If you're wondering where the Milwaukee Bucks' 09/10 mojo disappeared to, you could make a good case that it followed Kurt Thomas 90 miles south along I-94 last summer. The 38-year-old former Buck lit up his ex-teammates for a season-high 22 points (10/16 fg) as the Bulls continued to make mincemeat (in this case venison) of their Central Division rivals, improving to 10-0 against divisional foes and extending their lead to a whopping 13 games over second place Indiana. Aside from the points, Thomas also added nine boards, five assists, and some excellent defense on Andrew Bogut, which was more than enough to somewhat quieter (but still productive) nights from Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer,
While Thomas' offensive explosion was unexpected, the Bulls' defense and the Bucks' inability to dig themselves out of a hole were far more predictable, as Chicago effectively put the game away with a 29-14 second quarter and didn't waver even as the Bucks managed to draw within 83-76 with 4:31 remaining. Chris Douglas-Roberts did all he could to keep the Bucks in the game in the third quarter, breaking out of his recent slump with a season-high-tying 30 points on 21 shots, but he had little help.
The Bucks started respectably, trailing by just a point after one quarter thanks in large part to 11 rebounds and six points in the first period from Bogut. But Thomas of all people took the game over early in the second with a flurry of open mid-range jumpers, and as usual the Bucks played enough defense to stay in it but couldn't score enough points to dig out of it. Among other issues, Larry Sanders spent most of his time trying to help on C.J. Watson andRose, ignoring the fact that Thomas was murdering the Bucks with the tippy-toe jumper we saw so often last year. By halftime the big fella had already scored a season-high 16 points on 10 shots, though the Bucks were uncharacteristically outshooting Chicago (41.2% to 39.5%) even while the Bulls began to stretch to a double-digit lead.
Chicago clogged the middle effectively, which in concert with some lazy passing and ball-handling saw the Bucks cough it up 10 times in the first half and result in a 12-2 Bull advantage in points off turnovers. The Bulls also grabbed six of their 14 offensive rebounds in the period, using their superior energy to pile up second chances whenever they did seem to miss. And while much of the Bulls' damage occurred with their leading scorer resting, Rose popped his head back into the proceedings long enough to finish the half with a whirling finish that sent the Bulls to the locker room up 48-32.
Piling on the Bucks' misery, Thomas then ripped two more jumpers in the opening minutes of the third, allowing Bogut to fly by before taking a dribble to his left and scoring his 20th point of the night. But Douglas-Roberts scored half of his 30 points in the third period to help the Bucks narrow Chicago's lead to ten entering the final quarter, and he continued to rain in teardrops, contested layups, and well-defended jumpers to keep the scoreline respectable into the waning minutes.
Chris Douglas-Roberts. CD-R had managed just 21 points total in his last six games (8/23 fg) but every two weeks or so he seems to put it all together, doesn't he? Though he missed a tough jumper and airballed a runner in the early going, Douglas-Roberts didn't lose confidence and began scoring in his typical random/unorthodox way: a runner here, a high-arcing mid-range jumper there, a fastbreak dunk for good measure. As usual, CD-R was doing his damage in the flow of the offense and gradually became more aggressive as the game wore on, offsetting an invisible night from Corey Maggette and Bogut's increasingly marginalized role as the night went on.
Keyon Dooling. Earl Boykins was flat-out bad in every way in the second quarter--requiring all kinds of help on defense and missing all four of his shots--so thankfully Skiles didn't fall into the trap of defaulting to Boykins down the stretch as he so often does. Though he was fairly peripheral in the early going, Dooling worked his way into the game and drilled 4/6 threes on his way to a second double-double in three games.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute didn't play much (16 minutes) and had the unenviable task of defending the stronger Boozer a few times down the stretch, but he had three terrific, aggressive drives and finishes (4/5 overall, 8 pts) in addition to seven boards.
46.1%. That's a pretty damn good fg% for the Bucks, and notably better than the Bulls' 39.5%. Considering how regularly the Bucks come out on the reverse end of the shooting stats, this feels like a seriously wasted opportunity. But Chicago made up for it in every other category, more than doubling the Bucks up at the free throw line (22/25 vs. 8/11), taking better care of the ball (13 turnovers vs. 8), and grabbing nearly twice as many offensive rebounds (13-7).
29-14. Milwaukee lost the first quarter by just a point and edged the Bulls in both the third and fourth quarters, but all it took was one terrible second quarter to send the Bucks on their way to another game where they got down big and just didn't have the firepower to come back.
15. Bogut coudn't score on Thomas but managed 11 boards in the first quarter and 15 in the first half en route to a game-high 18.
The Return of CD-R. With Salmons out again, CD-R took advantage of another start to remind everyone what he can do when he's feeling it, which according to my calcs is about once every two weeks. The inconsistency is frustrating, but it at least shows the kind of impact CD-R can have when he's got his game right and
Fresh faces. Former LSU combo-guard Garrett Temple is your newest Milwaukee Buck, but the bigger news is that Brandon Jennings could be back as soon as Wednesday. Dooling and Boykins have done about as well as could have been expected in the five weeks since Jennings went under the knife, but the Bucks clearly need more offensive talent and not less right now, particularly with Gooden and Salmons in and out of the lineup and Delfino trying to work his way back.
KT kills Bogut. Not to diminish the importance of Bogut's 18 rebounds, but it just doesn't seem possible for the Bucks to win games when an ancient guy like Thomas so clearly outplays the Bucks' captain. After starting 3/5, Bogut made just 1/6 in the final three quarters, as Thomas used his strength and savvy to keep Bogut from getting deep position and any other easy buckets. Probably best summing up Bogut's long night at the offensive end was a sequence in the third when he blocked Thomas' jump shot and dribbled the length of the court for a breakaway dunk or layup, only to lose the ball entirely as he went up to finish.
Forwards playing small. I'm happy to give Delfino something of a pass as he works his way back into playing shape, but that doesn't mean I want to see him playing major minutes (30:43) and forcing jump shots (1/5 fg) as he gets his legs back. A number of Carlos' shots were heavily contested--even his one made shot was a difficult step back--so the primary message to him at this point would be to take it slow. Meanwhile, Maggette's string of solid performances came crashing to a halt in his home state, as he picked up two early fouls and never seemed to find a rhythm, finishing just 1/4 for four points with three turnovers in 20 min.
Opportunity Knocks. Rose (22 points, 5/16 shooting, 10 ast) and Boozer (14 pts, 4/10 fg) weren't bad by any stretch, but anytime you more or less contain them while also keeping Luol Deng under wraps (nine points on eight shots), you hope for more than a nine point loss.