My, how some things have changed since the season opener against the Bulls: Three key starters are sidelined. Ramon Sessions has gone from DNP to starting PG and Charlie Villanueva from 4/3 to 17/12.
My, how some things stay the same: Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon still light up the Bucks despite Dan Gadzuric improbably making jumpers. And the Bulls beat the Bucks.
Buried by a season-high 31 points and four steals from an inspirited Hinrich, the Bucks fell 113-104 at the Bradley Center. Milwaukee led at halftime, but off-the-mark shots and decisions throughout led to a defeat at the final buzzer. As such, they could not stretch their unlikely winning streak to four games.
Richard Jefferson. RJ offset a hot-and-cold shooting night by relentlessly attacking the basket, resulting in a 13-14 showing at the free throw line and 30 points. He also made a personal, mini-highlight reel with a few emphatic dunks and a four-point play in the fourth quarter. It's taken a while, but Jefferson appears finally ready to lead the team, perhaps just in time for his departure.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. This isn't one of those games with too many impactful players to list here. Nonetheless, typically good defense throughout and atypically good offense (4-5 shooting) for Luc, though the Principal made his impact mostly in the first half.
Charlie Villanueva. A moderate recovery from a bad outing against Detroit for CV. His 17/12 is fine, but his shots wouldn't fall again tonight, making 5-14 from the field. Still, on consecutive plays midway through the third quarter, CV worked hard to dispel a couple negative notions about his game that have followed him throughout his NBA career. First the forward positioned himself skillfully to draw the fourth foul on Tyrus Thomas. Then he posted up and made a move to the hoop to draw a fourth foul on Luol Deng. Defensive effort/awareness and offensive aggressiveness? Still getting acclimated.
- 21. The Bucks more than quadrupled their number of turnovers from last night's victory (5), leading to a running of the Bulls which saw the road team succeed on the fastbreak. Things got very wobbly in the third quarter, as the Bucks made numerous careless mistakes.
- 22. The three guard attack of Derrick Rose (8-8), Ben Gordon (5-5), and Kirk Hinrich (10-10) combined to make 22-22 free throws as the terrific trio totaled 68 points on 38 field goal attempts. As a team, the Bulls connected on 34-37 (.919) free throws.
64. After a bright defensive performance in Motown, the Bucks couldn't stop the Bulls tonight, allowing 64 points in the second half after giving up just 86 in total to the Pistons. That might be okay if they were still putting up points like it was last week, but not so much when you fail to make 40 % (35-89) from the field.
- Chicago/Milwaukee. This game evolved into an impassioned, sometimes chippy affair, resembling the type of rivalry these two cities have in baseball. Questionable officiating compounded the already fiery nature of the game. Speaking of which, refs hit both Scott Skiles and Vinny Del Negro with technicals. RJ was extra-aggressive. Tyrus Thomas threw down some big ones. Bulls fans were audible. And all of this without resident enforcers Andrew Bogut and Andres Nocioni. Aside from the wrong team winning, this was good fun.
- Expectations. How much can we realistically expect of a team that trots out Eddie Gill, Keith Bogans, and Malik Allen on the floor at the same time during a close game late in the fourth quarter? How many wins in a row can a squad string together that clings to Dan Gadzuric's fadeaway jumpers? Despite the loss, the Bucks have won two of three this week against fellow Central Division teams Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago. They host Cleveland next. It's a touch ambitious to call for a win on Friday against LeBron and the Cavs, but the fact we can even entertain the mere idea is pretty telling at this point.
Trade value. If the Bucks are trying to sell teams on the value of Richard Jefferson, the last few games have certainly helped the cause. The trade deadline is tomorrow, so John Hammond and co. have precious little time to play let's make a deal, but RJ's recent performances must be tempting to contenders.
- Lost chance. At home against a playoff challenger, Milwaukee really needed this one. The task was made even more manageable by a pregame trade which thinned the Bulls and meant Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, and Cedric Simmons were no longer a part of the team. The timing was just right for the Bucks, because the incoming players also had yet to join their new team. Unfortunately, the Bucks failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Moreover, John Salmons and Brad Miller are on their way to the Windy City, making the Bulls a far more formidable foe down the wire. Oh, and they are only 1.5 games behind Milwaukee with too, too much time.
Third quarter collapse. On the verge of taking control of a back-and-forth game by scoring the first six points of the second half, the Bucks instead proceeded to squander their eight point lead. Momentum turned quickly: After Hinrich made a three to give Chicago a 75-72 lead late in the third, the Bucks were already on a slow downhill path as the Bulls led the rest of the way.
Up next. The Bucks face the Cavaliers and Nuggets at home and then the Mavericks and Hornets on the road. Great talent difference on the court for each game, and not in Milwaukee's favor. A single win in those four might be an accomplishment at this point.