Though their starpower has been greatly diminished, the Bucks that are still standing don't seem to care. For the third straight game I found myself chuckling in disbelief as the final horn sounded, this time as the Bucks led for the final 47 minutes of a 92-86 win in Detroit. Granted, the Pistons made it close in the final minutes, rallying behind a huge 24/14 night from Antonio McDyess, but the Bucks managed to maintain a double-digit lead for the majority of the game and then showed enough composure down the stretch to hang on to their 11th road win of the season.
The Pistons have now lost four in a row and are somehow just two games ahead of the Bucks in the standings, but at this point you can expect every Bucks win to leave their opponents shaking their head.
Richard Jefferson. If Jefferson's days in a Milwaukee uniform are indeed numbered, then he's giving Bucks fans a nice sending off. RJ followed up his 32 point night against Indiana with 29 points on just 13 shots, along with five boards, five assists, and just one turnover. He was the man early and finished it off with seven points in the final six minutes, acting as the Bucks' offensive closer when the Pistons twice rallied to within one.
With six minutes remaining, RJ did his LeBron impression in barrelling through the Pistons' zone for a hoop and harm, equaling his second half point total up to that point. Then with four minutes remaining he was at it again, connecting on a straightaway triple with the shot clock running down, again giving the Bucks needed breathing room. This is what Bucks fans had been hoping for when RJ was acquired last June.
Ramon Sessions. Just a week after lighting the Pistons up for 44 in Milwaukee, Sessions was a marked man in Detroit. The Pistons were not surprisingly much quicker to help Allen Iverson on defense this time around, but Sessions was fairly patient despite having an off night from the field (6/17 fg). He couldn't get his floater to go, but as we've seen a number of times he helped in other departments. Aside from his 17 points, Sessions hauled down nine boards and handed out seven assists with just one turnover.
It also seemed like the Bucks made a concerted effort to have the ball out of Sessions hands more often, relying more on ball movement and perimeter handoffs to prevent Sessions from having to do his one-man wrecking crew act all night long. Bell also brought the ball up a number of times in the late going, allowing Sessions to save some energy. Oh, and like a week ago Sessions easily outshone his fellow sophomore point--Rodney Stuckey had just three points on 1/6 fg before fouling out in 31 minutes.
Malik Allen. Every win from here on out is going to need role players to step up, and tonight it was apparently Allen's turn. Yes, he was hitting those mid-range jumpers as usual (7/12 fg, 14 pts), but he also did surprisingly well on the glass with eight boards (three offensive). And like pretty much every Buck, his help defense was notable on a number of occasions.
- 5. The Bucks are a bit short on firepower, so making fewer mistakes is a big help. Though they weren't on fire from the field like in the past three contests, the Bucks turned it over just five times in total to provide just enough extra possessions to squeeze out a win.
- 15/43. That's the combined shooting from Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, and Rip Hamilton, and that's how the Bucks survived a pretty bad shooting night of their own. The Pistons never seemed in rhythm, as evidenced by a combined 20 points on 8/24 shooting from Iverson and Wallace. The Bucks helped on PnR much more effectively than in their previous loss to Detroit, limiting Iverson's ability to cause problems with his driving while Elson and Allen stayed close enough to bother Rasheed into an 0/5 night from distance. Even Hamilton, who made 15/25 from the field for 38 points last time out, made just 7/19 fg as Charlie Bell in particular got the job done defensively.
- 27. The Bucks have now bested their modest 07/08 win total, and have 26 games to build on it.
Defense. I assumed the post-Redd/Bogut Bucks would simply try to lock down, scratch, claw, and foul their way to ugly wins, but that was hardly the case as they scored 121, 122, and 122 points in their final three games before the all-star break. While part of that came by virtue of playing at a high tempo, we also knew that 50% shooting nights could not be counted on every game, and that was certainly the case in Detroit (40.5% fg).
Fortunately, the effort on defense most certainly was there. Though Villanueva was caught helping a number of times when McDyess was ripping open jumpers, it was difficult to find fault with anyone else's defensive performance. Guys like Bell, Bogans, and Mbah a Moute just aren't any fun to play against--just ask around the Pistons' locker room. Elson also did his job with four blocks and some respectable defense on Sheed.
- Sessions off the ball. Perhaps wary of the Pistons adjusting after the teams' last meeting, Sessions was more frequently off the ball and other guys--particularly Jefferson--made sure to pick up the scoring load. It didn't get Sessions any more scoring chances, but it seemed to throw the Pistons' defensive gameplan off a bit, and by the fourth quarter they even went into a zone that the Bucks seemed uncomfortable with.
- The number eight. With New Jersey taking its lumps in Houston, the Bucks extended their lead for the final playoff spot to two games with a pair of contests in hand. The Nets have 14 games left at home and the same on the road, while the Bucks play 16 of their last 26 at the BC.
Three Two Bad
- Charlie's night derailed. Villanueva picked up two quick fouls in the first and never got it after that. He finished just 4/14 from the field for 10 points and five boards while McDyess had one of his best nights of the season.
- Too close. Yeah, I'm nitpicking. The Bucks did look a bit nervous in the middle third of the fourth quarter, allowing the Pistons' zone defense to throw them off their game a bit. So much of the Bucks' regular action is dependent on screens and wing handoffs that they seemed a bit confused when the defense stopped chasing them around.
- No complaints. Tough to really complain about this kind of game all things considered. Skiles and the coaching staff once again played their hand perfectly, jumping on the Pistons early and never quite letting them off the mat.