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Jazz 109, Bucks 88: Jefferson and Williams too much for overmatched Bucks

Box Score / Recap / SLC Dunk

Viewed as a single 48 minute block of basketball, it's difficult to categorize the Bucks' ninth consecutive loss in Utah as anything but a disaster in virtually every respect. Consider: the box score will tell you that the Bucks could neither shoot (34.7% from the field) nor defend (the Jazz made 54.8% of its field goals), while Utah's physical domination is clearly reflected in their massive advantages in rebounding (48-26), shot-blocking (10-2), and points in the paint (54-18). And of course there's also the score, which further highlights a general lack of competitiveness between the two teams (and which I'm told is also somewhat important).

But while all those things would normally provide ample reason for disappointment, this was also the kind of loss that you could see coming from a mile away. That sense of resignation mostly stems from the general lack of talent Scott Skiles has at his disposal at the moment, as the Bucks were once again without their best player (Andrew Bogut), starting power forward (Drew Gooden), starting small forward (Carlos Delfino), and sixth man (Corey Maggette). Thankfully, the guys healthy enough to suit up tonight proved to be a plucky bunch, battling back from an early double-digit deficit to keep the game surprisingly close for three quarters and offering some further confirmation that Skiles' bunch isn't throwing in the towel anytime soon. Unfortunately, the handful of guys left don't make for a very good team, and effort will only take you so far against an elite team like Utah. 

Starting for the second consecutive game, Ersan Ilyasova scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half, and his three pointer brought the Bucks to within 55-52 with less than a minute remaining in the second period. But as has seemingly become customary, the Bucks let up to end the half and Earl Watson buried a buzzer-beating three to give Utah an eight point lead at intermission. The game remained fairly free-flowing and casual in the third, but an explosion from Brandon Jennings (27 pts, 8/20 shooting, 4/9 threes, 4 ast, 3 stl, 3 to) wasn't enough to put off a Utah team that was simply too big for the Bucks to bother in the paint. Deron Williams barely broke a sweat en route to 10 assists and 22 points on 12 shots, showing that being big doesn't preclude him from crossing up and blowing by smaller speedsters like Jennings. But the real domination was in the paint (more on that later), where Utah missed rarely and usually got the rebound back when they did. Though Paul Millsap's final numbers were surprisingly modest (eight points on seven shots, nine boards in 29 min), Al Jefferson toyed with Larry Sanders, Jon Brockman and Ilyasova down low, scoring 22 on just 14 shots to go with 11 boards and four blocks. 

Three Bucks

Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks roster has been almost universally disappointing so far, and Ilyasova was among the primary culprits over the first few weeks of the season. Thankfully, he seems to have rediscovered his outside shot and is once again flourishing in his dual role of floor-spreader and designated garbage man. Starting for the second time in as many games, Turk Nowitzki had the hot hand early and finished with 18 points on 10 shots, upping his averages over the past three games to 16.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg. But he could do little to stop the Jazz from manhandling the Bucks on the interior, particularly when he was forced to play center against Jefferson.  

Brandon Jennings. If ever there was a time for Jennings to embrace his inner Iverson and go gunning for 30 points every night, now would be it. With three starters injured and Salmons playing like he's about to keel over at any moment, Jennings has the green light to bomb away to his heart's content, especially since he seems incapable of making a good pass out of the P&R.

Jennings started the game just 3/12 but came alive after a tough driving layup-and-one in the third, scoring 13 points in the period to keep the Bucks within shouting distance. Unfortunately, Jennings took all of the Bucks' scoring punch with him to the bench to start the period, and it wasn't until he returned and sunk a long jumper that the Bucks finally had their first points of the fourth--five minutes after it started.

Chris Douglas-Roberts.  One thing I really appreciate about CD-R? He's pretty fearless--attacking the rim and drawing fouls even when he probably has no business getting a shot off among the trees. And unlike the Bucks' other shooting guard, he seems to have some ability to put the ball in the hole. Case in point: six seconds after he entered the game in the first, Douglas-Roberts caught a pass on the right wing and swooped past a slowly-rotating Jazz defense for a layup and foul, setting the tone for a solid scoring night in which he dropped a tidy 19 points on 12 shots in 34 minutes.  It was also very encouraging to see him bury 3/5 from deep, the first time in his short NBA career he's made more than two triples in a contest. Given the Bucks' lack of perimeter shooting thus far, let's hope it's the start of a trend. 

Three Numbers

16. It wasn't just that the Jazz grabbed 16 boards, it's that the Bucks grabbed just 17 defensive rebounds. Before tonight, the Bucks grabbed nearly 80% of opponents' misses, best in the NBA. Tonight they were lucky to gather even half of them. Paging Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden...

55% - 35%. For most of the season it's been rare for either team to shoot well when the Bucks are involved, but with their starting big men sidelined that could be changing in a hurry. The Bucks were pummeled in the paint and couldn't rebound the rare misses that they did force, while managing to post their usual sub-40% shooting on their own end.

10/21. The Bucks made a gag-worthy 16/52 two point shots and totaled just 18 points in the paint, owing as much to Utah's excellent rotations and shot-blocking as well as the Bucks' own undersized ineptitude. So you can only imagine how bad it might have been if the Bucks hadn't been shooting uncharacteristically well from deep. Skiles' bunch buried 10 threes for just the third time all year, as Jennings (4/9), CD-R (3/5), and Ilyasova (2/4) each did their part to help the Bucks hang around for three periods.

Three Good

Ersanator. He sure as hell can't guard bigger post players, but I'll ignore that for a moment and focus instead on the revival of Ilyasova's jump shot. The challenge now is to keep it going, because without it Ilyasova's effectiveness tends to crater rather quickly. Consistency has always been the biggest thing standing between Ersan and being a starting caliber player, but for the moment he's both starting (albeit in Gooden's absence) and bringing it every night.

Young Guns. I'm not sure they can carry the Bucks to many wins on their own, but the young backcourt combo of Jennings and CD-R was at least fun to watch tonight--and productive, too. Jennings' 27 points on 20 shots works out to a 56.3% in true shooting terms, while CD-R's 19 points on 12 shots translates to an even better 59.5%.

Throws. As Bucks fans it seems we're automatically conditioned to assume the worst of refs, and Utah's been one of the more notorious arenas in the league in terms of perceived home cooking by the officials. But as much as this game was unevenly officiated, it's tough to complain when the Bucks get called for half as many fouls and go +20 in terms of free throw attempts. Give the Bucks credit: they kept attacking and drawing fouls in addition to gunning away from deep, doing both well enough that it offset some of their bizarre futility inside the three point arc. 

Three Bad

Little Men. Searching for the source of the Bucks' troubles? Let's start with the Bucks' supposed centers, Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman. In 35 total minutes, the pair combined for one defensive rebound, allowing Utah to walk all over them on the boards and score inside at will. Add "signing Jon Brockman under the false pretense that he can play center " to the list of offseason moves worth second guessing.

Sanders was particularly awful, starting the game in appropriate fashion by awkwardly attempting to spin from his right shoulder into a turnaround jumper over his left. I really can't explain just how terrible it looked in live play, but not surprisingly Al Jefferson blocked with comic ease, and that seemed to set the tone for the night. A couple possessions later Sanders was packed by Jefferson again when he meekly tried to convert from a foot away, and he picked up cheap fouls in both the first and third quarters that sent him to the bench and forced the Bucks to go small with predictable results. Things didn't get much better when he returned in the fourth quarter, as he air-balled a five-foot runner and then lost track of rookie second rounder Jeremy Evans for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop. Yesterday I predicted this month would likely be more educational than productive for Sanders, but damn.  One step forward, two steps back...

"Little" also describes the Bucks' mindset inside, as they managed just 13 shots at the rim (making seven), compared to an electric 24/29 for the Jazz. The in-between stuff wasn't any better, as the Bucks shot just 9/39 on two point shots that weren't at the rim.

Old fish. Just when you think John Salmons can't play any worse, he does this. Salmons was again woeful offensively, missing all but one of his 11 shots and scoring just six points in 30 minutes of action. As the game wore on he struggled even to get a shot off, seeing three blocked late in the third quarter by Andrei Kirilenko (twice) and Jefferson.

Ill-timed injuries. The Bucks' schedule over the next month is brutal, so there really couldn't be a worse time to lose half the rotation to injury. While the schedule softens considerably in the spring, without Bogut, Maggette, Delfino and Gooden it's entirely possible the Bucks could lose all nine of the remaining road games they have between now and January 7. It won't be so grim if those guys can get healthy in short order, but it's not like anyone knows how serious their injuries really are.