MILWAUKEE -- First the Bucks won the varsity game in Dallas. Now they won the jayvee match.
It's not quite like that, but with Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brandon Jennings, and Drew Gooden, (and then Caron Butler -- injured in the first quarter, and of course Carlos Delfino -- sadly that could go without mention at this point) sidelined, this game was not representative of the best of either team. But considering both clubs finished the game without those three key players, it wasn't all that unfair of a matchup either.
This win was a lot less surprising than the first one, but forgive me for not expecting the Bucks to pull this game out, even as last year's buzzer-beater and this year's MVP candidate watched in jeans and sportscoat. Not after another sub-80 point game in Chicago.
Each quarter had a unique identity but the Bucks went back to the basics, and the basics remained the same throughout -- Milwaukee outrebounded Dallas in each quarter, they totaled at least as many second-chance points in each quarter, and they got help from the bench in every quarter.
Milwaukee started off trying to get Andrew Bogut involved early, but he had two passes in the first two minutes result in turnovers and as the Mavericks threw some zone coverage, the Bucks had to find other ideas. They did. John Salmons and Ersan Ilyasova both made 3-5 playing the entire first quarter and the Bucks shot well to start (10-20).
They shot even better in the second quarter (11-20) as Earl Boykins made five straight shots, but he was upstaged by Jose Juan Barea, who played beautiful basketball in a 16-point quarter to bring the Mavericks with two points at 52-50 at the break. Without Nowitzki, Marion, or Butler, the Mavs had to rely on their guards for offense throughout, and the Jasons (Kidd and Terry) worked it for 15 combined points as Dallas played some smallish-ball lineups featuring them. Boykins kept the hot hand while Barea did not, the third quarter was not the most visually pleasing, and it remained a two-point affair going into the final 12.
Scott Skiles ran a two-point-guard-attack the entire fourth, but it was John Salmons who initiated most of the offense, scoring five points and handing out all five of his assists in the final period in a really fantastic individual finish that was all about the team. Meanwhile, the Bucks clamped down defensively and the Mavericks just ran out of ideas, hurling and missing all seven of their threes and totaling one assist in a 16-point fourth quarter.
The Mavericks are playing their best basketball against the best teams, and clearly the Bucks are not among that group. But the fact that the Bucks also seem to play worse against the worst and their best against the better bodes well for any potential playoff appearance in this New Year.
Earl Boykins. The Bucks have won three games in the last 18 days since they won in Dallas. Boykins has been no small part (...) in all three of them.
He scored 22 on 8-12 shooting in the shocking win over the Lakers, dropped 19 of the team's 84 points in Sacramento, and now topped it all by going for 26 points and 6 assists off the bench to slay Dallas.
John Salmons. Didn't get to the line until less than four minutes left in the game, but that was in no way representative of his overall activity. Salmons did what was needed, when it was needed, and did it over and over. In the third quarter, he kept the Bucks on course in a back-and-forth game with seven points. And in the fourth quarter, he was the playmaker on a court that he shared with Jason Kidd. Salmons scored five in the fourth quarter, but much more importantly he dished out five assists playing the entire final period as Skiles continues to frequently ride Salmons for 40+ minutes (41 tonight, 40+ in five of last seven).
Ace all-around performance by Salmons, who added 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals on 9-15 from the field and 2-4 from three.
Ersan Ilyasova. I watched Brian Cardinal blow by (emphasis: Brian Cardinal blow by) him at least three times, but Ilyasova stuck with it, like he always sticks with it according to Scott Skiles after the game:
You always know you are going to get great effort out of Ersan.
If you don't know Skiles, know that Skiles isn't the type to just say that, even if he is in a good mood for his standards. Skiles has been a believer in Ersan for a while now -- he often said last year that he felt Ilaysova would become a better and better three point shooter -- I think he said he thought 35 or 36 %. That hasn't happened (and he was 0-2 from distance tonight), but he did show a number of the other attributes that frequently made him a perfect complementary player last season.
Namely, Ersan owned the glass. He pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds as Milwaukee absolutely crushed Dallas on the boards by a 51-31 count. Ilyasova also made all six of his free throws and scored 16 points on 5-11 from the field. Prime.
63.2 % Milwaukee assisted on 24 of 38 (.632) field goals. That is almost as high as the team with the top percentage in the NBA this season -- which happens to be Dallas, who came into the night assisting on 63.38 % of their field goals.
Tonight, Dallas assisted on 16 of 30 (.533) field goals. Coincidentally, that is almost the same number as Milwaukee came into the night: 52.95 % -- ranking 24th overall.
Last season the Bucks were 12th overall at 57.2 %. Obviously this statistic controls for field goals so a bad offense shouldn't necessarily have a low Assist Percentage -- but looking at this year's data, that seems to be the case.
50-24. The Bucks outscored the Mavericks 50-24 in the paint -- a satisfying and strange stat on a night when Andrew Bogut contributed just six points from inside. Milwaukee made 25-38 (.658) in the paint compared to 12-23 (.522) for Dallas. One unusual bonus for the Bucks in this area is that they actually got out in transition to the tune of 15 fastbreak points on 5-6 shooting.
1. Andrew Bogut's sideline 15-foot jumper ("jumper") gave the Bucks an 85-77, so it was a lot more than just a curiousity -- it was a huge shot at a major juncture. But, yes, it was also a major statistical curiousity. As Frank tweeted, the shot improved Bogut to 1-11 from outside 15 feet this season. And yet, after the game, Scott Skiles said he would like to Bogut actually shoot more from that distance:
There's no reason he can't make that shot. He made that shot at Utah. He makes it for the Australian National Team, we've seen many times. We've seen him at practice. In the game, when he's faced up like that without nobody around him, he's got a decent stroke right there. He should take more of those.
Coincidentally, before the game, my colleague Jeremy from Bucksketball spotted Bogut taking (and making) 15-footers and we both wondered why he would bother practicing those shots when he never takes them in games.
After the game, we talked about how Skiles encouraged the idea of Bogut taking more of those shots and then recalled how after Drew Gooden (career 21.9 % three-point shooter) made both of three pointers against the Lakers a month and a half ago, Gooden said this:
It's something I have been working on. Coach gave me confidence in there one day. He said you have three point range. If you are open, let if fly. So I had the opportunity to stay after practice working on it... just work on my game, and help this team out.
Since then, Gooden is 1-6 on threes. And Gooden actually has certifiable range out to 20 feet or so, and is a sharp free throw shooter. So it might be wise to get about as excited for Bogut to start hitting those 15-footers on the regular as you would be for Gooden to do likewise on threes.
Brockness. This was a really frustrating night for the Mavericks in the first place. Nowitzki and Marion were out, Butler had to leave in the first quarter -- even the Extraodinary Ian Mahinmi had to leave the game after getting cut above the eye.
And Jon Brockman did just about everything he could in less than ten game minutes to further annoy the Mavericks. I have lamented the loss of Kurt Thomas at certain moments this season -- like last Tuesday against the Bulls when he delivered a classic performance against the Bucks -- for his rugged enforcer and leadership attributes.
At his very best, a young Brockman can do a decent Dennis Rodman-meets-Kurt Thomas impression. And tonight he was at it.
Midway through the second quarter, Brockman got tangled up with Brian Cardinal under the basket as the play went to the other side of the court. And by "tangled up" I mean Brockman pulled Cardinal to the ground, unbeknownst to the officials. Shortly thereafter, an agitated Cardinal was hit with a technical after pulling Chris Douglas-Roberts to the ground in similar fashion. The difference is that Brockman pulled his stunt far away from the play whereas Cardinal did right in plain view of everyone. And so the retaliator got marked up -- classic Rodman instigator-stuff.
Brockman was also really tugging on Tyson Chandler away from the ball on defense, and Chandler visibly and audibly explained his displeasure with the lack of a call after a miss on the way back down the court. Brockman grabbed two offensive boards, made both of his shots, got an assist, committed four fouls, and generally made more than a nine minute and forty-six second impact.
Shorts in the winter. Earl Boykins (5-5, 133) and Jose Juan Barea (6-0, 175) were the two smallest players on the court and the two best players on the court for their respective teams on this eve. And they were both a joy to watch, somehow routinely scooping in shots over players more than a foot taller. Even with some of the best players making some of the best plays, you don't really wonder "How did he do that?" When LeBron James does something silly, it's great, but it's also pretty obvious how he was able to make the play. With Boykins and Barea, it's always a bit of a mystery.
In a zone. After the game Skiles said the Mavericks were in a zone about fifty percent of the time, and if there is one NBA team that should have no success against the zone, it is this one. Yet for the second time this season, the very worst offense in the NBA solved the vaunted zone defense of the Mavericks. Maybe not solved, but the Bucks shot even better tonight (49.4 %) than they did in their first win in Dallas a few weeks ago when they scored 103.
The Bucks actually only made 4-13 (.307) from 16-23 feet, and also managed just 4-16 (.250) on threes, but they passesd, and not just for the sake of it, like we so often see. They passed, and they purposefully moved off the ball, and so they managed to score more than half (50) of their points in the paint, even against a zone-heavy defense.
Concussed. Luc Mbah a Moute left the game early in the second quarter with a mild concussion, which remains a relatively rare injury for basketball players but depressingly commonplace among Bucks this season. As Frank tweeted during the game, all three of the team's small forwards (Mbah a Moute, Delfino, Maggette) have suffered concussions this season.
Not a finals preview. Milwaukee might have their number, but unfortunately
Milwaukee Dallas is unlikely to make this potential Finals matchup a reality.
No way, Jose. Sometimes the ball just doesn't want to go in the basket for J.J., but this was not one of those nights for Jose Juan Barea, who torched the Bucks for 16 points in the second quarter alone, single-handedly keeping the Mavs in the game in a game in which not many Mavs were actually in the game.