This one hurts. With a chance to gain some breathing room against the Nets in the hunt for the final playoff spot, the Bucks couldn't hold serve at home as an old weakness--defending the three point shot--again reared its ugly head. Strangely, stopping Devin Harris and Vince Carter wasn't the problem--the high scoring duo scored just 29 points on 8/34 shooting--but focusing on the Nets' backcourt eventually allowed the Nets' supporting cast to win the game.
The Bucks (38.5%) shot even worse than the Nets, who made up for a cold start by draining seven of their last nine threes including an open dagger from Jarvis Hayes with just 18 seconds left. It was basically the same play the Nets used to get a tying Bobby Simmons three the last time these teams met in Milwaukee, as Richard Jefferson again got pinned down low on Brook Lopez and left his man open in the corner following a Vince Carter drive. In RJ's defense, at least this time around the Bucks weren't winning by three.
The Bucks still had a chance to tie it in the final eight seconds, as Charlie Villanueva rebounded Malik Allen's miss and nearly got a three point play opportunity before watching his layup attempt roll off. He hit both free throws to bring the Bucks within one, but Harris answered with a pair of his own to make it 95-92. The Nets then turned the game into a free throw contest, fouling RJ intentionally--though the officials for some reason swallowed the whistle when the Nets initially bodied Luke Ridnour. Jefferson hit twice (95-94), Harris answered again (97-94), and another intentional foul on Villanueva left the Bucks forced to make the first and intentionally miss the second. CV accomplished both (97-95), but Lopez grabbed the rebound to seal the win.
For three quarters the Nets had been relying largely on Lopez (24 pts, 9/13 fg, 12 rebs), who once again looked fantastic in utterly dominating the Bucks' weaker centers. Though neither team could ever gain clear control, the Bucks were ahead for most of the game until four turnovers in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, two by Richard Jefferson, allowed the Nets to string together an 8-0 run and jump ahead 71-70. Still, the Bucks fought back and led 84-76 with just over four minutes remaining. And then the Nets' three point attack reared its ugly head.
Four triples in just over two minutes highlighted a 14-2 run that put the Nets up four, and each began with a Harris/Lopez high screen and roll that allowed Harris to find an open teammate. Carter and Hayes hit the first two bombs, as the Bucks scrambled to help down low--Lopez and Harris had been killing them afterall--and conceded open looks as a result. Following a Harris layup and Malik Allen jumper, Keyon Dooling finished the run with consecutive threes from the right corner, though Luke Ridnour wasn't terribly positioned either time. Again it was the same formula: Lopez sets a high screen, the Bucks switch, a third defender sucks down to prevent Lopez from getting another dunk, and Harris finds the open man.
Charlie Villanueva. Not an efficient shooting night from CV (9/22 fg, 24 pts), but it was that kind of night for the Bucks. He also grabbed 15 boards, the sort of glass work we haven't seen as much since CV has picked up the scoring slack. Unfortunately, he also deserves some of the blame for rookie Ryan Anderson's big night off the bench (13 pts in 12 minutes).
Ramon Sessions. Sessions' 19 points and eight boards are nothing to sneeze at, especially on a night when Harris struggled to score. But Sessions again couldn't draw fouls (3/3 fts), which makes his 8/17 shooting less efficient, and he somehow managed to collect just a single assist all night. Sessions spent most of the night at his more familiar point position--probably due in part to what Vince Carter did to him in New Jersey a few weeks ago.
- Luke Ridnour. Not a lot to choose from on this night, but Ridnour had perhaps his best all-around night since returning from his thumb injury. In 23 minutes he managed 10 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two turnovers.
.385/.261/.864. While the Nets weren't exactly lighting it up for most of the game, the Bucks' meager shooting splits meant they didn't have to.
- 19. Believe it or not, the Bucks' rebounding actually kept them in the game for a change--rather than nearly costing them the game. Milwaukee hauled down 19 offensive boards and 52 in total, compared to 8 and 42 for the Nets. OK, so throwing up so many bricks definitely helped inflate those second chances, but the Bucks' 35.8% offensive rebound rate for the night is well above their current average (28.8%).
- 38. The Bucks put together three very good quarters of defense, conceding just 19, 20, and 22 points. But then everything fell apart, as slow rotations and hot-shooting allowed the Nets to outscore the Bucks 38-28 in the fourth.
- Defending Carter/Harris. The Nets feature arguably the most potent offensive backcourt in the league, so holding them to 8/34 shooting isn't easy. Of course, the downside was that all the attention on the Nets' stars eventually provided opportunities for other guys (we'll get back to that later).
Hustle board. For the first time in a while the Bucks' hard work showed some results on the glass, and it very nearly allowed them to steal a win on a night when they couldn't finish around the hoop or shoot it from deep.
Hanging in. Somehow the Bucks are still hanging on to the eighth spot by a half game.
- Betting on Brook. I wasn't advocating the Bucks pick Lopez pre-draft, so I can't say I told you so. But imagine if the Bucks had taken Lopez (who eventually went 10th overall) over Joe Alexander. It certainly would have complicated the politics of re-signing Andrew Bogut and minutes may have been scarce for Lopez early on, but the Bucks would be doing just fine in Bogut's absence right now. It sure seems like the Nets have found a quality big man around which to build for the next decade.
- Triple Threat. For most of the season the Bucks have focused on containing opposing guards by helping on defense, effectively daring other teams to kick it out and beat them with the long ball. Two months ago, the Nets nearly eked out a win in Milwaukee that way, with Bobby Simmons doing the damage for much of the night. Tonight they got started much more slowly (2/18 from distance to start), but they found their stroke in time to finish 9/27. For the Bucks it was largely a matter of picking their poison: Lopez had been killing them down low--sorry, Elson and Gadzuric just don't defend with enough muscle--and Harris averaged 36 ppg last week. Forcing Hayes, Dooling, and Anderson to make shots seemed like a good idea, but they made the Bucks pay.
- Everyone in the Yi trade. Not a memorable night for the players involved in the draft trade last summer. Jefferson couldn't make a damn thing (4/18 fg, though he was a lovely 12/12 from the stripe), Yi was invisible (2/4 fg, four points in 16 minutes), and Simmons was scoreless in 17 minutes off the bench.