Well, that was soul-crushing. I was all prepared to start this post ranting about how the season was now toast and the Bucks could officially be condemned to late lottery purgatory, but maybe it's not quite that dire. If we've learned anything from the first 60-some games of the 08/09 season, it's that no team is all that interested in the #8 spot in the East. Still, watching the Bucks and Knicks take turns playing schoolyard ball, you can't help but wonder how this Bucks team could really still pull it out.
God bless these Bucks for being scrappy and surprisingly entertaining, but all night long the Knicks did what you knew they would do and the Bucks simply couldn't do anything about it. Richard Jefferson was absolutely destroyed by Larry Hughes (39 pts, 13/20 fg). Nate Robinson (32 pts, seven assists, seven TOs) made the Bucks' entire defense look utterly helpless. David Lee (19 pts, 18 rebs) simply manhandled Francisco Elson down low, with the only thing preventing Lee from inflicting more damage was his teammates' reluctance to give him the ball more.
Of course, things started promisingly enough, as the teams' apparent agreement not to play defense saw a high-scoring affair from the start, with the Bucks jumping out to a 65-56 halftime lead. Villanueva was at it again (32 pts, nine rebs) and Sessions was steady throughout with 22 pts and nine dimes, but their two-man show needed a third wheel.
In the third Lee and Harrington took over, helping the Knicks to a 22-5 run to start the half. From there on out the Knicks looked like the better team, even when an Elson dunk allowed Milwaukee to take a brief 99-98 lead with four minutes remaining. Robinson responded with 10 points in two minutes, driving at will regardless of who the Bucks tried to cover him with--Sessions, Bell, and even Mbah a Moute. The final dagger came with 94 seconds remaining, as Hughes hit a tough three right in Jefferson's face to double the Knick lead from three to six. To be honest the Knicks defense seemed to improve markedly in the second half, putting a bit more pressure on the ball and squeezing the Bucks' attempts to run their handoff plays. Still, there's no way to sugarcoat this game--it was a huge, huge loss that we may very look back on as the decisive game of the season.
Three Two Bucks
- Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva started hot with four buckets in a row to start the game, but then quickly found his way to the pine following a bout of matador defense against Al Harrington. Scott Skiles still sends messages apparently. Undeterred, Villanueva kept it going and could have been more of a difference maker were it not for foul trouble that sent him to the bench early in the final period. He still managed 11 points in the quarter, but the fact that he couldn't guard Lee at center forced Skiles into using Elson in the middle--which considering his poor offensive skills and middling defense was an unfortunate switch to make.
- Ramon Sessions. I think what I liked the most about Sessions tonight was his willingness to take matters into his own hands late. The Bucks' offense really lost its way in the third, though I suppose that's not surprising given the (lack of) weapons at their disposal; this simply isn't a team that can stay hot for four quarters. So Sessions pushed things a bit more himself and dueled Robinson admirably with six straight points in the closing minutes before assisting on consecutive buckets by CV. I was a bit surprised that he only had two turnovers, as it seemed like he was generally throwing a few too many lazy passes--the worst coming at the end of the third when his bad pass from the baseline allowed Robinson to break the other way and draw a foul with less than two seconds left.
- 39. I guess through all these years of inexplicably awful basketball, Larry Hughes has been saving himself just for this game. The Bucks--RJ in particular--will have a tough time sleeping tonight knowing they conceded 39 to a guy who's been an unmitigated disaster for about four years now, but to be honest a lot of his shots were ones you'll happily concede to him. The dude was hot, and his baskets probably weren't as frustrating as Robinson's.
- .532. That was the Knicks' effective field goal percentage, the second game in a row the Bucks have conceded a well-above average mark.
- 25-15. I think I'm reading the box score correctly in that the Bucks scored just 15 pts off the Knicks' 20 turnovers while the Knicks scored 25 off the Bucks' 16 turnovers. It would make sense from watching the game--the Bucks' turnovers always seemed to ignite breaks the other way, while the Bucks seemed eager to show how not to run transition offense.
- Godvilla and the Ramonster. It's been the theme of the past two months, but once again the Bucks' RFAs-to-be were seemingly the only reliable guys on the court.
- First half. You know something went wrong when one of the only good things about the game was a solid first half. The Bucks outscored the Knicks 31-29 and 34-27 in the first two quarters, though it seems like they decided at halftime that they could simply outscore the Knicks in the third and fourth, too.
- Pass. Nothing else left to salvage from this one.
- RJ. Wow. There are so many different directions I could go to describe how horrible Jefferson's night was. He opened the game shooting questionable perimeter shots despite guys being right in his grill, and continued his futility for most of the night on both ends. The end result was a 3/15 shooting night, five turnovers, and 39 points conceded to his opposing number. The only thing salvaging it ever-so-slightly was that he conned the Knicks into getting him to the line for 9/12 freebies. He's been scoring well lately, but it's nights like these where it makes you absolutely ill that the Bucks could lose Villanueva or Sessions because of his $14.2 million contract next year.
- Ridnour. It's not like Sessions had the answer defensively either, but my image of Ridnour tonight is getting run ragged by Robinson, who was simply way too quick for Luke to handle. Sadly he didn't fare much better offensively, bricking eight of ten shots in 23 minutes, though he did preside over a couple of decent Bucks runs. His lack of explosiveness and inability to finish around the hoop when NBA athletes are in the vicinity seemed all the more obvious given what Robinson was doing on the other end.
- Curtains? The Bucks are still just a half-game back of the Bulls for the eighth spot, but they're going to need to get their house in order very quickly if they are going to stay competitive in the next week. The Hornets, Celtics, Magic and Blazers are next on the schedule. Buckle up.