As regular readers are well aware, two decades of being a Bucks fan has ingrained in me a certain degree of skepticism. When good things happen, I'm excited. But also decidedly...wary. Call it a defense mechanism or straight-up paranoia, but it keeps the lows tolerable and highs pleasantly unexpected. Given the amount of time and emotional energy that goes into following a small market, not-very-successful basketball team, it's also self-preservation.
So it's difficult to really express the range of emotions I felt while watching Andrew Bogut writhing around on the ground in agony Saturday night (I've already had to describe Bogut's ugly fall once, so check out that post if you want the video or written description. It's not pleasant, and I'd prefer not to relive it any more than I have to). There was the instinctual shock of seeing such an enormous man land in such a hard, gruesome manner. In some ways it didn't matter who it was--there's just something fundamentally unsettling about seeing a person hurt in that manner. Then there's sadness of seeing someone you like in such pain. No, I don't know Bogut personally, but as a Bucks fan it's hard not to like the guy and how hard he's worked to make basketball relevant in Milwaukee.
And then there's the disappointment over what Bogut's injury means for the Bucks. The latest word from the JS and Gery Woelfel is that Bogut has a dislocated elbow, sprained wrist and broken hand, which confirms what seemed immediately obvious: Bogut is done for the season. Granted, the Bucks weren't going to be favored to win a playoff series anyway, but it's hard not to have that "here we go again" feeling--seriously, can't we have just one season where it doesn't seem like the basketball gods are toying with us?
The sad irony is that losing Bogut overshadowed what was an otherwise outstanding night on the court. Milwaukee led by 20+ for much of the second half en route to snapping the Suns' 10-game winning streak, blitzing Phoenix's porous defense behind a balanced attack that featured seven players in double figures. The Bucks defended well, Phoenix didn't make shots (0/8 fg to start), and the Bucks were better than usual on offense. That's a good combination against any team, and it was a great tonic after last night's disappointing OT loss in Charlotte.
The game was effectively put out of reach in the second quarter, as the Bucks used a 20-4 run over the final six minutes to balloon a 38-30 lead into a 58-34 halftime edge. Bogut's injury came smack in the middle of it, but the Bucks kept their focus and Phoenix looked mostly content to mail it in and fly back to the desert at the end of their road trip. That carried over to the third quarter as well, as the Bucks weathered 12 points from Amare Stoudemire to maintain a 19 point edge going into the third. Things got a bit nervous in the fourth as the Suns' second unit brought some much-needed energy, but not even some inspired stuff from Goran Dragic (20 pts, six dimes) and Leandro Barbosa (21 pts) could dig the Suns out of their massive hole.
Kurt Thomas: 31 min, 10 pts, 5/6 fg, 7 reb, 2 blk, 1 ast, 1 to
Thomas has played well of late, but I was still a bit skeptical of how Skiles might utilize him against a front line that prominently features Stoudemire and Channing Frye--not exactly the kind of guys you'd want Thomas chasing around on defense. But as it turned out he saw action even before Bogut's injury, stroking a couple quick catch-and-shoot jumpers as the Bucks extended their lead early in the second quarter.
He also rose to the challenge once Bogut departed for the hospital, especially on the defensive end. With Phoenix's second unit making a run in the fourth quarter, Thomas responded with two huge blocks on consecutive possessions and kept another pair of possessions alive with offensive rebounds. By the way, there's no greater testament to Thomas' defensive savvy than the mere fact that he can still block any shots--shouldn't you need more than a two inch vertical to regularly swat NBA athletes around the rim?
Brandon Jennings: 31 min, 23 pts, 7/15 fg, 1/5 threes, 8/10 ft, 4 ast, 3 reb, 1 stl, 1 to
I didn't like Jennings' odds going up against Steve Nash, but he aggressively went at the Suns' defense for much of the night (6/10 fg inside the arc including 5/6 to finish the game) while scoring 21 of his 23 points after Bogut's hard fall.
After making a tough jumper to start the game, Jennings looked a bit too content to shoot fadeaways and promptly missed his next three attempts (have we seen that before?). Fortunately, he then began to exploit Phoenix's soft defense, slashing past Nash and Dragic for a number of layups and runners that also exposed the Suns' lack of credible shot-blockers. With Bogut done for the season we'll need to see a lot more of that if the Bucks are going to stay afloat offensively.
Ersan Ilyasova: 31 min, 12 pts, 5/9 fg, 1/2 threes, 1/2 ft, 7 reb, 1 ast, 1 to
Not a monster line from Ersan, but he got his usual numbers while also neutralizing the perimeter threat of Channing Frye (22 min, 1/4 fg, 3 pts). He hung with the Suns' sharp-shooting big man on defense and also outbattled him for a couple of big offensive rebounds as the Bucks built their big lead in the second quarter.
34. After the Suns scored just 18 in the first quarter, I quickly searched through their recent box scores to see how long it had been since they had such a bad quarter--five games it turns out. But amazingly they were even worse in the second period, scoring just 16 as they managed just three total assist in the first half.
53.8%. The Suns obviously aren't known for their defense, but their starters were still notable for their lack of intensity in the first three quarters, helping the Bucks knock down a sizling 54% of their shots. Bogut was having an easy time of it against Collins, Frye and Stoudemire and the perimeter defense wasn't any better. If this game is any indication, good defense beats good offense and bad defense can make even a bad offense look good.
+20. Even with Bogut's scary fall casting a dark cloud over the second quarter, the Bucks ran wild with a 36-16 scoring run that caught the Suns completely flat-footed.
Getting it done. I'm not sure what goes through players' minds when a teammate suffers a serious injury, but kudos to the Bucks for not letting the loss of their best player shake their confidence. The Bucks got little from anyone not named Salmons or Bogut in their losses in Cleveland and Charlotte, so it was nice to see a team effort offset the loss of Bogut and a relatively quiet night from Salmons (14 pts on 14 shots).
Containing Nash & Co. I'm a huge Steve Nash fan, so it was cool seeing Nash embrace Jennings and walk down the tunnel with his arm around the Bucks' prize rookie as the game ended. Just an awesome guy and unbelievable player, though the Bucks were fortunate not to see too much of the latter tonight. As usual, Nash looked intent on getting his teammates involved from the start, but the rest of the Suns' starters never seemed to get on the same page. Maybe they were tired or simply expecting the Bucks to roll over, but it certainly wasn't the kind of offense you expect from the #1 offense in the league.
Winning season. By winning their 42nd game, the Bucks guaranteed their first winning season since 2002/2003, when they finished 42-40. Since 91/92, the Bucks have amazingly won more than 42 games just once--in the 2000/2001 season when they went 52-30 and came within a game of the NBA Finals.
Bogut. It's impossible to complain about the Bucks' effort on the court tonight, but a win is small consolation for the long-term loss of the Bucks' best player. I'm already sick of talking about it. Feel better, Drew.