My Saturday started in Copenhagen, Denmark about 25 hours ago; in fact, I woke up just in time (about 4 am Danish time) to follow the last minute of the Bucks' 85-82 loss to the Cavs on the hotel wifi. Terrific start to a day. So if I seem a bit incoherent and annoyed that my Saturday is also ending with a last-second Bucks' loss--and one that I got to witness in person at the BC--forgive me. It's not often I get two Bucks losses in one day.
The highlight shows will of course focus on the hype-friendly matchup between the rookies, which is easy given Tyreke Evans (9/19 fg, seven rebs, three assists, six turnovers) scored the final two of his 24 points on a lovely stutter-step layup past Andrew Bogut with just 0.9 seconds left. Brandon Jennings mostly kept his end of the bargain as well, scoring 15 (4/11 fg) with nine assists, six boards and just one turnover. The good also included four clutch free throws in the final minute and a heads-up dish to Ersan Ilyasova for a layup to give the Bucks a 95-94 lead. Evans had the last laugh, however, and Jennings missed his last seven from the field as the Bucks' big names shot blanks down the stretch. Hey, sound familiar? Considering Michael Redd's latest clunker (1/6 fg, three points) and Andrew Bogut's awful second half (1/10 fg), it's in some ways amazing the Bucks kept it as close as they did--until you consider that the Kings also came into this game an awe-inspiring 1-11 on the road.
The Bucks led 53-49 at the half, as Evans scored 17 (albeit on 15 shots) while Bogut contributed 12/4/4 for the Bucks. A night after his 5/21 performance in Cleveland, Jennings looked patient and content to get other guys involved early on, as he didn't take a shot until the three minute mark of the second quarter. But he buried that first triple and added another jumper to round out a solid first half: seven points (2/2 fg), five assists, and three rebounds. Ilyasova (14/10) already had his double-double midway through the third, but foul trouble made him an observer for most of the second half.
The Bucks led by as many as seven in the third, but the Kings were far more composed than their road record would have suggested. After Evans carried the offensive load in the first half, Jason Thompson took over in the second, scoring 17 of his 22 in the period to go with 10 boards. The Kings seemed oddly shy to give him the ball in the first half with Andrew Bogut guarding him, but he showed the full repertoire of inside/out stuff in the second, including seven points in the final three minutes. One of those was a questionable three-point play that cut the Bucks lead from four to one, as Thompson hooked Bogut making a move along the baseline, but instead got the foul and continuation on Bogut. Not to whine though, because the Bucks overall didn't get the short end of the refereeing stick. They even got a charge called on Evans for wiping out Bogut on a play that looked eerily similar to the Kobe call on Wednesday. Also not to be forgotten is Beno Udrih (6/11 fg, 16 pts), who killed the Bucks with mid-range jumpers off P&R in the second and third quarters.
In any case, the game came down to making plays in crunch time, and as per usual the Bucks didn't make them as often as their opponents. These recaps are starting to write themselves in that sense. The Bucks had seven offensive rebounds in the final five minutes, but all that meant was they were working hard and missing everything. Bogut bricked a pair of freebies with 42 seconds left and the Bucks down one, only for Jennings to retrieve the second miss and start another possession that saw Jennings miss a reverse layup in traffic, Bogut miss two tip-ins, and Jennings grab another rebound and draw the foul.
As he's done so often--and unlike everyone else on the team--Jennings didn't miss with the game on the line, but the Bucks couldn't stop the Kings, either. After Evans penetrated, Thompson dropped a tough hook over Bogut on the right side of the lane to make it 94-93 Kings with 11 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds Jennings nearly had his inbound pass to Andrew Bogut stolen at midcourt, but he scooped up the loose ball, and with two Kings out of the play he found Ilyasova wide open under the basket for the easy two with five seconds left.
It turned out to be too much time. Evans ran P&R from the left with Thompson, and Mbah a Moute unwisely went over the screen, leaving Evans one-on-one with a backpedaling Bogut. That was all she wrote, as Evans smoothly went left and finished with his right off the glass. Bogut had a last-second heave from the baseline that could have won it, but you kind of knew the Bucks didn't have any more tricks up their sleeve.
Carlos Delfino. It seems like Delfino's usual MO has been hot starts and anonymous finishes, but the Argentine reversed it tonight in a major way. The Bucks were leading 70-65 when Skiles subbed out Bogut and Jennings with two minutes left in the third, and it was Delfino who kept the Bucks' afloat for the next 12 minutes or so. First he scooped a driving layin to finish the Bucks' third quarter scoring, then led the way with three triples and 11 points in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. He also took on the task of defending Evans for much of that period, yielding only in the final minute to Mbah a Moute.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute's last contributions were missing a free throw with three minutes remaining and getting rubbed out on the P&R that led to Evans' game-winner, but that shouldn't overshadow what was another solid game from the Prince. It was particularly true on the offensive end, where LRMaM made all five of his shots including a corner triple.
Brandon Jennings. It was another solid game with plenty of ups and downs for Jennings. On the down side, he got smoked by Evans on a couple drives in the third quarter, which is becoming all too common for a small guy blessed with his quickness. With Beno Udrih getting major minutes down the stretch Jennings didn't face off directly against Evans
19. By my count, Bogut (7), Redd (5) and Jennings (7) combined to miss their 19 shots from the field. Yeah, not cool. Bogut didn't make a shot in the last 22 minutes and bricked his last five free throws, going 1/10 from the field i the second half after a solid 5/10, 13 point first half. Jennings at least made his free throws (6/6), but went strangely cold in the third quarter after making his first four shots from the field.
13. It wouldn't be the numbers section without some allusion to the Bucks' terrible free throw differential, so here's your daily dose: the Bucks made just 13/20 from the line compared to the Kings' 22/29. Same sh**, different day.
1-8. That's the Bucks' record in games decided by three points or less. Unlucky? Just bad at finishing games? I'll take the easy route and say a combo of both, but either way it's killing them in the won-loss column. History says that close games require more luck than skill, and that even good teams don't win a high percentage of close games over the long haul (they win the blowouts, natch). Still, the fact that the Bucks lack a guy who can a) both draw fouls and make free throws and b) create quality shots for himself reliably means that they'll probably be worse than average. Not quite as bad as they've been, but still not good. We've seen flashes of Jennings being a go-to guy late in games and so far he's had ice-water in his veins at the stripe, but he's not the guy yet.
Three Two Good
Rookies. Sure, they've got growing up to do, but Evans and Jennings are damn good for a pair of 20-year old rookies. I've seen very little of Evans since the season started, but in Vegas he looked like a thrifty man's Dwyane Wade (all the slithery slashing and body control, less of the rim-endangering explosiveness) and it was pretty much the same deal tonight. Lots of turnovers and few assists, but he's really not a ballhog and his line would have been even more impressive if he didn't miss so many contested layups.
As for Jennings, he seemed to be in "play like a true PG" mode tonight, which worked reasonably well. Defense could have been better and he still doesn't make shots around the hoop, but you already knew that.
Meeks. I'm grasping at straws here, but it's not like I have that much to choose from. Meeks' minutes would seem to be gone now that Redd is back, but he got an extended look in the second quarter--guarding Evans no less--and held his own with five points, two steals, and two assists. He didn't get a look in the second half, but Meeks' +9 rating was the best of any player on either team.
Skiles. I don't generally call out coaches since, well, they know the game and their players infinitely better than I do. And let's be honest, Skiles isn't exactly Vinny Del Negro. Still, there were a few things that made me scratch my head on this one.
For one, Redd played 15 straight mostly awful minutes from the end of the third until late in the fourth. Why? Don't ask me--the way LRMaM was playing it didn't make sense for him to be sacrificing minutes for the old man. Heck, Bell, Ridnour or Meeks would have been better choices at that point.
Second, why did Jennings inbound twice in the final minute? I guess I can understand him inbounding with 11 seconds left since he can get it right back. But his pass was deflected and almost stolen (fortunately he recovered to both get the ball and find Ilyasova for the layup), so maybe we should take that as a sign that the little guy may not have been the best option. Moreover, with 0.9 seconds left I would have thought Jennings' ability to make tough shots would make him an obvious option as a shooter, but instead he was again summoned to make the pass, this time throwing a tough entry pass Bogut not surprisingly couldn't turn into a miracle. I vote we cut Elson and bring back Toni Kukoc (tall + great passer = great inbounder) purely as a late-game inbounding specialist.
Lastly, I would have dared Evans to shoot a jumper on the last play by having Mbah a Moute go under the screen rather than chase around. I'm assuming Mbah a Moute went over the screen on direction from the Bucks' coaches, though in fairness Evans didn't always kill them on that strategy earlier in the game. But do the math--Evans is a 59% shooter around the rim and 45% from 16-23 feet. Bogut might have been hoping to force Evans to hesitate by backpedaling, but give credit to the rookie for making such a decisive move.
Bogut's ability to put a ball in the basket. Ignore the shooting numbers and there'd be nothing to dislike about Bogut's line: 13 boards, five assists, one turnover and three blocks. Include the shooting numbers and...well, not so much. Bogut continues to struggle from the field (6/20) and the line (3/8)--the latter being expected at this point while the former is a more recent phenomenon.
Part of the issue tonight was the Kings doing a good job getting bodies in Bogut's way--Spencer Hawes' length bothered Bogut on two misses to start the game, and even though Bogut began to bully Hawes and co. for much of the rest of the half, they were mostly denying him the deep position where he's so dangerous. They showed the double teams on a number of occasions as well, and while Bogut managed to take care of the ball better than usual tonight, he sometimes seemed to be rushing shots just to get them off.
Michael Redd's ability to do anything. The silver lining from the Laker game was the hope that the old Mike Redd wasn't too far away--or that the new one wouldn't be that much worse than the old one. But in two games since Redd has again looked out of sorts. He started the game fairly judicious about his shot selection, but with Skiles playing him for extended periods with the second unit things fell apart more quickly. On paper, the idea of Redd going to work while Bogut/Jennings rest is a nice one, but thus far it's only reiterated why Redd shouldn't be starting.