MILWAUKEE -- Far from perfection at the Bradley Center this evening. Further than far.
Andrew Bogut went from hot in Dallas to cold in Milwaukee, and I guess that makes sense to some extent because it is just glacial out there. Carlos Delfino went from heroic to almost truly heroic in Dallas to a game-time decision in Milwaukee. And the team's offense this month went from curiously high-powered into standby mode for much of the night.
A clearly laboring Bucks unit playing on the second night of a back-to-back coming off a draining loss in Texas still outplayed a talented Sixers squad, a Sixers squad that just makes you wonder more than anything.
And through it all, Milwaukee at long last pulled out a close game. After playing so very well in Dallas only to lose by a point, the team looked drowsy, they didn't shoot well, no individual took over, and they were slow to close in the clutch. Don't call this triumphant, but call it a win.
Both teams suffered through a disjointed start to the game, as Milwaukee plodded to a 6-5 deficit five and a half minutes in. The pace picked up a bit in the second quarter, though neither team appeared completely intent on winning.
Charlie Bell spearheaded the third quarter attack as Milwaukee slowly extended its lead from one to two to three after each of the first three quarters. Ersan Ilyasova awakened from a somewhat slumbering January with eight points in the fourth quarter, but the Sixers fought back and tied the game at 88-88. But Brandon Jennings made his first shot of the quarter with 11 second to go and the Sixers missed and missed and missed the rest of the way, capped by an Andre Iguodala clanking three at the buzzer. Music to these ears, that clank, after witnessing all of these last-second lasses.
So while the Bucks have been far from perfect at home this season, they are perfect (5-0) at home this new year.
Charlie Bell. With 18 points, Charlie becomes the eighth different Buck to lead the team in scoring this month, and that is not normal. Quite pleasing though, considering this balance is precisely necessary for a team with no superstar, a team whose only All-Star is Jerry Stackhouse, but it's not 2001 anymore.
In contrast to the team's previous home win, a pointsfest over the Wolves, this was not a pretty offensive performance for the Bucks. But Charlie was pretty good. He usually earns minutes based on his defense, but he doesn't earn 44 minutes (44 minutes!) without throwing in some hoops.
Bell's jumper was working tonight, so while he only shot 1-4 from ten feet and in, the starting shooting guard 7-13 from ten feet and out. The Sixers have a bunch of combo guards (Iverson, Williams, Holiday, Green), but Charlie outplayed them all.
And in those 44 minutes? Not one turnover.
Ersan Ilyasova. Neither team made it to 20 in the fourth quarter, and the Bucks only netted six points in the last seven minutes of the game. Milwaukee was still running, Skiles wouldn't have you out there if you weren't, but most of them were running on empty.
But Ilyasova, who hasn't played 25+ minutes in a couple weeks, kicked into a higher gear and scored eight clutch points in the fourth quarter. He was getting to the basket too, scoring six of those eight right at the hoop, including a tip shot of his own offensive rebound reminiscent of early in the season when Turkish Thunder was a bit of a force on the offensive glass.
Four offensive boards tonight, but what really sticks out was his 7-8 night from the field in just 20 minutes.
Brandon Jennings. In the beginning he appeared poised to put on a Best of Worst of Iverson Show, something of a misconceived dedication to his boyhood idol. A bit too much dribbling, a few too many bricks on the way to an 0-4 start. But as the game progressed, he transitioned into more Good Iverson than Bad Iverson, and then it became clear that he Wasn't Iverson At All, this was Brandon Jennings.
The court vision has always been there, and now the assists are coming along too. On the night, 18 points, seven dimes, and just two turnovers. That marked Young Buck's sixth straight game with two turnovers of fewer. No surpise that the offense has been clicking in that same period.
6. Against the team he started his NBA career in dazzling fashion with, Jerry Stackhouse only played six minutes tonight. Clearly, Stack isn't going to receive any preferential treatment despite being a respected veteran, midseason pickup, and Skiles kind of guy. No one gets preferential treatment, we've seen it with every single player on the squad. I like that.
0. Andrew Bogut didn't attempt a single shot in the entire second half, a point Frank alerted me to following the game. Dalembert gave him all sorts of trouble early on, and he went to halftime 3-9 from the field. Pretty special that the Bucks won in spite of this, especially given the team's well-documented success when Bogut is a major offensive scorer.
8. Milwaukee committed just eight turnovers, an incredibly tiny total in such a sloppy game. The guards in particular really, really took care of the ball, as Jennings, Bell, Ridnour combined for three turnovers in 91 minutes. Skiles, post-game:
Some of our shot attempts almost looked like turnovers. It's hard to believe that we had eight turnovers if you watched the game. But we have taken pretty good care of the ball... It bodes well for us going forward.
Four for four. The Bucks didn't lose a a quarter tonight. They won the first three quarters by a point each and then tied the fourth. This, following the Minnesota game, marks the second time this week Milwaukee hasn't lost a quarter in a game.
A couple seasons ago, the Bucks outscored their opponents in all four quarters (granted, different from not losing a quarter) once.
#3 and #3. It's not a coincidence Jennings shares the same number as Iverson. And it was clear to see which guard has a prime to look forward to and which one can only look back on his prime. Jennings wasn't great, but he was good tonight. And while Iverson wasn't even good (3-10, four turnovers), he certainly played the part of ideal teammate off the court, if not always on.
I haven't watched the Sixers much this season, and I'm not sure exactly what the dominant Philadelphian perspective of the AI comeback situation is at this point. But as far as Iverson's game has fallen (the former MVP wasn't on the court for the final possession) and as much as his reputation has been battered, I saw tonight a real teammate on the bench.
Iverson didn't play a single minute in the fourth quarter. And yet in that quarter, he was the first one up giving high-fives to teammates on a timeout, he was cheering on from the bench during the game, and it was genuinely nice to see that he really genuinely cared.
Rest. The Bucks were weary winners this evening. Now a nice couple days off at home before Miami comes into town on Saturday.
Free throws. This, again. Seriously, 12-21 is not going to cut it most days of the week, against most teams in the league.
And 2-8 in the fourth quarter, just wow, team.
Philly. I spent a fair amount of time before, during, and after the game trying to figure out how such a formidable collection of talent can add up to so many losses. Iguodala, Dalembert, Williams, Iverson, Young, Brand, Speights,
Carney -- these are good players, players that can work somewhere, just not right there, right now, together.
And I saw why to some extent early on, in the middle, and especially late in this one.
Down by two with eleven seconds, Elton Brand missed a layup, got the ball back and missed a short jumper. With six seconds left the Bucks had trouble getting the ball in and eventually went to the worst free throw shooter of the five on the court: Bogut. But he was able to get rid of the ball before Philadelphia could foul. Luckily, free throw specialist Luke Ridnour missed one of two, leaving the Sixers down just three points with three seconds. But they went to Andre Iguodala, despite better three-point options including Jason Kapono.
The Bucks just adore losing these types of close games, you could see it in them at the free throw line in the fourth, but the Sixers are just on another level of ineptitude.
It's hard to say if the underachieving is an indictment more on the players for playing like this, management for assembling this mismatched group, or coach Eddie Jordan, but I do know that Thaddeus Young (6-6 shooting, 14 points, 7 rebounds, +12 differential) deserved plenty more than 18 minutes.
Pretty not pretty. You might not be inclined to frame this ticket stub in your living room.