MILWAUKEE -- The Bucks played in a meaningful game tonight at a sold-out Bradley Center against their division rival.
Caveats: Meaningful for the Bulls, because they are in a race for the top seed in the East. Sold-out, because of thousands and thousands of Bulls fans. And against their division rival, who is now 3-0 against the Bucks and 12-0 against the Central Division this season.
Before, during, and after, this was not pleasant. Before the game, we received news that Ersan Ilyasova would not play due to a concussion. Brandon Jennings turned in one the least productive games of his NBA career and then said he knows he probably won't get the ball back after he passes it. Andrew Bogut shot 2-10 and appeared to leave the game while holding his arm/elbow. John Salmons (5-16 fg) and Carlos Delfino (3-13) played a lot (team-high 37 minutes each) and shot a lot and missed a lot. Those were the key figures on the 2010-11 team that bested the Bulls by five games. And if it was not clear before tonight, it was painfully clear after that while the Bucks are still in the same division as Chicago, they are not anywhere in the same league.
The game developed as you might imagine. Derrick Rose heard "MVP" chants on the first possession, two of the top defensive teams in the NBA failed to reach 40 points by halftime, the opposing team's top players outplayed Milwaukee's top players, the Bucks scored two points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and February is at long last over for the team.
Still this qualified as a disappointment even as standards are at a low point (or back to normal, you could say). Because the Bucks came in with a 14-13 record at the Bradley Center, and the Bulls with a 13-13 record away from the United Center. But home court advantage was no great equalizer tonight -- not when more than half of the cheers came for Chicago. Whether your scope is small or you are thinking big picture, this was not a winner. It was just another night in which you could not tell if the Bucks are chasing a playoff spot or a high lottery pick. The sad reality is that they will probably end up with neither.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Absolutely crushed it against Carlos Boozer's embarrassing "defense" early on, driving by Boozer on the baseline, making open jumpers, and creating his own offense with steals (4 of those tonight) and finishes (season-high 16 points). The Prince was the best offensive player and best defensive player for Milwaukee, but he only played 26 minutes while battling foul trouble, as defensive stars clearly do not get defensive star treatment from the refs.
Earl Boykins. Brandon Jennings was benched for the entirety of the fourth quarter in favor of Boykins, and an understandably discontented Jennings was nevertheless complimentary to Boykins after the game, saying the third-string point guard "had it going." Boykins did, and he sure does from time to time. In fact, he boasts the best shooting percentage (.440) among all guards on the team, and the 4-5 effort from the field (including making 2-2 from deep) was pretty much the only offensive punch by the Bucks in the final three quarters.
Jon Brockman. A couple points and a few rebounds is sufficient for honors this eve.
9. Joakim Noah totaled nine offensive rebounds, and he had them all in the first half.
28-15. Building on that, the Bulls scored 28 second-chance points compared to 15 for the Bucks, and that was really the story of the night.
And that has been the story of the last couple weeks for Chicago. The Bulls made it nine straight games in which the have scored more second-chance points than their opponent.
25. Of course the Bucks shot 38.2 %. Milwaukee has now failed to shoot 40.0 % from the field in 25 games this season. They are 4-21 in those contests.
Two is company, 18,717 is a crowd. Though it would probably best if no one saw what happened, and Bulls fans were legitimately louder than Bucks fans, the Bradley Center did sell out (official attendance: 18,717) for the second time this season. And that made for a uniquely charged atmosphere at the BC.
Bango. Bango won Mascot of the Year back in September after a vote from his peers (mascots). And now arrives word that Bango is also the Most Awesome Mascot, as determined by the Cartoon Network. Bango also stands out among members of the organization as someone who did not allow an offensive rebound to Joakim Noah in the first half tonight.
Boykins outplays Rose. Whereas some try to find any and every reason not to give the MVP to LeBron James, many of those same people try to find any and every reason to give the MVP to Derrick Rose. Particularly Bulls fans, who comprised a majority (though not supermajority) of the cheering tonight at the Bradley Center.
Rose is having a wonderful season, is a top ten player in the NBA at this point, and a top two or three player around which to build a team right now.
But on this night, his play hardly elicited the absolutely booming "MVP" chants that shook the BC. In fact, his 17/4/4 line on 7-19 shooting was instead a spot-on impression of Brandon Jennings as we know him. And while Jennings (4/0/2) did not live up to his own averages to match Rose, the fourth quarter saw Earl Boykins badly outplay Rose. Boykins scored 10 points 4-5 shooting and made both of his triples while not turning the ball over and playing the entire quarter. The Bulls only needed six minutes from Rose and they really only needed six of their 13 total points in the fourth to score more than Milwaukee's 75 points, but Rose sputtered while being splashed with the "MVP" chants down the stretch, missing four of his six shots. A small win within the loss.
Defensive rebounding. The Bucks started the evening as a top-five defensive rebounding team in the NBA. They ended the evening with a loss because they would not/could not properly box out.
Coach Skiles attributed their work on the glass, or lack thereof, as a matter of being "outhustled" by Chicago. If that is the case, it is an indictment on both the players (who are paid to give everything they have) and the coach (who is paid to motivate), because there is no possible reason why a team playing at home in front of a sellout crowd against their rival from down the road should not be hustling.
Joakim Noah (nine offensive rebounds... in the first half) was the real terror, and the Bucks grabbed 25 defensive rebounds while the Bulls hauled in 18 offensive rebounds, a startling ratio considering Milwaukee is up in the 70s in defensive rebound rate this season.
Ersan's concussion. Larry Sanders was recalled ahead of schedule from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League, but the reason is because yet another Milwaukee Buck suffered a concussion, following in the
footsteps headaches of Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Corey Maggette. This time, Ersan Ilyasova (who scored 17 points in his previous game against Chicago last month) is the fourth forward this season to suffer from symptoms of a concussion. Ilyasova was injured on Friday at practice according to Coach Skiles:
We warmed up and did a few things non-contact and went contact for about three minutes and practice was over basically because we were down to seven guys because he got hit. He had a black eye recently and took a bit of a shot from Brockman in the cheek area and had some symptoms so they decided to sit him out.
Franchise players. The Bucks started the fourth quarter with an Earl Boykins/Keyon Dooling/Corey Maggette/Larry Sanders/Jon Brockman fivesome, but I'm not sure that you need to go out of your way to tank when your franchise players are Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. The duo combined for 10 points 4-16 shooting in 62 minutes. Jennings had more turnovers (3) than assists (2), and he attempted neither a free throw nor a three-pointer. Bogut shot 2-10 and is the anti-Carlos Boozer, which is at once a compliment to and knock on both Bogut and Boozer.