96, Raps 85

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Great win. Sure, there's a natural tendency to overrate a win after it's just happened; the emotions, the details, and the drama all feel fresh.  But the last week or so has seen the Bucks and Raptors moving in very different directions, and while the Bucks' effort hasn't waned since losing Michael Redd, their swagger has been non-existent.  At least for a night the mojo was back, and not coincidentally it was on a night when Andrew Bogut was back, too.

Maybe Toronto came into tonight's contest feeling a bit overconfident about their chances of beating down on a fairly beaten down Bucks squad--afterall, they're finally healthy and had won three straight.   But major credit to the Bucks for bouncing back from a slow start to take down the Raps 96-85 on their home court. 

The gravity of the game didn't seem lost on the teams, either, as some chippy play in the final quarter saw Jermaine O'Neal draw a second technical for hip-checking Richard Jefferson to the ground after a foul had already been called on the perimeter.  That drew some choice words from Bogut and star of the night (and month) Charlie Villanueva, but moments later things had calmed down and the Bucks went on with their business.

It may not work every night, but at the very least the Bucks might be finding a formula for how to win without Redd and with Andrew Bogut able to only play a part-time role: play defense and move the ball.  Simple, huh?

Three Bucks

  • Charlie Villanueva.  Villanueva was again the man, scoring 26 (10/20 fg) along with 13 boards, two blocks, and just one turnover in 41 minutes. Not that we had any reason to doubt him.  Afterall, it's been weeks since he's had an off night and even in his every-other-night days (roughly 2005-2008), CV always managed to save something extra for his friends from Canada.

    Of course, the problem is that Villanueva has always had a tendency to give it all away on the defensive end, and he allowed Andrea Bargnani to get loose a number of times in the first quarter, as the Italian had an impressive 13 point effort in the opening quarter.  But after that Villanueva's defense wasn't noticeable...and I mean that in a good way.  Neither Bosh (6/15 fg, 18 pts) nor Bargnani (1/9 fg in the final three) were able to take advantage of their matchups with CV.  As you'd expect he didn't really have much chance when Jermaine O'Neal started banging with him in the fourth, but CV's mobility was generally a plus as the Bucks handled PnR situations well all night.
  • Andrew Bogut.  Damn, I'm really liking this new backup center.  Bogut was moving a little gingerly on the court and was seen stretching on the sidelines throughout, but he still managed to put up 13 points (6/9 fg), eight boards, and two blocks in just 16 minutes.  It's amazing what having a big man who can finish around the hoop does for your offensive balance: all of a sudden the Bucks could give it to their center in the post and expect good things to happen.  The downside: four turnovers that included three offensive fouls.
  • Richard Jefferson.  I'm pleased to report that not only did RJ have a nice overall game with 17 points on 11 shots, five points, and five rebounds, but he also saved his best for the fourth.  RJ's month has been characterized largely by final quarter miscues, but he scored nine quick points--two threes and a three-point play--in the first three and a half minutes of the fourth, helping the Bucks double a nine point lead to an 81-63 margin with 8:34 to go. 

Three Numbers

  • 3.  The three point line has often been the Bucks' enemy in the last month, but tonight was a different story.  The Bucks made a modest 7/20 but more importantly held Toronto's gunners to just 3/12.  Charlie Bell deserves special mention, as he worked tirelessly to fight through screens and close out on the Raps' perimeter players.  For the Bucks, it was as much about the attempts they didn't allow as the way they challenged the shots
  • 1.  As he does so often, Jose Calderon put up a terrific pure point line: 11 dimes against just one turnover.  But he never found his rhythm shooting the ball, making just 3/11 fg and missing all three of his triples.  He was so off that the inconceivable happened: he missed a free throw.  That's right, Calderon came into the game having made his first 83 free throws this season, but missed the second of two throws midway through the fourth.
  • 28.  The Bucks trailed 30-24 after one, but in the middle quarters they got it going with their defense.  Bell, Mbah a Moute, and Elson all deserve mention for helping turn the screws on a very talented Toronto team that just never seemed to get into a proper rhythm, as the Bucks outscored them 25-17 and 21-12 in the second and third, respectively.

Three Good

  • The other Chuck.  While most will focus on the effect of swapping a returning Bogut for the injured Redd, don't underestimate the difference in tone brought by Charlie Bell's return.  Bell's scoring numbers have been poor most of the year, but his defensive energy and versatility--he also did a nice job defending Calderon at times--make up for a lot of it. 

    Yes, I'll take Redd over Bell any day of the week, but with Bell and Bogut back on the court the Bucks once again play like a Scott Skiles team on defense.  Eleven points on eleven shots tonight isn't good from an efficiency perspective, but Bell also hit some tough shots that helped the Bucks keep a healthy lead throughout the fourth.
  • D'ed up.  There always seemed to be a Buck there to challenge the Raps on the perimeter, and Toronto never got Bosh going in the second half either.  That was partly a matter of touches, partly the byproduct of the Bucks containing penetration, and partly due to the Bucks giving Bosh different looks, as Elson, Bogut, Villanueva, and Mbah a Moute all tried their hand at defending the Raps' lone all-star.
  • Bigs getting it done.  With Bosh, O'Neal, and Bargnani, the Raps have three bigs capable of hurting you in many ways.  But Bogut's return, Villanueva's big night, and the quiet contributions of Mbah a Moute and Elson allowed the Bucks to hold their own.

Three Bad

  • Skiles almost falls asleep.  Overall it's tough to complain about Scott Skiles' game plan tonight, but as a blogger I reserve the right to nitpick, OK?  While the Raps were never closer than eight in the fourth, I didn't particularly like Skiles decision to stay with a small lineup quite so long.  As you'd expect, O'Neal was proving too much for the weaker Villanueva to handle, helping the Raps go on a 7-0 run that cut the Bucks' lead to 86-78.  Bogut finally returned at the four minute mark, and 12 seconds later he cut to the hoop for an easy dunk from a Ridnour feed.  The Raps never threatened thereafter.  I can understand Skiles' hesitation to force Bogut into longer stints at the moment, but at the time it seemed wise to at least put Elson back in to cope with O'Neal's size advantage down low.
  • Bogut's back.  There weren't any obvious signs of reaggravation, but it was clear that the Bucks are not taking Andrew Bogut's achy back lightly.  Every time he hit the deck it was a bit nerve-wracking, and every shot of him stretching on the bench gave Bucks fans another chance to speculate whether his injury was perhaps flaring up again.  So far so good, but don't expect Bogut to be logging 35-40 minutes for a little while, and playing twice in 24 hours (tomorrow against the Hawks) will offer a major test.
  • Do it again.  Naturally Scott Skiles didn't sound quite as enthusiastic as me in his post-game comments:

    "It's only a big win if we come out and do something again tomorrow night," Skiles said. "And then you win another one and another one. Then you say, 'That win against so-and-so was a big win.' We're glad to have it, of course. But it's time to start putting some wins together."

    The Bucks haven't won consecutive games since just before Christmas, hence Skiles' wariness.  Tonight they face a Hawks team at the BC that has already beaten them twice (sans Bogut) in Atlanta this year, including a 30-point drubbing just over a week ago.   Which Bucks team shows up?