Ah yes, the one that got away.
It's not that there's any such thing as a gimme road win in the NBA, particularly for a Bucks squad missing its main man in the middle. But most of the key ingredients were present in New Orleans tonight for the Bucks to steal an invaluable road win: no Chris Paul, a horrific start by the Hornets that saw them start 4/26 from the field, and excellent performances off the bench from Luke Ridnour (23 pts/10 ast/7 rebs), Hakim Warrick (22 pts/10 rebs) and Kurt Thomas (6 pts/9 rebs/3 blocks). As far as building blocks to a win, that's a damn good start.
But for everything the Hornets were willing to give them, the Bucks just didn't take enough...and the Hornets didn't stay charitable forever. A ten point lead after one was the least that the Bucks could manage considering the Hornets' inability to make layups and their willingness to brick jumpers. The lead never grew much beyond that, and as the fg% mean reversion began to kick in the Hornets closed the gap. The Bucks led by just two going into the fourth, but Warrick and Ridnour continued to play big and gave the Bucks a five point edge with the ball and a minute left.
And so of course the Bucks went into "let's kill the clock even if it guarantees us low percentage shots" mode. All teams do it, and I get the theory, but it's a little easier to do with LBJ or Dwyane Wade than, you know, anyone the Bucks have (especially on a night where Brandon Jennings is struggling). Ridnour missed a pull-up three that would have closed it out, but it's tough to complain about that given how well he played. And the Bucks had another chance to seal it when Peja Stojakovic's tough triple attempt on the next possession went awry.
But oh, those damn offensive rebounds. Befitting of their respective performances, Darren Collison (18 pts/7 rebs/8 ast/5 TO) came away with the long rebound and fed David West (27 pts/10 rebs/5 ast) for a short jumper, bringing the Hornets back to within a possession. So of course the Bucks go into clock killing mode again, this time settling for a fadeaway Jennings 22-footer. You can guess how that ended up. With the Bucks wary of fouling, Collison came back with a driving lay-in to cut the lead to one with 13 seconds left. Jennings gets fouled, but calmly drilled both. Three point lead.
Do they go for the quick two with 11 seconds left? No. Collison instead pulled up on Ridnour from straightaway and buried the triple to tie it, and Jennings mishandled the ball on a double team with a chance to win it. Should the Bucks have fouled Collison before he had a chance to tie the game? Well, sure, that looks like a good plan now. Though in fairness Collison didn't give the Bucks much of a chance, and with 11 seconds left that strategy isn't as obvious as it is with 3-5 seconds. Either way, at this point the Basketball Gods' intentions should have been clear, right?
I'm not sure what the numbers say about teams going into OT after blowing a late lead, but it doesn't seem like they'd be too encouraging. Still, the teams went back and forth for much of OT, but the Hornets didn't go up for good until 45 seconds left when Jennings inexplicably dribbled it off his heel while trying to beat Collison's pressure. He's forced to foul and concede a pair of freebies, but to his credit, Jennings came back with an acrobatic drive and layup to tie it again. But Jennings' roller-coaster night (4/15 fg, 14 pts, 7 rebs, 8 ast, 5 TO) just wasn't meant to end on a high. Collison drove and drew a foul on Jennings on the next possession, hitting the first and watching his second miss only to have Devin Brown come away with it. Brown pushed the lead to three and Michael Redd's near-impossible fadeaway three predictably missed.
Luke Ridnour. Was this the best game of Ridnour's Buck career? Quite possibly. The first half was more about the all-around game: nine points, six rebounds, and six dimes. But the second half saw Ridnour increasingly looking to score as his confidence grew. Corksrewing layups, catch-and-shoots with guys in his grill--stuff that's generally outside the typical Luke Ridnour arsenal.
Hakim Warrick. Let's be honest: Warrick's been a bit of a disappointment thus far this season. The willingness to attack the rim is there, but mostly we haven't seen the end results. So it was encouraging to see things change a bit tonight, as he started off a 22/10 night by twice beating David West down the court for transition finishes. This time it continued, though, as Warrick kept going at the Hornets and was rewarded with a healthy 9/15 shooting line to boot.
Kurt Thomas. The numbers aren't eye-popping, but Thomas was again a steadying influence for a Bucks team struggling mightily to replace Andrew Bogut's presence in the middle. David West had increasing success against Thomas late in the game as he increasingly started using his quickness off the dribble, but Thomas was the only guy who kind of looked like he knew what he was doing against the Hornets' West and Okafor.
+12. After a 16% shooting performance in the first quarter, the Hornets steadily improved throughout the game to finish at a more respectable (but still bad) 37%. But they managed to stay in the game by--surprise, surprise--getting to the line with regularity in the early going. They made 11/11 in the first quarter and made their first 19 from the stripe, preventing the Bucks from blowing the game wide open early on.
19. The Bucks again got crushed on the glass 61-49, and the Hornets 19 offensive rebounds were crucial to keeping them in the game. Gadzuric and Thomas aren't bad rebounders, but it's amazing how much losing Bogut seems to hurt the Bucks on the glass.
10/36. Jennings' surprising early season shooting touch has been absent the past two games, as seen in his 28% shooting line. Does that mean he's due for a big shooting night on ESPN this Friday, or is this simply closer to the kind of shooter he really is? Hopefully the former, but I really don't know for sure.
Bench. The Bucks' reserves outscored their Hornet counterparts 62-32...too bad New Orleans' starter advantage was 70-37.
47 minutes. The Hornets might not be scary on paper without Chris Paul, but road wins are a precious currency not worth nitpicking over. And for about 47 minutes the Bucks had a second win in three road games in their sights, up five with less than a minute to go.
One more. The Bucks chances to split their four game trip now rest on their Friday night matchup with the Thunder, but fortunately they get to come back to the friendly confines of the BC thereafter.
Redd-y...or not. Same story as the Spurs game. Good to have Redd back in uniform? Well, yeah, in a general sense. But for this game? Not so much. Redd came off the bench for the second straight game, but he still looks slowed by the knee troubles that have sidelined him for most of the season. He seemed conscious of it early on, scoring a bucket in transition but otherwise shooting only a couple open jumpers. That sort of deference is good to see.
But then he started to look for his shot more, and things started to get ugly. A brick here, an airball there. Finally a transition triple to snap his struggles, but a 25% shooting night doesn't get it done. He also ripped a midranger off a curl screen to start OT, but that was it. I kind of like the idea of Redd as a super sixth man, but unfortunately he's probably only going to come off the bench as long as he struggles like this. And I guess it's better than struggling as a starter, but the Bucks can't afford to have Redd rehabbing on the court much longer.
Jennings' mojo. The game wasn't without good moments for the rookie, but Collison got the better of him in the end,,,and too many iffy plays outweighed the good. What was perhaps most interesting to me was how Jennings' confidence seemed to waver at times. A more subtle example was midway through the fourth, when Ridnour and Warrick ran P&R on the left side of the court two or three straight times. Each time Ridnour would kick to Warrick who would in turn end up swinging it to Jennings near the top of the key, yet each time Jennings was content to just catch and reset. He wasn't even setting up to take the open shot, just spectating and almost surprised to see the ball get back to him. Nothing to hit the panic button over, just sayin'.
This is also another reason why the Bucks need Redd to be a legit threat again. Teams are clearly gameplanning to contain Jennings, often by trapping and pressuring him early to force other guys to hurt them. The offense-by-committee approach has worked out better than expected, but it's asking a lot of the rookie to be both floor general and primary scorer. All things considered, Jennings has generally been pretty patient, and Skiles hasn't been shy to give him a rest early when he has a slow start (which even happened in 55 point game). And while it's not a long-term solution, I like the idea of playing Ridnour with Jennings at times to give the defense a different look and let Jennings get some minutes without doing all of the ballhandling. He's not a SG, but often times (like last night) a Ridnour/Jennings combo is the Bucks' best backcourt.
Opportunity knocks. It's not that the Bucks were particularly deserving of winning this one, but the point is that they very easily could have. And while I've seen a lot to like from this squad so far, I can't say I've reached the point where I feel the Bucks can afford to let games like this slip through their fingers.