Examining What Worked, Ep. 1

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of posts I’ll be writing while looking back at some key games from the Bucks’ 2009-2010 season. Today I’m revisiting March 20th’s game, a 102-97 victory over the Nuggets in Denver. There was a whole lot stacked against Milwaukee: Denver was 30-5 at home coming in and had won 7 straight at the Pepsi Center; the Bucks were coming off a double-overtime game in Sacramento and didn’t get into Denver until 3 am; Denver was 14-1 at home against teams playing game two of a back-to-back.

Despite these somewhat superficial disadvantages, the Bucks shocked the Nuggets and secured their "signature road win" (apparently it was a mid-February college game). Surprisingly, they did it with very little production from both Jennings (9 pts, 4 asts) and Bogut (2 pts, 3 rebs). What’s more, they did it in spite of 29 points each from Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony.

So how did the Bucks pull off this upset against one of the top teams in the West on tired legs and with no help from two of their key players? Let’s check out some of the numbers:

MIL STAT Game MIL Avg. Net DEN Avg. DEN Net
ORtg 109.7 104.9 +4.8 111.8 -7.5
DRtg 104.3 103.1 +1.2 107.5 +2.2
Poss. 93 91.7 +(1) 94.8 -(2)

The first thing that jumps out has to be Milwaukee’s defensive effort, holding Denver almost 8 points under their average ORtg. Denver was the 3rd most efficient offensive team last year and they snagged 20 offensive rebounds in this game, so how did Milwaukee handcuff them so effectively?

Milwaukee made Denver waste a lot of shots. Billups and Anthony combined for 58 of Denver’s points, but they were completely inefficient in doing so. Melo’s 42.3 TS% was just awful, and coupled with a 48.1 USG, he was using up a good chunk of Denver’s possessions bricking shots. Billups went 5-for-17. The evil J.R. Smith showed up and went 5-of-16 for good measure.

Milwaukee also kept the Nuggets from moving the ball with any efficacy. Denver’s season AR of 19.28 wasn’t stellar, but the 11.5 mark they put up in this game is nasty. Even Billups struggled with distribution, finishing with only 3 assists and a 10.5 AR.

Defense alone wasn’t going to beat the Nuggets at home, though. With Jennings struggling to score and Bogut struggling to stay on the court, who would carry the load? Who else but John Salmons, who turned in an efficient 26 points on 16 shots and went 9-for-9 from the line. Carlos Delfino also contributed 21 points, including 4 three-pointers, and Ilyasova brought the quintessential "workhorse" performance, a 14/10 with 2 blocks.

The difference had to be the shooting. Denver shot 36.8% from the floor, while the Bucks shot a passable 46% with 9 3’s. Denver went completely cold in the final few minutes, scoring 3 points in the final 1:46 after fighting to within 1 point. Combined with the solid defensive performance, Milwaukee did just enough with the ball to upset the Nuggets in their hometown.

Still, we can’t ignore some of the bad stuff. Poor individual performances aside, the Bucks’ rebounding was pretty poor. You just can’t give up 20 offensive rebounds to an efficient offensive team and expect to win consistently. Drew Gooden should bring a stronger presence on the boards, since the Bucks lacked a consistent rebounder at the 4.

Another issue was the number of foul shots Denver earned. Billups alone drained 17 of Denver’s 30 made free throws. While this did wonders for my fantasy team, the Bucks were consistently outscored at the stripe last year, and it needs to be addressed. Bogut’s foul trouble certainly messed with the defensive game plan in this game, but adjustments could have done more to compensate. Even if the problem persists this year, Milwaukee now has a potential equalizer in Corey Maggette.

Kind of a wacky game, so it’s hard to say, "here are the parts we should emulate," but it shows the importance of disrupting an efficient offense. The Bucks accomplished this by slowing down a high-paced Denver attack and forcing lots of missed shots. With defensive execution like this and a more consistent offense, the Bucks can look forward to many more signature road wins.

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