In case you had forgotten that lots of points don't always mean attractive basketball, the Bucks and Nuggets got together on Sunday evening to give you a clear reminder. Though they shot 51% from the field and made 35 free throws, the Nuggets managed to be even sloppier with the ball than Milwaukee, allowing the Bucks to once again ride the Charlie Villanueva/Ramon Sessions tandem to victory, 120-117.
Carmelo Anthony wasn't at full strength but still managed to score 33, taking advantage of mostly smaller defenders like Charlie Bell and Keith Bogans, but overall the Bucks small lineup got the job done. The game was tight from the start, and while Denver took a nine point lead early in the third, their sloppiness with the ball (24 TO) allowed the Bucks to hang around and lead for most of the fourth. Trailing by three, the Nuggets had two chances to tie it in the final 23 seconds, but J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups both missed tough looks from the perimeter and the Bucks made enough free throws down the stretch to snap their two-game losing streak.
Charlie Villanueva. Just another one of those nights: 36 points on 14/23 fg including 7/11 threes. CV was unconscious early on, so maybe it didn't matter that the Nuggets weren't guarding him half the time anyway, but it probably helped Villanueva find his rhythm. CV hit four threes and scored 14 in the final five minutes of the opening period, capped off by a buzzer-beating heave from beyond half court--but judging by his non-reaction, he didn't seem to think it was that big of a deal.
After sitting for most of the second (more on that below), Villanueva bounced back with 15 in the second half including nine in the final quarter, muscling in a couple big hoops down the stretch when the Nuggets were threatening.
Ramon Sessions. Sessions again did it with his aggressiveness, pushing the tempo and exploiting the Nuggets' lack of transition defense to pile up 27 points including 13/15 from the line. He added eight dimes, four boards, and three steals, while consistently igniting the Bucks' break by picking up loose balls around the Nuggets free throw line.
Down the stretch he seemed a bit hesitant to go at Chauncey Billups, instead opting for wing handoffs to RJ or post looks to Villanueva--but it worked, so no complaints. Still, he appeared a bit nervous in leaving his first free throw well short with the Bucks up two with 13 seconds left. But he made up for it by hitting the second and then playing some defense. Down three, Billups drove the ball up the court and tried to bait Sessions into fouling him on a three, but the youngster held his ground and crowded the savvy vet into missing a tough, off balance look instead. Ballgame.
Charlie Bell. There was a big dropoff after the first two, but let's give Bell the nod slightly over RJ. Despite playing the three for much of the night, Bell hung in there against 'Melo and also helped contain the ever-dangerous J.R. Smith, not to mention chipping in 13 points and five boards. Seven of those came in the final five minutes, beginning with a wing triple that gave the Bucks a 108-107 lead.
- 24. Most every other number seemed to favor the Nuggets, but a 24-13 deficit in the turnover department was their undoing. Give the Bucks credit--their small, swarming lineup forced plenty of those, but there were also way too many bad and fumbled passes from the Nuggets.
- +17. The Nuggets had a huge edge on the boards, 48-31, due in large part to the bigger lineup they were fielding much of the night. Still, they only beat the Bucks 15-14 on the offensive boards and a number of those Buck boards were crucial reloads late in the game that allowed them to stay ahead.
- .507/.400/.833. The Nuggets put up terrific numbers shooting the ball,and yet it still wasn't enough.
Ramonster. Skiles wisely gave Sessions the bulk of the PG minutes tonight, though he also used plenty of the Ridnour/Sessions backcourt we've seen much of the season. You never know what to expect from Skiles' lineups, but let's hope that this is his way of acknowledging Sessions' rightful claim on the starting spot.
- Godzillanueva. Though he'll likely face a game or two suspension for his antics against the Cavs on Friday, Villanueva made the most of the league office not being open on the weekend to post his second big night in a row. PLEASE Sen. Kohl, don't let him go for nothing. (and props to pasting_monkey over at RealGM for that nickname)
Little guys. I can't say I like small ball lineups as much as Scott Skiles does, but maybe there's a reason he's a successful NBA coach and I'm merely a blogger. Skiles conceded the glass for much of the night, but his microlineups made up for it with harassing defense that caused 24 turnovers and plenty of transition opportunities. OK, so the Nuggets did the Bucks plenty of favors, but this is the section where I say nice things about the Bucks, mmkay?
Slop. Among other flaws, the two teams put on a clinic of how not to pass the ball. Anthony Carter botched a four-on-one by passing it to a leaping Charlie Bell. The Nuggets threw another breakaway pass clear out of bounds. Richard Jefferson twice went airborne and passed the ball to a spot about 15 feet from the nearest Buck. And even when the ball was passed well, the Nuggets seemed eager to drop it out of bounds. To make matters worse, the officiating was inconsistent and the teams' constant fouling (63 combined fouls) prevented the game from ever getting into a nice rhythm.
Bird is the word. Chris Andersen worked out for the Bucks this summer before signing with his former team, as the Bucks eventually wound up with Francisco Elson. Damn, I wish that had worked out differently.
Though he's never going to be a big minute guy, Birdman has been terrific off the bench this year and showed his ability to change a game early in the fourth, swatting a series of shots while crashing the boards relentlessly to gain extra possessions. Six points, seven boards, and four blocks in 20 minutes might not jump out of the box score at you, but his impact was huge.
MIA CV. CV's disappearances are often the result of his own inconsistency, but tonight his brief absence wasn't his fault. Villanueva lit up the Nuggs for 21 points (8/10 fg) in his first 14 minutes, tough to top for everyone not named LeBron James. A little over a minute into the second CV picked up his second foul and headed to the bench for a well-deserved rest, but then curiously sat for the rest of the period as Joe Alexander got a rare extended look at PF.
Maybe Skiles was worried about Villanueva getting into foul trouble, but it seemed like an awfully conservative move given how utterly unstoppable Villanueva had been up to that point. Fortunately Skiles made up for it a bit by riding Villanueva for almost the entire second half, but I think I would have preferred a more normal sub pattern.