This is the kind of game that should leave you kind of heartbroken. Without three of their starters, the M*A*S*H* unit currently available to Scott Skiles still managed about as well as you possibly could have hoped in losing a 126-121 overtime shootout at the BC. Sadly, not even a super-human performance by Ramon Sessions (44 points, 12 dimes) and another great night from Charlie Villanueva (33 points) could get it done.
While the Bucks' bench is currently taking applications from guys playing at the local Y, the Pistons have the luxury of bringing Rip freakin' Hamilton off the pine. Rip missed a wide-open look at the regulation horn, but he was more or less flawless otherwise in dropping 38 (15/25 fg) in just 36 minutes. Rasheed Wallace was similarly on fire, looking like a seven foot Dell Curry in scoring 27 points including a career-high seven threes.
For much of the night it looked like the Bucks were on the verge of getting blown out. The Pistons led by 11 after one and repelled by a Villanueva-led Bucks comeback in the second to lead by nine at the half. The second half was all Sessions, and his ability to get to the hoop at will helped the Bucks draw even late in the third and lead by as many as five down the stretch.
But the Pistons kept chipping away and and finally retook the lead with 26 remaining on Rip Hamilton's off-balance jumper from the baseline. Sessions made one of two on the other end and then it got a bit weird. McDyess was called for a moving screen with nine seconds left, but the Bucks couldn't get a shot off as Charlie Bell drove along the baseline and had his kickout for Jefferson picked off by Prince. With five seconds left, Prince immediately pushed it the other way, driving and finding the red-hot Hamilton for a look that it seemed impossible for him to miss. And yet he did.
The Bucks' task immediately got tougher in OT when Villanueva fouled out with 4:39 remaining, leaving to Sessions and Jefferson to keep it close. But Iverson and Hamilton combined for 15 and the Bucks finally ran out of gas. After an Iverson jumper put the Pistons up one, Bucks debutante Keith Bogans awkwardly missed a baseliner with 15 seconds left and Jefferson's good look for a tying three from the left corner went awry with six seconds remaining.
Ramon Sessions. The Bucks famously passed on Chris Paul in the 2005 draft, but at least for a night they got to see what a truly dominating point guard performance looked like. The full line: 47 minutes, 13/18 fg, 18/21 ft, 44 points, five boards, 12 dimes, four turnovers. Sessions scored 13 in the third quarter, 14 in the fourth, and another six in OT--yeah, that's 33 in the game's final 30 minutes.
As we're accustomed to, Sessions took about two jump shots all night, doing essentially all his damage by driving on Hamilton, Iverson, Stuckey and company. Much of the time he simply beat his man and took it in for a layup (or a gorgeous throwdown in one case). If he didn't beat his man cleanly, then option B worked pretty well, too: stop on a dime, elevate before his defender could react, and teardrop a 5-10 footer with his right-handed push shot. Oh, and option C? Just get fouled and make your free throws. Sessions seemed to create contact at will, collecting 21 free throw attempts of which he hit 18. One of those misses came with the Bucks down a point with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, but I think we can give him a pass.
The Pistons were remarkably slow in providing help defense all night, which you can expect teams to make note of when gameplanning Sessions from here on out. Often times he simply sized up his man (Hamilton for most of the second half) and that was it. He had his share of corkscrews and tough runners, but the Pistons should have been working harder to make other guys beat them--especially after Villanueva fouled out early in OT.
Defensively, Skiles gave him the unenviable task of handling Iverson, and he had his share of problems keeping up (just 6/17 fg but 15/16 ft and 9 dimes). Given he's going to have to play 40+ minutes most nights for the next month, that's not altogether surprising.
Charlie Villanueva. After two points and a couple early fouls in the first quarter, Villanueva scored 11 in the second quarter, 13 in the third, and seven in the final period. He and Sessions were lethal in the two-man game, and as you'd expect his ability to create and make shots was crucial for a Bucks team short on creativity.
Still, Villanueva couldn't shake his foul trouble and he collected his sixth on the first possession of OT while trying to hold McDyess in the post.
Richard Jefferson. There was a huge gap between Sessions/CV and everyone else on the Bucks' bench, but I'll somewhat arbitrarily give Jefferson the nod for a fairly quiet but mostly efficient night: 7/14 fg, 16 pts, and five boards. Sadly, his most memorable play was his potential-tying three point miss with six seconds remaining in OT. Jefferson was mostly an after-thought with Sessions and Villanueva doing their damage, but he did have a couple key hoops early in OT.
- 31. The Pistons' ball movement was exemplary with 31 assists on 45 made field goals. In contrast to Detroit's defensive gameplan, the Bucks were far more ready to help defensively, but the Pistons simply kept the ball moving until an open shot was available. Iverson and McDyess worked the PnR to perfection in the fourth, as Dice scored 16 on 8/11 fg--mostly open looks from 16-20 feet.
15. With 15 offensive boards, the Pistons seemed to get a second chance every time they couldn't make good on their first. Unfortunately that was partly to be expected given the small lineups frequently used by the Bucks.
- .488/.353/.805. Given the defensive bent the Bucks now have, you'd think those sorts of shooting numbers would make it tough to lose. Think again.
Ramonster. I mean, wow. Kinda funny that this guy couldn't beat out Aaron Brooks for a spot on the all-star sophomores team, eh? He rarely matched up directly against Rodney Stuckey, but it was interesting to see the two sophomore combo guards in the same game. Stuckey's been excellent the past couple months, but the much-balleyhooed Piston guard (1/10 fg, six pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, 3 to) took a clear backseat to his Buck counterpart for at least one night.
Sessions' athleticism is far more deceptive than Stuckey's, who looks like a running back and has an explosiveness that's easy to pick out. And that's a major reason why Sessions is perpetually underrated--even though he's constantly getting to the rack and occasionally finishing with authority, he usually relies more on his rope-a-dope, change of pace moves to get his points. Hey, whatever gets it done.
RFAs-to-be. Um, so can we just ship RJ for expiring deals and so we keep these guys in the summer? PLEASE. We often bemoan the fact that the Bucks don't have a superstar to build around, but on a night like this it's tough to deny that this team has young talent.
Matching up. The Bucks' injuries are going to test Scott Skiles and everyone left healthy enough to suit up, so it was good to see Skiles experimenting with different looks tonight. He began the game starting Luc Mbah a Moute at shooting guard, and his length and quick feet were clearly not something that Rodney Stuckey was used to seeing. I can't say I liked how the Bucks defended Rasheed Wallace (ie they didn't), but Skiles tried some new things and over the course of the game found some decent combinations that nearly got the Bucks an improbable win.
- Great, but not good enough. It was strange to see this collection of guys lose the game on the defensive end. The biggest problems: hot nights from Hamilton/Wallace and too many offensive boards. And Elson shouldn't have been so willing to leave Wallace early in the game--it's not like Rasheed's three point shooting is a secret.
- Depth. You know what we could have used tonight? A big white dude from Melbourne to hold down the boards a bit.
- Inflation. Cost was a concern even when Sessions was barely playing and Villanueva was taking every other night off--imagine what's going to happen now that Villanueva is putting up numbers every nightand Sessions is doing his CP3 impression. I'm guessing John Hammond is doing everything in his power to move RJ for expiring deals at this point, but the clock is ticking.