It didn't seem like Andrew Bogut was particularly broken up by the NBA's decision to leave him off the East all-star squad in favor of David Lee and Al Horford, but you wouldn't have known it from his dominating performance Friday night against Lee's Knicks. Sure, Bogut's 24 points on a tidy 12/15 shooting was the straw that stirred the Bucks' offensive drink, but it was his defensive impact (five blocks, 20 boards) that once again stood out just as much.
While the small-ball Knicks once again hemorrhaged points inside to Bogut and company, New York's often explosive offense could neither shoot straight from outside (5/24) nor find a way to get around Bogut inside (five blocks for the third straight game). Lee managed a very respectable 12/13 scoreline, but his opportunities were largely limited to mid-range jump shots and his typical assortment of garbage buckets around the hoop. Bogut had no such problems, scoring 14 points along with nine boards in the first 11 minutes of the game alone as the Bucks led by seven after one period. The Bucks didn't make much progress in the second quarter (heck, Royal Ivey played) and settled for a somewhat disappointing six point edge at the half, but you never felt like the new-look Knicks woud be organized or energetic enough to come out on top. Without any shot-blockers, their best defender gone (Jared Jeffries), and looking a bit like a team that just traded a bunch of guys, it didn't seem like New York would be able to stop the Bucks enough times to make up for their own lackadaisical offense.
Still Mike D'Antoni's crew threw enough pressure at the Bucks to force 18 turnovers, and a 12-0 run midway through the third even gave the Knicks a brief 53-51 lead. Maybe that would have been a problem for the old Bucks, but Milwaukee seems to have settled in nicely in that regard. Besides, the novelty of T-Mac aside, these are also largely still the same old Knicks. And in keeping with that, they looked the less energetic and talented side for most of the evening. Milwaukee countered the Knicks' third quarter run with a 13 point spurt of their own that featured a couple quick finishes by Bogut around the cup and restored the Bucks lead to eight going into the fourth and by 11 shortly thereafter. The Knicks hung around a bit in the fourth and got to within six with nine minutes remaning, but again the Bucks answered with seven straight points to send the Knicks to their seventh straight defeat.
Andrew Bogut: 36 min, 24 pts, 12/15 fg, 20 rebs, 3 to, 5 blk
The only thing that could stop Bogut in the teams' last meeting at MSG was a migraine, but tonight it was the Knicks' defenders who were left with headaches. While Bogut dropped in a couple of his standard back-em-down hook shots, the key was keeping him involved in multiple ways. He put the ball on the deck a couple times, had a number of putbacks, and Jennings found him off a couple pick and rolls to boot. Since his two first half misses were tips that he eventually put in, I counted only one play (a missed baseline hook shot in the third) when Bogut got a shot and didn't score on the possession. And while the Knicks held him to six points in the second half by bringing a hard double whenever he touched it, he stayed patient and got enough help from teammates that it wasn't enough to derail the Bucks' 10th road win.
Luc Mbah a Moute: 33 min, 11 pts, 5/6 fg, 1/2 ft, 11 rebs, 4 ast, 1 stl
Though guarded by Wilson Chandler on offense, Mbah a Moute started the game matched against McGrady on defense and appeared to have his hands full. Lee found T-Mac for an early back-door play, and McGrady still had enough speed to give Mbah a Moute problems on the drive in the first half. But it didn't last, as McGrady slowed as the game went on (a bruised knee didn't help) and finished just 5/14 from the field for 15 points. Mbah a Moute meanwhile again focused on the dirty work offensively, showing proper discretion in shooting (just one jump shot that I remember) while passing well around the hoop and generally doing the whole "role player" thing nearly perfectly.
Ersan Ilyasova: 22 min, 10 pts, 5/6 fg, 6 rebs, 1 to
Ilyasova had one of the best games of his career last month at MSG, and after another solid showing it would appear that he's starting to really like the Big Apple. There was a pretty big dropoff tonight after Bogut and LRMaM, but we'll give the nod to the efficient Ilyasova over the more shot-happy Salmons (15 points on 18 shots).
+26. The Bucks dominated the boards from the opening possession, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and 61 total, compared to just 6 and 35 for the Knicks.
26. The Knicks scored just 14 in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth, scoring a season-low 26 in the second half and 67 for the game. Considering the Knicks score an average of 101 pts/game and surrender 104, it's rare that you can leave MSG with a win after scoring just 83.
20. Bogut fell short of the career-high 24 boards he snagged against Philly on January 12, 2007, but managed at least 20 for the fourth time in his NBA career. He also grabbed 20 against Indiana on December 3, 2008, Utah on November 9, 2008, and Denver on February 23, 2008.
Defense. The Knicks aren't a good team, but they're not a bad offense either. So holding New York to a meager 67 points and 34% shooting is something worth applauding. The Knicks looked to be crashing a bit after the sugar high of McGrady's debut, but even aside from their poor shooting the Bucks deserve plenty of credit for outworking their East Coast counterparts. Lee was mostly limited to passing from the high post while Mbah a Moute and Salmons made McGrady work for every chance he got.
Frontcourt. In the pregame discussion a few of us were debating the relative importance of stopping McGrady versus Lee. As it turns out, neither guy made much of an impact on the game, but the real story to me was the Bucks' domination of the Knick frontcourt. It all starts with having a big, skilled center that the Knicks simply couldn't guard one-on-one, but as you can tell from our "Three Bucks" section he got nice supporting work from the PF tandem of Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova. Lee certainly wasn't bad, but got next to no help from fellow starters Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, while Al Harrington stroked a couple early threes but was otherwise a non-factor as well.
Eight is enough. With Charlotte dropping a tight one against the Clippers and the Bulls falling in Washington, the Bucks have moved into a tie with Charlotte for 8th place in the East, are a game back of Miami for 7th and 1.5 back of the Bulls for sixth. Keep it up, boys.
Turnovers. The Bucks looked nervous at times on the ball, allowing Knick pressure to force an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers. They looked particularly ragged early in the third, when the Knicks scored 12 straight to take a 53-51 lead. At times they didn't seem prepared to deal with the Knicks' predictable doubling of Bogut, which is kind of worrying when you consider that teams are likely to be doing it more and more often.
Jennings' shooting. Though he ended up scraping together a respectable line with eight boards and seven assists, there's no getting around the 1/9 shooting night he put up. Jennings was 0/7 in the first half and looked gunshy in the third, which becomes a problem when teams start to double Bogut and force perimeter guys to make jump shots.
Empire State of Mind. The Bucks have had a blast playing the Knicks this season, sweeping New York 3-0 including a couple wins at MSG. Add the 3-0 record they have against the Nets (winning by an aggregate 56 points), and the New York Metro area has been a home away from home--I'm guessing I know one song that will be played on the team bus tonight. Sadly, they won't get another chance to play the Knicks until next season, though they do get the Nets at home on April 7.