The Packers may have exorcised some of their Philly demons last weekend, but Milwaukee's pro hoops team? Not this year, apparently.
Philly's hoopsters couldn't miss early and the Bucks couldn't make a shot late, as Lou Williams' three pointer with 43 seconds left was enough to help the 76ers edge past their Wisconsin rivals and open up a full game lead in the race to catch the Bobcats for the eighth seed. Some subpar defending and uncharacteristic Philly shot-making (57% field goals! 7/14 threes!) had the Bucks on the verge of getting blown out in both the second and third quarters, with Williams (25 points on 14 shots) and Andre Iguodala (15 pts on 10 shots, seven assists, six boards) leading the charge. But the Bucks bounced back both times to stay within two possessions, because, well, that's what always happens.
Unfortunately, winning in Philly isn't what the Bucks do, but it's not to say they didn't have every opportunity to pull this one out in spite of some uncharacteristically mediocre defense. Drew Gooden continued his curious evolution into nothing more than a spot-up jump-shooter (6/10 fg, 12 pts, 2 rebs), splashing a pair to open the fourth, followed by two more buckets from Corey Maggette (16 pts on 10 shots) to bring the Bucks to within a single point. As usual, John Salmons took a bunch of difficult shots and made only a few of them (5/13 fg, 12 pts), but he also capped a 17-4 run with a wide open wing three that gave Milwaukee an 83-81 lead with just under nine minutes left, their first advantage since the opening quarter. The teams then seesawed back and forth the rest of the way, with neither team leading by more than two, but Williams was the only guy to make a shot in the final two minutes and deservedly came away with the win.
Bucks survive the first half
Philly seemed to be deflecting every other pass the Bucks made early on, but Milwaukee was still making enough shots and Bogut was protecting the rim well enough to lead 23-20 with a couple minutes left in the first. So things seemed to be progressing innocently enough up until the insertion of Gooden and Boykins coincided/directly caused a 17-2 run that saw Lou Williams having his way with the Bucks off the bounce. Iguodala's triple capped off an 8-0 run in the final minute of the first, and Williams added to the Bucks' misery with an off-balance three of his own to start the second.
Philly extended their lead to 51-36 with four minutes left, but the Bucks finished strong, beginning with a Boykins three. Evan Turner then turned it over on consecutive possessions, leading to a mid-ranger from Ersan Ilyasova and a fastbreak layup from Chris Douglas-Roberts (funny how the Bucks transition game seems to wake up with CD-R in the game). Thad Young then had a forgettable sequence in which he mowed over Bogut for an offensive foul and fouled Ilyasova on a corner three, helping the Bucks trim the lead to a more manageable 55-49 at the intermission.
Fourth quarter drama...and disappointment
Though he often looked hopeless defensively against the Sixers' bigger guard, Earl Boykins (11 ast, 0 to) took on the uncharacteristic role of distributor in the fourth, dishing out five assists but also missing all three of his shots in the decisive period. That included a good look at game-winning three on the Bucks' final play, but it wasn't the Bucks' only chance to snatch a crucial victory over their Eastern rivals.
On a rare night where he made more field goals than free throws, Maggette calmly scooped a baseline drive over two defenders to give the Bucks a 94-92 lead with 2:02 left, but the Bucks blew a golden opportunity to extend the lead on their next possession despite two chances. Boykins missed a three from the left corner that would have put the Bucks up five, and the Sixers' swarming, doubling defense left the Bucks frazzled and unable to cash in after collecting the long rebound, as Gooden was stuck holding the ball 30 feet from the hoop as the shot clock expired.
Williams then buried the eventual game-winning three on the ensuing possession with 43 seconds left, and Salmons predictably missed just seven seconds later. I say predictably not to be a jerk, but because Salmons is shooting 18% in clutch situations this year. This is your go-to-guy, ladies and gentlemen. To his credit, Salmons then played excellent defense on WIlliams moments later, avoiding a foul on Lou's pump-fake and helping create a turnover that gave the Bucks a final chance with 11 ticks remaining. But still...it probably didn't help matters that he played the entire second half.
The Bucks then isolated Maggette at the top of the key for their final shot, but Iguodala stripped him as he drove right and went up for a potential game-winner. The Bucks recovered and found Boykins open on the right side for a chance to win it, but alas, he couldn't connect, dropping the Bucks to 14-23.
Andrew Bogut. Bogut is sick, injured, and liable to spontaneously combust at any moment, but he did a bit of everything and that's why he also means more or less everything to the Bucks: 12 boards, five assists, three blocks, three steals. He cracked double-figure points as well, but 10 points on 10 shots is just more of the same offensive inconsistency and unreliability that we've seen for weeks now--which happens to coincide with the viral infection we've only heard about in the past few days. Feel better, Bogey.
Aside from a nice drive and reverse lay-in, Bogut was mostly invisible offensively in the fourth, a theme we've seen too often. That said, it was a bit more defensible since the Bucks were moving the ball and getting good shots for most of the period.
Corey Maggette. Maggette came up empty with the game on the line, but it's tough to deny his role in bringing the Bucks back into the game (16 pts, 7/10 fg, 5 reb, 3 ast). Maggette made 4/6 fg in the fourth and his tough drive and bucket with two minutes left gave the Bucks their last lead of the game. I feel like he's settling for too many backward-leaning long jumpers of late (5/8 fg on long twos tonight), but it didn't prevent him from scoring with high efficiency on this night at least. That's sort of the deal with Maggette--he's going to tick a bunch of people off because you know he's just looking to score, but even in an off-year he's still better at it than pretty much anyone else you could give the ball to.
Earl Boykins. I'll be honest, I was pretty exasperated watching Boykins get mauled by Williams in the second quarter, and the Bucks win the game if he could have made either of his shots in the final two minutes. But the Little General facilitated the Bucks' fourth quarter comeback and it's tough to complain too much about your third string PG's 11 assists and no turnovers, even if it comes with 3/11 shooting.
7/14. Philly is 26th in the NBA in threes/game (5.2) and 20th in 3fg percentage, but you wouldn't know it from their 50% night on Friday. The Sixers started a red-hot 6/8 before missing five in a row as the Bucks fought back into the lead down the stretch. But Williams made their final attempt count.
57%. The Bucks made a respectable 48% from the field, so they really couldn't have picked a worse time to allow their opponents to shoot 57%. There have been few times this year when the Bucks' defense was culpable for a defeat, but this is one of them.
114-113. The Bucks played one of their slowest-paced games of the year for the second game in a row, which again masked the efficiency of both teams' offenses. Though neither team cracked 100 pts, they were both well above their seasonal averages (113 pts/100 for the Bucks vs. 114 pts/100 for the Sixers).
Boykins/Gooden in the fourth quarter. I thought they stunk in the first half (see below), but along with Maggette they were instrumental in helping the Bucks come back with Bogut on the bench in the fourth. Lots of pick and roll, lots of Gooden finding open spots from which to calmly drill jump shots. I'm not thrilled with the big man becoming an exclusive jump shooter, but he's been pretty solid in that department (40% on long twos)
Boards and Turns. With the Sixers on fire the Bucks didn't have too many defensive rebounds to grab, but their 84.6% defensive rebound rate was their highest total in six games and their eight turnovers translated into their lowest turnover rate in 23 games.
Boykins/Gooden in the second quarter. Gooden in particular just didn't seem to have any energy early on, providing no help on a P&R that saw Williams blow by Boykins (who was screened and weighs 135 pounds) for a layup. He didn't seem to have much answer for Elton Brand either, and in general his inability to defend the paint became even more obvious since he had replaced the league's leading shot-blocker. Before the season I thought Gooden might be best used as the Bucks' backup center, but the first half had me wondering why Larry Sanders can't seem to get more consistent burn.
DNP-CDR. After his anonymous, scoreless night against the Spurs, Chris Douglas-Roberts looked noticeably better in the first half tonight, scoring eight points (2/3 fg, 4/4 ft) in 11 first half minutes. So why was he glued to the bench for the entirety of the second half? I know Skiles doesn't like to go away from a lineup that's working late in the game, but Salmons played the entire second half and certainly could have used a blow at some point, couldn't he?
Bottoming out, again. Not only are the Bucks a season-high nine games under .500, but Speedy noted in the game thread that this is the worst record the Bucks have had after 37 games since the lottery-winning 04/05 season.