A game late, but back on track.
With the speculation of the trade deadline behind them, the Bucks looked more like the club that won eight of twelve heading into the the all-star break, weathering a torrid shooting start by the Pistons to take the lead in the second quarter and hang on the rest of the way. Brandon Jennings was terrible (1/13 fg, 10 pts) and Andrew Bogut again looked uncomfortable going up against Ben Wallace, but the Bucks bench was there to pick up the slack and then some. John Salmons, Ersan Ilyasova and Jerry Stackhouse sparked a first half run before helping the Bucks hold off a modest rally from Rip Hamilton (29 pts on 20 shots) and the Pistons in the fourth.
The first quarter in Detroit started off looking eerily similar to the third quarter against Houston, as Detroit started raining jumpers early and made their first 11 shots to take an early 25-12 lead. The lone bright spot among the starters was former Piston Carlos Delfino, who scooped in a running layup for the Bucks' first points before burying a couple triples in the opening minutes. Fortunately the bench also provided a lift, as Salmons' penetration and Ilyasova's spot-up shooting helped narrow the lead to 29-23 after one. The early storm had been weathered, and a wing three from Stackhouse--another former Piston--gave the Bucks their first lead at 33-31.
And surprisingly the Bucks never surrendered that lead, despite allowing the Pistons to pull within one on a number of occasions. Rodney Stuckey picked off a Delfino pass and finished the breakway to make it 85-84 with 37 seconds left, but Salmons responded by burying a straight away triple to restore the lead to four with just 16 seconds left.
Ersan Ilyasova: 33 min, 16 pts, 6/6 fg, 1/1 threes, 3/6 ft, 12 rebs, 3 ast, 3 stl, 0 to
A day after the Bucks shipped Hakim Warrick to Chicago, Ilyasova showed why Milwaukee might not be as PF needy as many of us thought. The 22-year old Turk had one his best games as a pro in helping the Bucks stick around early and put it away late, doing most of his damage by spotting up around the perimeter. But he showed he can put it on the floor with a drive and running jumper in the lane with just under two minutes left.
Andrew Bogut: 35 min, 12 pts, 6/14 fg, 12 rebs, 5 blk, 1 ast, 1 stl, 2 to
Bogut struggled in the post--see the "Three Bad" section--but he was the only guy doing anything to keep the Pistons from running riot down low. Detroit shot 70% at the rim and it would have been even better if Bogut hadn't swatted five shots, the biggest coming on a Rip Hamilton layup attempt with just 85 seconds remaining. He also hauled down 12 boards including five offensive--single-handedly matching the Pistons' total.
John Salmons: 33 min, 19 pts, 6/16 fg, 3/6 threes, 4/5 ft, 1 reb
Salmons' debut didn't showcase much aside from scoring, and even that didn't come with great effieciency. But he showed his craftiness as a scorer, scoring seven quick points around the hoop in the early going before hitting three triples in the second half, none bigger than the dagger he dropped with 16 seconds left.
53-16. The Bucks began the game third in the league in bench scoring (37.8 ppg), and adding Salmons to Skiles' bench options definitely didn't hurt the Bucks' second unit scoring. Salmons, Ilyasova and Jerry Stackhouse (12 pts in 19 minutes) helped turn around Milwaukee's poor start and they kept it going in the second half as well, giving the Bucks a +37 bench scoring differential.
38.6%. The Bucks finished the game shooting just 38.3% from the field, about 10% worse than Detroit. But Detroit shot just 38.6% after their scorching 11/11 start and only one of their 33 field goals was a triple--as compared to nine out of 31 for the Bucks.
12. There's nothing like offensive rebounding to help overcome a poor shooting night, and the Bucks got that with 12 offensive boards compared to Detroit's five.
Bench boost. Time and again the Bucks' second unit has stepped up after the starters have dug a hole, and they did it again tonight. On the one hand the Pistons were bound to start missing some shots after their hot start, but you could also see the intensity level ratcheted up a notch when Ilyasova, Thomas, Ridnour, Stackhouse and Salmons entered. It seems like only a matter of time (maybe, I don't know, another 12 hours?) before Salmons takes Bell's starting spot, but I'll gladly sacrifice some bench depth if it means the starters improve their efficiency..
Dear John. It's perhaps ironic that a game against John Hammond's former club would serve as a showcase for one of his best moves of last summer and perhaps a great move at the deadline. For one, Salmons paid immediate dividends with his game-high 19 points, something the Bucks will need to see a lot more of over the next two months. Moreover, the decision to let Charlie Villanueva walk in favor of Ilyasova continues to look utterly brilliant. While Villanueva again struggled against his former team (1/4 fg, two pts), Ilyasova was the single biggest difference maker on the court--maybe not something we've seen enough of in the last couple months, but not completely out of character either. And let's not forget that Villanueva's five year deal averages $7 million per season, while Ilyasova is owed a total of $7 million over the three seasons of his contract.
Must-win? It's tough to categorize a game as a must-win when you still have 30 left, but the reality is that we don't know how much margin for error the Bucks will have the rest of the way out. The Bobs, Bulls and Heat all won again tonight, meaning the Bucks are still two games out of the final playoff spot with Charlotte coming to Milwaukee tomorrow night.
Bogut's O. Ben Wallace just seems to have a way of keeping Bogut off balance. Wallace held his ground like he always does, drawing a charge on Bogut in the first quarter and blocking a Bogut hook in the second half, and down the stretch he did an excellent job denying Bogut position and preventing him from getting touches. Bogut also missed a couple chippy hook shots, which made you wonder how much Wallace is simply in his head at this point.
Jennings' struggles. After his 6/9 performance on Friday we probably should have been bracing for the worst from Jennings, but it's says a lot that a 1/13 shooting night isn't even that surprising anymore. Fortunately he managed enough free throws to crack double digits and caused some havoc on defense with his four steals, but overall it was another decidedly rookie performance from the Bucks' kind-of-star rookie.
Prince and the Pauper. Frustrating night for Luc Mbah a Moute, who was held scoreless in just 16 minutes of action. Luc earned an early spot on the bench after Jonas Jerebko (6/7 fg, 12 pts) beat him down the court for an easy dunk, and his frustration boiled over in the third when he and Hamilton were assessed double technicals after Mbah a Moute took umbrage with Hamilton fighting through a screen by absolutely leveling him on a pick/roll a moment later.