The Clippers may not have the Showtime pedigree of their Staples Center roommates, but there must be something about playing in L.A. that prepares you for national television better than say...well, playing in Milwaukee.
Because in spite of all the numbers saying which of these two teams is supposed to win--in theory that'd be the red-hot Bucks and not the ice-cold Clips--some old boogeymen again reared their ugly heads as the Bucks slumped to their first loss in over two weeks.
After their 1-5 West Coast trip in January, the Bucks did little to suggest they've figured out the Pacific time zone, allowing the Clips to shoot 61% in the first quarter and build a nine point halftime lead on the strength of Baron Davis' 5/5 start against Brandon Jennings and Chris Kaman's ability to match Andrew Bogut shot-for-shot in the early going. Bogut was the early story as the Bucks force-fed him from the opening tip; the big man scored 10 points on 5/8 shooting in the first 6:29 of the game, rolling in a series of hooks and facing up Kaman to dribble drive on him. But Davis got into the lane at will early on and the Bucks' normally sound help defense never seemed quick enough to bother the Clippers, who for good measure were also making some shots they normally don't. Kaman rounded off the period with three straight jumpers to match Bogut with 10 points.
L.A. pulled away late in the second thanks to a series of threes from Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and Eric Gordon, turning a 40-39 deficit into a 52-43 halftime lead.. It was the Clips' guards doing much of the damage--Gordon and Davis outscored the Bucks' starting pairing of Jennings and Bell 22-6 in the half--but in the third quarter Milwaukee managed to turn the tables behind Jennings' hot shooting. The Clips moved the ball well and kept making jumpers early in the period, as an open Rasual Butler three gave L.A. a 68-54 edge. When was the last time the Bucks trailed by double-digits? Maybe I'm forgetting something, but I can't remember it happening since Salmons was acquired.
In any case, Skiles was so annoyed with his Delfino-less perimeter defense that he had inserted Royal Ivey for the struggling Charlie Bell early in the third--desperate times I guess--but it surprisingly seemed to give the Bucks a shot in the arm. After a couple minutes, Ivey's obnoxious defense helped encourage less Clipper ball movement and some increased one-on-one from Davis and Gordon, who seemed to be feeling a little smug with their first half success. Instead, it was Jennings who suddenly caught fire, starting with a couple floaters in the lane, then drilling back-to-back threes to cut the Clipper lead to single digits. After a pair of Bogut freebies brought Milwaukee within two, he went to work again, scoring six straight in the final 70 seconds of the period to bring the Bucks all the way back and give them a two point edge heading into the fourth. After a three point first half, Jennings had 19 through three and looked ready to push the Bucks' streak to seven games.
Sadly, Clipper head coach Kim Hughes had the perfect tonic. While Skiles looked to keep the momentum and went with Bogut and Jennings to start the fourth, Hughes went with his reserves and a zone defense, hoping to throw off Jennings' rhythm.
Craig Smith and Travis Outlaw began attacking and drawing fouls, and the Clippers' more physical, active approach was no more obvious than when DeAndre Jordan jumped over Bogut and Salmons to hammer down a Blake miss. Meanwhile, Milwaukee couldn't figure out a way over or through the Clipper zone--a weakness we've seen a number of times this season. Missing Delfino (sore ankle) didn't help, and the Bucks started firing blanks when they did get open looks. And fittingly they seemed to get blocked or stripped every time they found a crease to exploit. Just good, aggressive Clipper defense--the kind we're used to seeing from the Bucks.
Andrew Bogut: 41 min, 18 pts, 8/15 fg, 2/4 ft, 11 rebs, 3 ast, 1 stl, 3 blk, 2 to
Bogut was an early focal point with 10 points (5/8 fg) in the first seven minutes, but Kaman showed he could match Bogut's drives and hooks with jumpers and his own repertoire of polished post moves. The Bucks also struggled to keep Bogut involved as the game went on--he got just seven FGA in his final 34 minutes, in large part thanks to the Clippers denying him one-on-one chances with the zone and double teams.
Brandon Jennings: 35 min, 21 pts, 9/16 fg, 3/7 threes, 5 ast, 5 reb, 1 stl, 5 to
Jennings' third quarter explosion was a welcome sight, as was his tidy shooting line, especially after the way Davis took it to him early on. Skiles juggled Jennings' defensive matchups to keep him from being exploited too much, but it didn't really matter in the third as he put on a show for his hometown fans. He scored on a pretty drive and finish in the fourth, but otherwise was largely held in check by the zone.
John Salmons: 41 min, 20 pts, 6/12 fg, 1/2 threes, 7/8 ft, 3 ast, 3 to
Salmons had what seemed to be the quietest 20 points you can imagine, which isn't meant to be an insult. He was the only Buck who showed any ability to create shots--OK, perhaps not surprising--and accounted for seven of the Bucks' 11 free throws. Was a step slow in closing out on Butler's open shots, but by the same token the guards' inability to contain Davis and Gordon may have been the main reason.
.531. The Clips shot 53% from the field, which was not surprisingly a combination of good shooting and step-slow defending.
29-19. On the ESPN telecast, Hughes told Kevin Calabro at the start of the fourth that he was going to the zone, which immediately made me nervous. Even though the Bucks have plenty of shooters, they've been foiled by the zone on a number of occasions this year, most obviously because it's harder to get Bogut the ball in close.
25-19. The Bucks had held 10 of their last 13 opponents under 20 assists, while they've managed 20 or more in 10 of 13. This is how you win basketball games, so it's not surprising that the Clips' 25-19 edge translates into a Bucks loss. Overall, the Clippers simply did a better job of preventing penetration and closing out on shooters than the Bucks--out-Bucking the Bucks.
Jennings' mojo. It lasted only 12 minutes, but Jennings' electric third quarter was a nice reminder of the kid's explosive scoring ability--something we've obviously seen too little of in the past few months.
Short trip. If the Bucks are going to once again play scared on a Western swing then the good news is that this trip is only three games long. With a game in Denver on Saturday, it's suddenly even more important that the Bucks pull out a victory on Friday against the 23-45 Kings.
Losing to the Clips. No offense, Clipper Nation, but losing to the other inhabitants of the Staples Center is kind of embarrassing right now. I'm not sure if the Bucks were complacent, but they simply couldn't match the Clippers' intensity for long period of the second and fourth quarters, and not surprisingly were outscored handily in both periods.
Scrubbed. The Bucks' bench has generally been the group frustrating the other guys, but tonight Milwaukee got a dose of their own medicine. Though the Clips' subs only outscored the Bucks' bench by a single point (26-25), the Bucks couldn't take advantage of Davis and Kaman watching from the bench to start the fourth. Skiles tried to blow it open by sticking with the group that went on a big run to close the third, but the Clippers' zone and energy not only let them hang in the game, but helped them take a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Moreover, the Clipper bench scored 26 on 17 shots, while the Buck bench's 25 came on 28 shots. Not getting it done.
Fouls. We've seen it for much of the year, but tonight the Bucks' inability to defend without fouling was again put on display--this time for the whole nation to see. When the Clips struggled with their jumpers they could always rely on the Bucks fouling them when they attacked the rim. The Bucks outfouled the Clips by a whopping 26-12 margin and made just 11/14 from the stripe, compared to 27/34 from L.A.