PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Living in picturesque New Jersey, I'm usually not afforded the opportunity to see quality NBA basketball. Shoot, I haven't seen a ball game in over a year, and that wasn't exactly a shining example of impressive hoops. So whenever I get a chance to go to a game, it's a big deal. That's especially true this season, where our beloved Bucks are an unexpected center of attention, despite a horrific injury to their best player.
Honestly, I did not expect this outing to be a successful one. Without Bogut, the frontcourt tandem of Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert seemed too much to overcome, especially with a player Maurice Speights getting backup minutes against the Milwaukee Wonder Twins (Dan Gadzuric and Primoz Brezec). So between that and the matchup problems posed by the lightning quick Lou Williams, I fully believed that the team would stumble this evening. It was just a feeling I had.
Thankfully, these Bucks don't warrant those types of worries anymore. They're simply a good team, and the rest of the league is on notice.
So, with my pad and paper, I scribbled as many notes as I could while enjoying the 95-90 Bucks win in Philly. After the jump is my account.
- My very first note on my piece of paper: "Shooters - dialed in. Should have effective 3PT%" I have a witness that can corroborate my story.
- Brandon Jennings loves this game. Not only does he just love the sport of basketball, but he loves the NBA game; the spectacle, the camaraderie, and the attention. A group of pre-teen Philly fans was inching as close to the court as the ushers would allow, and the moment they recognized Jennings, they excitedly pointed and addressed him. With a smile on his face, he greeted them back and asked how they were doing. He then exhibited a series of impressively-quick dribble moves, punctuating the show with a gorgeous step-back 3. He turned back and winked at the kids, who were understandably slack-jawed. When's the last time the Bucks had a player that drew that kind of reaction?
- Sixers fans are nothing compared to Eagles or Phillies fans. Granted, a 7 PM start time on a Friday night is a perfect family outing, and there were a ton of kids there, but there were a fair share of groups of twenty-something males who were decked out in Philly gear. Clad in my fresh Andrew Bogut jersey (sad face), I expected to be heckled repeatedly, but I never even received so much as a dirty look. It's almost like the home crowd felt very little emotion towards the team because of the lack of success they've had on the court. Just like the good old days.
- Despite losing the tip, the Bucks ripped off a 9-0 run right off the bag that forced a Philly timeout after less than two minutes of play. No Buck sparked this more than Carlos Delfino, whose three pointer, two steals, dunk, and assist quickly took the home crowd out of the building.
- The Bucks defense is something to witness in person. There is always someone swarming to the ball. Hands are always in the faces of shooters. Someone is always boxing out. Opposing scorers are always getting frustrated. Scott Skiles, you are the man.
- Kurt Thomas: too old? Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert will disagree, having been on the wrong side of two vicious blocks.
- Dan Gadzuric. Say what you will about him, but the man tries like no other. Unfortunately, he tries so hard that he makes stupid mistakes (two quick fouls put the Bucks over the limit with eight minutes left in the quarter). What's worse is that he was replaced by Primoz Brezec, who, as my friend Lindsay put it, looked "flabby and awkward." But Primoz did get a nice dunk, which I'm sure makes him feel like a part of the team.
- Luke Ridnour needs to be re-signed after the season. Not only does he look kind of like a young Justin Timberlake (what is with the ladies I attend Bucks games with liking this guy?), but he is an excellent run-stopper. No, I don't mean that the same way I mean it when I'm talking about Packer NT Ryan Pickett. When Philly went on a run that threatened the lead, it was Ridnour who took the initiative to score the ball, quiet the crowd, and ruin the 76ers' rhythm.
Words cannot express how well Ridnour and Jennings work together. The fact that they played a large portion of the fourth quarter together underlines how much they depend on each other when they're both on the court, but having the ability to replace your point guard but not lose that much in terms of making the offense click. John Hammond, re-sign this guy ASAP so we don't have to worry about the PG spot.
- I'm just now noticing that John Salmons is having a quiet start. At the time, I thought it was because Skiles was riding the Delfino-Jennings Express, but it turns out that he was sick. I wanted to see a post-trade Salmons performance so that I could gauge his chances of successfully coming back next year, so I'm sad I missed out on it. But I feel like there's enough support for his return back in the 414, both from fans and from management.
- Question: Is the NBA still allowing hip-hop with blatant firearm references to play in their arenas? At the end of the intermission, the speakers were blaring none other than Snoop Dogg's 2010 remake of the Ice Cube classic "Check Yo Self", which contains several gun references (including the AK-47, one of the most widely dispersed and dangerous weapons in gang warfare). If they had edited out the parts about shotguns and assault rifles, I would understand it (even though it would ruin the song).
So, David Stern: On the same day that Gilbert Arenas travels to jail to be processed for his locker room standoff as a part of your anti-gun crusade, you might want to chiggitty-check yourself and your NBA arena DJ's.
- Something I've been noticing lately: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's development as a low post scorer. No, he's not going to back someone down and drop a lefty hook like Bogut will, but he's getting very good at getting himself into position to receive a pass and go up quick for a close-range shot.
- Andre Iguodala drives the lane, gets fouled, but doesn't get the call. Ersan Ilyasova drives the lane, gets fouled, gets the call. Iggy doesn't like this, gets a tech, which wakes the 76ers up ever so briefly. But this was a microcosm of the game; despite being the home team, the 76ers were getting no calls from the refs. It's one of the few times where I can say that the officials called an even game, even if there were too many swallowed whistles for my taste.
- Eddie Jordan made one of the more head-scratching coaching decisions I'd ever seen. Down nine with 3:42 left in the quarter, Jrue Holiday comes up with a rebound off of a Delfino miss, pushes the ball up court, and finds Andre Iguodala in position to deliver a sick one-handed alley-oop to Sam Dalembert. It brought the house down, and rightfully so. The crowd was starting to stir.
Then, after forcing a missed jumper by LRMaM and Elton Brand blocking a Salmons jumper, Jordan called a timeout. I asked myself, "Why would you want to ruin the momentum you've just built up?! The team is feeling it, the crowd is into it, and the Bucks look like they're getting winded. Why give them a chance to recover?" It just didn't make sense, and it still doesn't.
- Remember how Ridnour stopped a 76ers' run earlier in the game? Jerry Stackhouse did the same thing with a contested corner three. Loved this pickup when it happened, still loving it now.
- The Sixers keep forcing the issue, and the Bucks are more than happy to foul them. Three quick shooting fouls in the first four minutes got the 76ers to the line, where they were more than happy to brick their way into oblivion (9-20 on the night. Ouch.) If that number were just a bit higher, this game would have been a completely different story.
- Lou Williams takes over, scoring five straight to cut the deficit back to five points. The Bucks are on the ropes.
- But then comes Ersan Ilyasova and his sweet, sweet jumper. He was having a terrible game up to this point, with too many fouls, too many misses, and not enough impact plays. Leaving him open at the top of the key three years ago? Would have been a fine idea. Leaving him open at the top of the key this year? You're just asking for a dagger. It gives the Bucks a brief reprieve from the Philly onslaught, and does wonders for his confidence.
- Then, just like that, Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala hit huge three-pointers, bracketed around yet another missed Brandon Jennings layup.
- Luckily, the Bucks hold serve at the line, where Jennings redeems his earlier miss and (again) proves himself to be a gamer, able to hit pressure shots. I love this kid.
* * *
Carlos Delfino. He was so much better than Jason Kapono that it isn't even funny. He was hitting shots left and right, hustling on defense, and co-led the team with a +8 differential.
Luke Ridnour. As Jennings' shot isn't falling (as it usually doesn't), Ridnour is there to pick up the slack. His uber-efficient offensive outing was vintage Frodo, hitting jumpers, floaters, and layups wherever the opening presented itself.
Ersan Ilyasova. His one field goal was the biggest of the game, giving the Bucks an seven-point cushion with a minute left. Thanks to some big-time Philly shots, this game got closer than it ever was in the first 45 minutes of the game, but it was Illy's three pointer that gave Milwaukee the room to work with.
21 > 20. The Bucks made one more free throw than the 76ers attempted. No home cooking in Philly this time.
45.0%. Not only did the Sixers not get to the line as much as Iguodala and Speights wanted (both received technical fouls for arguing calls with the refs), but they hit less than half of their freebies. I attribute this to a symptom of dealing with a tough, in-your-face Scott Skiles-led defense.
28-10. The Bucks didn't lead in very many statistical areas, and one of the biggest gaps was on points in transition. Despite getting some great ball handling from Jennings, Ridnour, and Delfino, Milwaukee only managed a handful of transition buckets, whereas the athletic 76ers were able to almost triple up the Bucks' total. It was an unwelcome sight, but still didn't turn the outcome of the game.
THREE GOOD/THREE BAD
I think I already covered more than enough of the good and bad from this game, so I won't bore you guys any longer. This night was a night where the team continued to assert it's defense-first mentality and dictate the tempo for much of the game. There was excellent ball movement, possession control, shooting, and even better defense, and it led to just another Bucks win. When's the last time we could say something like that?