As much as the Bucks have fallen off the wagon in the last month, the good news is that there are limits to their futility. It wasn't quite the dominating performance they put in against Jersey a couple weeks ago, but every once in a while the Bucks put it all together and throttle a bad team--in this case, the 22-win Thunder. A 37-21 third quarter was the difference, and the Bucks shot 52% overall as OKC looked extremely flat after winning their final home game of the season last night. The four game overal losing streak and five game streak at the BC are over, and the Bucks can take some vague solace in knowing that they will not lose 50 games for the third straight season. Yay, progress [cue golf clap].
Scott Skiles made two changes to the starting lineup, dropping the slumping Charlie Villanueva in favor of Luc Mbah a Moute and bringing the struggling Luke Ridnour back into the fold over Charlie Bell. Both moves worked out nicely, but Richard Jefferson also did his part and then some. He continued his string of effective scoring performances, dropping 35 while teaming with Mbah a Moute to prevent the Thunder's high-scoring forward tandem of Kevin Durant (6/13 fg, 19 points) and Jeff Green (3/12 fg, 7 pts) from finding a rhythm.
Meanwhile, the backcourt experiment also worked like magic, as Ridnour (improbably) reversed a miserable past few months with an 8/8 shooting night to go with nine assists and no turnovers. Ramon Sessions didn't have a huge night but celebrated his 23rd birthday with 10 points, nine dimes and a win in 25 minutes.
Richard Jefferson. Couldn't ask for more from RJ tonight. He had it going to the hoop, from deep (4/9), on the glass (nine boards!), and didn't hurt the Bucks' cause defending Green and Durant. All told, a season-high-tying 35 points on 21 shots in 37 minutes.
As much as I wanted to see RJ traded for expiring deals at the deadline, it's still nice to see him finishing the year on a high note. A month ago it looked like he might mail it in once the playoffs started slipping out of reach, but he's proved us wrong in the past couple weeks.
Luke Ridnour. Ridnour got his first start in over two months and played, well, perfectly: 41 minutes, 8/8 fg, 2/2 ft, 18 points, nine assists and no turnovers. Nothing flashy, not that you'd have expected it anyway, just steady play and good decision-making. Ridnour's always been the type who plays much better with the A team--being small and unexplosive will do that--and tonight we saw that in its most extreme form.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Not a big line from the rook--10 points, four boards, three steals, and three turnovers--but his length and athleticism proved an annoyance to Durant. Whether it was a touch-pass that set up a Joe Alexander dunk or a sneaky interception of an OKC outlet pass, Mbah a Moute was as usual doing the little things that make him so much more valuable than the box score would suggest.
100%. The odds of even an effective shooter making all eight of his shots on a given night are pretty damn low (50% to the eighth power is 0.4% for what it's worth), so watching Ridnour do it is seriously weird. Consider: Ridnour hasn't made better than a third of his shots in any of the past three months, an epic streak of futility that not even Charlie Bell managed last season. An extra layer of strangeness: Shaun Livingston came off the bench and made 7/7 himself.
- +1. It's been two weeks, but the Bucks finally managed to do more damage from the line than the other guys. Considering the Bucks were -13, -13, -11 and -24 in terms of free throw differential over the past four, it's progress.
- 31. Big assist totals have been a recurring theme even during the Bucks' recent struggles--that's now 27.8 apg over the past six. I suppose it makes sense that starting two point guards won't hurt your assist numbers, but even before tonight you couldn't accuse the Bucks of being selfish.
New starters. If it is broke, do fix it. Skiles doesn't have a whole lot of options lineup-wise, but after his team's recent struggles you can't blame him for trying something new. Putting the ever-diligent Mbah a Moute in for Villanueva helped subdue the Thunder's dangerous forwards, and Ridnour looked like a different player in the starting lineup.
Middle quarters. The third quarter was where the Bucks blew it wide open (37-21), but things started to click in the second (34-27). Ridnour started off the quarter with a pair of triples before RJ and Joe Alexander (drawing fouls left and right) provided a spark just before halftime. Still, you'd be forgiven for feeling less than confident with a five point halftime lead given the Bucks blew a nine-point edge at the interval three days ago.
Fortunately, the Bucks looked a little better prepared for the third period tonight than against Atlanta. Jefferson stroked a pair of threes in a 9-0 run that made it 67-53 with nine minutes left, and another 12-2 run near the end of the quarter pushed the lead to 21 after three.
- A bit of defense. The Thunder have a number of guys who can hurt you, but the Bucks managed to keep Durant, Green and Westbrook mainly shooting contested jumpers. The were probably a bit too content to take those, but there haven't been many opportunities to credit the Bucks defense of late so let's give them their due as well. The Thunder's big three combined for just 13/37 from the field and their starters had 12 turnovers against just 10 dimes.
- Charlie V's stroke. Villanueva excelled as a sixth man earlier this year, but coming off the bench didn't do anything to bring his shot back (6/19 fg). It's not like he was just settling for threes, either--inside and outside it just wasn't working. Fortunately, he contributed in other ways, grabbing nine boards, dishing out five dimes and blocking a pair of shots in 28 minutes.
Lotto watch. The Bucks' win keeps them in a tie with the Nets for the 10th spot in the lottery. Whatever. Let's enjoy a win for a change.