Blowing out the Lakers? Undeniably sweet.
Scraping by a disjointed Kings team with the worst record in basketball? Admittedly not quite as sweet, but for a banged-up Bucks team that came into the game 0-4 on the road against non-playoff teams...well, it's surprisingly close. Sure, "signature wins" are great, but they're all worth the same in the standings, dig? And really, how much would we be celebrating the Lakers game if the Bucks hadn't managed to take down the 5-21 Kings to close out their three game trip? Exactly.
So as unconvincing (and unimpressive) as it may have been, the Bucks finally beating a bad team on the road is something that everyone should feel pretty good about--especially given the short bench that Scott Skiles has at his disposal at the moment. Among the guys who were healthy enough to suit up, Earl Boykins was once again a second-half stud, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the final 15 minutes, while Andrew Bogut shook off a (predictably?) slow start against Sam Dalembert to score 15 points while grabbing 13 boards, blocking four shots, and drawing four offensive charges. And perhaps not surprisingly, it was Bogut who orchestrated another brilliant fourth quarter defensive effort, helping the Bucks outscore the misfiring Kings 15-4 in the game's final eight minutes to cap a 2-1 West Coast trip.
Merry Christmas indeed.
Early on it looked like Skiles' bunch might be ripe for a letdown, as resident Buck killers Beno Udrih and Dalembert staked the Kings to a 7-0 lead within two minutes of the opening tip. But neither team was sharp enough to pull away--the Kings because of their turnovers (25!), the Bucks because of their inability to prevent second chances (19 offensive rebounds allowed) and general lack of ability to score points (have we talked about this before?). On the plus side, former King John Salmons helped bring the Bucks back to within a point after a quarter, scoring eight of his 12 points in the period, all of them while slashing to the cup. That helped offset a quick start from Dalembert (11 points in the first half), who started ahead of the benched DeMarcus Cousins and once again made like difficult for Bogut on both ends.
Returning from early foul trouble, Bogut scored six straight to help the Bucks inch ahead in the second, but Sacramento jumped back in front early in the third behind the inside/out combo of Udrih (always open, always driving to his preferred left) and Landry. The Kings then shook off five quick points from Boykins to start the fourth, extending their lead to 75-69 on a wide-open three from Omri Casspi with 8:23 left. Skiles immediately called timeout, and in the back of his mind he had to be wondering how he was losing given the continued invisibility of Tyreke Evans (2/13, four points, five rebs, three ast, four to) and Cousins (1/4, two points, five turnovers in 12 minutes).
Thankfully, Bogut and Boykins were just getting started. The big Aussie blocked a Dalembert jumper, dropped in a pair of short hooks, and then took a charge on Francisco Garcia to set up Boykins' game-tying jumper. Paul Westphal called time to regroup, but it was evidently too late. Mbah a Moute barreled to the hoop for a layup that extended the Bucks' lead to 78-75, Bogut drew another charge (this time on Dalembert), and Boykins used another screen to set up a mid-range jumper for a five point lead.
Evans finally scored his first points on a pair of runners inside two minutes, but Bogut calmly replied by flipping in a righty hook and then clinching the game with a fantastic defensive sequence with under a minute left. Clinging to a four point lead, Bogut challenged Evans' driving miss before viciously denying (with his left hand) an attempted follow-up dunk by Cousins. And as if an alter and a block weren't enough, Bogut then drew his fourth offensive foul of the game when Cousins rammed him in the chest going up for a layup.
The Kings had another chance to narrow the lead following a Boykins turnover with 22 seconds left, but Evans capped off his forgettable night by blowing a layup that could have cut the lead to two. Nothing pretty about it, but that wouldn't be the Bucks' style, now would it?
Andrew Bogut. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right? Two years ago Bogut probably would have let Dalembert's early success get in his head, and the old Bogut also had a knack for letting a lack of offensive involvement hurt his defensive game as well. In other words, the old Bogut probably gets discouraged on offense, fails to make an impact defensively, and the Bucks likely lose the game.
Thankfully this is Bogut 2.0.
Earl Boykins. Sacramento's defense is bad for a reason, and their inability to play the gray areas of the P&R meant lots of room for Boykins to exploit. He's not getting other guys easy buckets (just six assists over 82 minutes in last three games), but playing with the second unit and down the stretch that's OK.
Keyon Dooling. There was a big dropoff after Boykins and Bogut, but I'll acknowledge Dooling's night because he did more in the second half while Salmons did almost all of his damage in the first half. Both Dooling and Salmons alternated defending Evans, and along with their help defenders managed to bottle up the defending Rookie-of-the-year all night. Much of it had to do with Evans' own struggles--he overlayed a couple of chippies and just lost the handle going up for a shot on two other occasions--but the Bucks didn't give him anything easy. He was scoreless all the way until the late stages of the fourth quarter, lacking confidence and looking to find teammates even when it seemed like there was a chance to get an open jumper or slash to the cup.
30-12. Sacramento's 25 turnovers killed them all night, leading to 30 Bucks points compared to just 12 points (off 12 turnovers) for the Kings. The Kings' turnovers came in all shapes and sizes, but their 10 offensive fouls (I went back and counted in the play-by-play) were the major storyline all night.
57-37. The Kings absolutely crushed the Bucks on the glass, grabbing 19 offensive boards and ending up +20 overall despite shooting much worse from the field than Milwaukee. The Bucks' only salvation was that the Kings seemed to miss most of their second chances, too.
50-24. Despite all those offensive rebounds, the Bucks more than doubled up the Kings in points in the paint. Drawing all those charges certainly helped, and the Bucks also got four blocks each from Bogut and Larry Sanders. Speaking of Sanders, he quietly had a much more productive night than the highly touted Cousins, making 4/7 shots (two late-in-the-clock jumpers, a fast break oop and a short putback) along with four boards, four blocks and no turnovers in 22 minutes. He's still more about potential than productivity right now, but on nights like these you can see how useful he can be when he's playing within himself.
D'ed up. Sacramento's hardly a bunch of world-beaters offensively, but they were still well-below their usual standards tonight in large part due to the Bucks' defensive efforts. Bogut and Sanders blocking shots is part of it, but so is having a disciplined perimeter defense and guys who can read plays, move their feet, and take charges. Drawing 10 offensive fouls and limiting your opponent to just 15 FTA shows it's working.
Bogut. It didn't look good early, but Bogut's finish was fantastic--swatting shots, drawing charges, dropping buckets. This is all-star stuff. This is defensive player of the year stuff. I don't know how many people outside of Wisconsin know it, but we need to spread the word.
Salmons slicing. Sacramento's defense no doubt explains part of it, but I was generally impressed that Salmons was consistently beating his man and converting good looks around the hoop (made 4/7 shots in the basket area), in addition to leading the team in assists (6). His impact fizzled as the game went on, but this wasn't as bad of an outing as his 4/14 shooting line might suggest.
Salmons' jumper. This is one area where Salmons has generally been OK this season, but not tonight. He was 0/7 outside the paint, all mid-range jumpers between 15-18 feet.
Gas pedal. The Kings are a mess right now, and in many ways they should have been ripe for a stomping. Instead the Bucks looked to be playing down their competition as usual for much of the night, though we should probably note that the Bucks aren't exactly blessed with elite talent at the moment--not while missing Jennings, Gooden, Delfino, and Maggette.
Work left to do. This month has been all about survival for the Bucks, which means there's little room to complain abouthow you win (not that I won't try). Milwaukee moved to 12-16 for the season, but they're hardly out of the woods with the Hawks, Bulls, Mavs, Heat (twice), and Magic on tap over the next two weeks. Snatching two out of three on this trip buys them some breathing room, but they won't have too long to enjoy it.