There's something about your team getting on national television that's kind of exciting. It's not that watching the game on ESPN is more enjoyable--Jon Barry and Kevin Calabro clearly weren't very familiar with the Bucks' lesser known players or their substitution patterns, which meant pretty much everything revolved around Brandon Jennings and the decline of Michael Redd. Understandable, but I'll take Jim/Jon any night.
Of course, as much as it's nice to have the respect of the ESPN gods, the downside is that there's no guarantee your team is actually, you know, ready for prime time. See last night. Unlike the Hornets game, there was no stopping the more talented Thunder from exposing the Bogut-less, Mbah a Moute-less, and essentially Redd-less Bucks for what they are right now: a jump-shooting team that didn't have the firepower to exploit OKC's gang-tackling approach to slowing Brandon Jennings, and couldn't keep up with the Thunder's athletes on defense.
Foreman of the OKC wrecking crew was, surprise surprise, Kevin Durant (33 pts on 21 fga, 12 boards, five dimes). An early up-and-under dunk all over Carlos Delfino underscored just what kind of physical talent the Bucks were dealing with, and matching the even smaller Charlie Bell against the 6'10"-and-long-as-all-hell Durant wasn't any better.
Beyond that, pretty much every OKC player seemed to win their matchup. We all know Russell Westbrook is bigger and stronger than Brandon Jennings, but he looked quicker much of the night as well, attacking the Bucks' weak interior to total 20 on 15 shots while adding seven assists, six boards, two blocks and just two turnovers. Last year when the Bucks played Derrick Rose's Bulls and Westbrook's Thunder in the season's opening week I remember thinking Westbrook was the more impressive player, and I'm still not sure which will emerge as the better player from the '08 draft. Thabo Sefolosha harrassed Mike Redd effectively and added 13/11 to boot, while Jeff Green looked like a very capable third banana with 17/6.
The Bucks only looked truly threatening in the early stages of the second period, when the Bucks once again showed that their scrubs can beat up on most other teams' scrubs. With Durant and Westbrook getting some rest, the Bucks ripped off a 16-5 run keyed by Ersan Ilyasova, whose tireless work on the glass resulted in 11 pts and eight boards in the period. Ridnour, once again seeing plenty of burn, also scored six in the period to help the Bucks stretch to a 46-40 lead at one point. But OKC then woke up (and got their big guns back in), responding with an 11-2 run to help claim a 51-50 halftime edge. Not a bad first half effort from the Bucks, who got just six points combined from Redd/Jennings and relied on their typical ride-the-random-hot-hand approach to keep them in it. After Ridnour and Warrick led the way in New Orleans, Delfino starred in the first with 13 points on six shots, before Ilyasova did the business in the second.
Unfortunately, no one picked up the slack in the third. The Thunder just took it to the Bucks with a 17-0 run to start the period, as the Bucks' jumper-heavy approach fell flat against the Thunder's all-out aggression. Jennings hit a pair of threes early in the fourth to bring the lead back to 10, but the Thunder quickly flipped the switch and used a 13-0 run to put it away. It was overall a tough night for Jennings, who scored just 14 on 12 shots along with three assists (the official box score has him for 12 points because Kurt Thomas was credited with one of his jumpers in the second quarter, and it has yet to be corrected). As per usual he got pulled early for Ridnour, but realistically it should have been Redd to get benched early on.
Ersan Ilyasova. Highlighting three Bucks is difficult when nobody contributes for more than a quarter or two, but we'll start with Ilyasova since he was the Bucks' best player in their only good quarter. As happens so often, Ilyasova had plenty of good looks from the perimeter and didn't hesitate, though his 1/5 performance shows his touch wasn't really there. But unlike his teammates, he wasn't afraid to get after it on the offensive boards, snagging six of his 12 rebounds on the offensive end and scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second.
Hakim Warrick. While Ilyasova was the guy in the second quarter, Warrick took the baton in the second half with all 15 of his points coming after the break. Unfortunately the Bucks were already being blown out when he started to get going, driving for a monster dunk over Green to score the Bucks' second field goal more than halfway through the third. He scored another 13 (4/5 fg, 5/5 ft) in the final period, but it was too little, too late.
Carlos Delfino. Ridnour is just as deserving of mention, but in keeping with the hot hand theme let's highlight Delfino for his hot first quarter (5/6 fg, 3/3 threes, 13 pts). The Bucks' inability to match the Thunder's athleticism seemed apparent early on, but Delfino's hot shooting from outside helped delay the onslaught for a half. I also can't fault him that much for letting Durant go off, though on at least a couple plays he was caught ball-watching rather than simply being overwhelmed by Durant's abilities.
52-40. No Bogut, no hope? That's pretty much been the story on the glass, where the Bucks were once again throttled. But it's not just actually grabbing available rebounds, it's also that the Bucks are much less able to force misses without Drew and Mbah a Moute around. Since you're more than twice as likely to grab a defensive rebound than an offensive one, more makes for the other team and less for you will always be reflected in the rebounding figure.
12-11. Even without Bogut last year the Bucks excelled at forcing turnovers, but tonight they faced a slight deficit in that department, which seems to be a trend of late. When you can't shoot or rebound you'll need to make it up somewhere, and you only have so many options. Last year the Bucks forced 15.7 turnovers per game while turning it over 13.6 times themselves. This year they still have a positive differential, but it's narrowed of late (16.3 vs. 15.0). They may also be trading off forcing turnovers as they foul slightly less.
6:29. The Bucks didn't score in the opening six minutes of the third quarter, which has typically been their best quarter this season.
Role players. Can't complain about the guys making the small change--Delfino, Ilyasova, Ridnour and Warrick all took their turns helping the Bucks stay in the game (well, Warrick not so much). We'll get to the flip side of that below.
Trip over. Good thing the Bucks tripped up the Grizzlies last weekend, because it meant they salvaged at least one game from their four game Western swing. It doesn't get easier tonight against the Magic, but at least they'll have the BC crowd behind them.
Alpha dog. Let's be honest here. Everyone's hoping that Jennings steps up as the guy we can count on to make plays. But the reality is that teams are largely taking him out of the game by doubling off pick and roll--which means he's generally being forced to give the ball up 30 feet from the hoop or try to dribble all the way around the trap. Neither is much of an option, especially when the Bucks don't have anyone else they can rely on night in and night out to score 18-20 ppg.
It's great to have different guys step up every night, but Redd continues to be MIA and teams are taking Jennings out of the game for long stretches. The committee approach can work for periods, but guys like Delfino, Ilyasova and Warrick can't bring it consistently. And it's tough to build an offensive gameplan around "well, we'll hope somebody gets hot and just try to ride them." That's especially obvious in crunch time, where the Bucks largely have a bunch of perimeter guys who can't put pressure on defenses and draw fouls.
Waiting for Redd. Redd would seem like the only guy who can help consistently take pressure off Jennings, but it's anybody's guess if and when he can do that. He wasn't just settling for jumpers last night, but the results weren't much better.
Small and soft. The Bucks' inability to score in the paint was never more obvious than in the third, when their hot shooting ran out and they seemed to have little answer for the Thunder's aggression. The pressure on Jennings has forced them to play a lot of Ridnour/Jennings backcourts, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's often been the Bucks' only chance to score points because they can't seem to run normal sets with Jennings getting doubled all the time, but Jennings off the ball seems like something of a waste as well.