Two wins in a row.
Though the Bucks have spent most of the last month rooted to the 8th spot in the Eastern playoff race, the above phrase is one we haven't been able to use since the Bucks downed the Jazz for their second win a row on December 23. Fortunately January has ended with a streak, as the Bucks followed up their impressive win in Toronto on Friday with another solid performance in beating Atlanta 110-107 just 24 hours later.
Mike Bibby (8/15 fg, 4/8 3fg, 24 pts) and Flip Murray (7/15 fg, 3/5 3fg, 18 pts) always seemed to make big shots at inopportune times and the Hawks got a ton of second chances, but the balance provided by Scott Skiles' short rotation eventually won out. Charlie V (27), Ramon Sessions (20), and Richard Jefferson (20) all scored 20+, Ridnour orchestrated the offense nicely, Charlie Bell was a defensive pest and hitting jumpers, and Andrew Bogut was again effective in limited minutes.
At multiple points the Bucks looked on the verge of turning the game into a blowout, but each time the Bucks made a run the Hawks inevitably seemed to answer. The game was tied at 22 late in the first when the Bucks went on an 18-0 run that featured seven points each from Villanueva and Bell--including a half-court buzzer beater to close the first. But Atlanta answered with a 17-2 run later in the second to close the gap to just 53-48 at halftime.
Then things started to get a little heated near the end of the third. Bogut stole a pass and dished it up ahead to Jefferson, who was inadvertently raked across the face as a Hawks defender (I forget who) went for the ball near midcourt. Jefferson went skidding into the scorers' table as the ball bounded out of play, yet somehow all three officials missed the foul.
On the ensuing possession Marvin Williams charged into CV on the perimeter and drew a blocking foul, which wouldn't have been such a bad call were it not for the fact that the refs obviously owed the Bucks a possession. Bogut got himself a tech to hammer the point home, but the Bucks were now fired up. Bogut dropped a lefty hook in from the baseline, Jefferson hit four straight free throws by driving aggressively on consecutive possessions, and Bogut started a break with a steal and finished it with a dunk to extend the Bucks' lead to 84-69. A surprisingly good BC crowd was now into it.
The Bucks couldn't keep things comfortable in the fourth, however, as the Hawks chipped away thanks to Murray (8) and Bibby (7), but four late misses from the line sealed the Hawks' fate. Atlanta never had a chance to tie it, though Bibby's buzzer three trimmed the final margin to three. The only downside for the Bucks was Bogut's absence late, as his back seemed to be bothering him in the second half.
- Charlie Villanueva. I might as well build a template with CV hardcoded in as the Bucks' first star of the night. CV capped off his best month as a pro with yet another big scoring night (8/15 fg, 4/7 threes, 7/7 ft) along with seven boards and six assists. As usual he was doing it from everywhere on the court, and the Hawks for the most part couldn't take.
Ramon Sessions. No one is benefiting more from Michael Redd's absence than the man who's stepped into his spot in the starting lineup. Sessions played 46 minutes and did his part as both a scorer (20 points, 8/16 fg) and distributor (seven assists, zero turnovers). Sessions' lack of outside shooting means the Bucks can't really space the floor as well with him at the 2, but with Elson starting at center (and not getting post touches anyway) it doesn't hurt as much.
One of the things that always amuses me about Sessions' story is how the media struggles to account for his success. No one ever seems willing to admit that he's a very good athlete, but how else to account for the number of times he knifes past defenders at finishes at the cup?
- Richard Jefferson. RJ was at his attacking best most of the night, beating Marvin Williams a number of times for layups while getting hacked to pieces when he wasn't finishing. RJ hit 11/12 from the line in scoring 20 points on just 10 shots.
- .521/.538/.900. When you make 50% of your shots, 50% of your threes, and 90% of your freebies it's going to generally be a good night.
- 15. This game won't help the Bucks' defensive efficiency numbers--the Hawks averaged 118.9 pts/100 possessions--but it was mostly a result of offensive rebounds. Atlanta hauled in 15 offensive boards compared to the Bucks' seven.
- 27. The Bucks were at their best because of ball movement, dishing out 27 assists against just 12 turnovers. Starting two PGs certainly helps, as Ridnour (9) and Sessions (7) led the Bucks in assists, Charlie V was truly doing it all with five helpers of his own.
Short bench. In winning twice in 24 hours, Scott Skiles kept a very short bench that got major returns from Charlie Bell and Andrew Bogut. Luc Mbah a Moute saw only very limited action while Dan Gadzuric, Joe Alexander, and Tyronn Lue never got their warmups off. Skiles is notoriously fickle with his lineups, so it will be interesting to watch how he responds when the current rotation inevitably hits a rough patch.
On paper Bell doesn't seem to bring much, but his shot has looked better (7/12 fg, 16 pts) and his defensive intensity is damn near inspiring. And it looks like CB is having fun again. Bogut was again limited in movement and time (11 minutes), but delivered production with 4/7 fg, six boards, two steals, and a block. If the big fella could ever get healthy it would be a beautiful thing.
The Littles. The bigs were good, but hats off to the little guys as well. While Bibby and Johnson are the guys who generally make the Hawks work, Ridnour, Sessions, and Bell held their own.
- Eight is enough. The Bucks' January ended at an even 9-9, allowing them to maintain a small lead over the pack for the final playoff spot in the East. The Knicks are just a half game back in the standings, but three down in the win column. With Philly 1.5 games ahead in 7th and playing well, I'm not sure the Bucks have much chance of moving up in the standings, but if Bogut can keep playing they will have a good chance of staying where they are.
- Bogut's balky back. The Bucks could have used Bogut down the stretch, but instead the big fella was limited to watching from a prone position on the baseline (well, he was kind of leaning on his side). Bogut hadn't been moving that well anyway, but a foul from Solo Jones early in the fourth quarter seemed to visibly aggravate the problem.
- Reloads. Part of the problem with missing Bogut is that it encourages small lineups that struggle to rebound, an issue which allowed the Hawks more than their usual share of second chances.