MILWAUKEE -- Say that Toronto made Milwaukee look good. The point is: Milwaukee looked good.
The Raptors have now lost 14 of 15, and that information is not to be buried. They are not merely in a rut, they are clearly a bad club, something never more obvious than when they consistently turn Milwaukee's offense into something viable if not enviable.
But this was a blowout win, and the Bucks have only lost a few games all season by that type of margin, but have now won a full handful of games by 15+ points, so as strange as it sounds, the team is actually a bit more apt to pull out one of these lopsided wins than a big loss. And after four straight dispiriting losses, they needed this. We all did.
Milwaukee picked up right where they left off in Toronto 10 days ago. After shooting a positively un- -like 55.0 % in their overtime win against the , the Bucks shot exactly 55.0 % in the first quarter. toyed with Toronto on both ends, scoring Milwaukee's first four points easily over Andrea Bargnani and swatting three shots while playing the entire first period. Canada's Finest generously gave Brandon Jennings a couple open layups, but after the game Coach Skiles lauded Jennings for having a knack for making cuts off the ball. And during the game I could not help but glow when Bogut located Jennings for an around-the-back layup on one play, and when Jennings and Bogut passed back-and-forth on a free break on another -- Jennings eventually two-hand slammed it in.
The second quarter was nothing to behold, as Milwaukee played down (an upgrade from just being down) to Toronto, and some slipshod passing and errant shooting made it just a two-point lead Milwaukee at halftime. John Salmons, reinserted as starting shooting guard tonight, was an aggressor after halftime. He scored six in the third quarter, Corey Maggette grabbed six boards and scored eight points in the quarter buoyed by four free throws, and the Raptors are the type of team to fall for the premature 3...2...1 countdown just about every time. They give the ball to Andrea Bargnani for jumpers out of timeouts, and they have a habit of skipping defensive assignments.
So even though the Bucks led by just eight going into the fourth quarter, this one was in the bag. In the backup's bag, as Skiles went to the reserves to preserve the lead. And they opted to extend it. Luc Mbah a Moute, Keyon Dooling, Carlos Delfino, and Garrett Temple helped key an impressive close to the game. The Bucks not only did not allow the NBA's leading fastbreak team to score a single fastbreak point in the final 12 minutes, they held Toronto without a point for a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
Toronto's defense makes a lot offenses look good. And now we remember how Milwaukee's defense can make a lot of offenses look bad.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Without looking at the numbers, The Prince had a nice game. Looking at the numbers, The Prince had a nice game. On a rare night when the Bucks were not misfiring on the vast majority of their shots, Mbah a Moute gathered a healthy portion of those that did miss the mark. Mbah a Moute pulled down seven offensive rebounds, and a quick dig through the play-by-play reveals that he personally scored six points directly off his own offensive rebounds.
And the box score won't show any steals or blocks, but Luc defended an oversized Andrea Bargnani capably, often pushing the seven-foot Italian away from the hoop. Usually it looks like Bargnani doesn't need much encouragement to hang out near the perimeter, but he barked at the official at one point after getting muscled out of the lane by Luc, who also helped hold Amir Johnson to 5 points. Meanwhile, Mbah a Moute totaled 10 points on 6 shots along with 14 rebounds as the sixth man extraordinaire.
Andrew Bogut. Like against the Pistons over the weekend, Andrew started with a flourish, scoring the first four of the game for the Bucks, making simple, simple work of Andrea Bargnani. By the end of one, he had six points and three blocks, and in a game in which he needed to be the best player on the floor, Bogut played the part. He made some deft passes including a baseline around-the-back to Jennings, blocked 5 shots, and scored 14 points on just 8 field goal attempts, which ties for his fewest shot attempts over the past month. Bogut did enough through three quarters that he got to watch the fourth like you and me.
Brandon Jennings. Jose Calderon started the game with a second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.02) in the NBA, trailing only (4.18). But Brandon was the gnat in Jose's night, staying low, swiping and bugging the usually composed Spaniard, who turned the ball over 6 times in all. Calderon was also just off tonight (he shot 2-15 from the field and missed a handful of wide-open ones) regardless of the defense, but Jennings denied Calderon's offense and creating his own with 4 steals, which helped lead to a 4-6 night shooting at the rim. And while a few of those were easy looks thanks to Toronto's unique adaptation of what is usually termed defense, Jennings also looked good finishing among the Toronto trees.
0-10. Neither team made a three-pointer through three quarters, and Toronto shot 0-10 (.000) on threes on the night. The Raptors started the game last overall in accuracy from long range (.312) and 29th in three made per game (4.5). But they also are the team that recently (and by recently I mean from Feb. 26, 1999 -- Jan. 24, 2011) made a three in 986 consecutive games. The Bucks finished 2-13 (.154) on threes.
14.3 %. Milwaukee-Buck-for-a-minute Amir Johnson started the evening ranked second in the NBA in accuracy from the field, shooting 59.6 % -- and that even brought down his career average to a robust 59.8 %. In his last two games, he shot 16-21 (.762) from the field, and he came in having scored 10+ in 11 of his last 12 games.
Tonight, Johnson was held to 1-7 (.143) from the field for 5 points.
9. Luc Mbah a Moute grabbed 9 rebounds (5 offensive) in playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, during which the Bucks (not coincidentally) dominated the game.
Toronto two more. The Bucks have now beaten the Raptors twice in the last two weeks, and they will meet twice more, both late-season games, at Air Canada on March 30 and back at the BC on April 11, their second-to-last regular season game and the final regular season home tilt.
Fresh Fish. A bouncy fourth quarter baseline reverse dunk attempt did not go down for Salmons, but the leap demonstrated that those 31 year-old legs have not reached the point where missed dunks result in season-ending injuries, that he is not done at two guard for this club.
In his first start in three weeks, Salmons led the Bucks with 17 points after finding his winter 2011 mid-range jumper buried in a 2010 spring snowbank. Salmons hit 4-6 of those mid-rangers, faring far better there than inside the paint, where he made just 2-8. Maybe not a star performance, but a starter-worthy one.
Fourth quarter defense. The Bucks led just 66-58 entering the fourth quarter. Coach Skiles ran a smallish Dooling/Salmons/Delfino/Mbah a Moute/Ilyasova lineup to start the final period, and they worked wonders even as their defensive anchor, Andrew Bogut, sat.
Andrea Bargnani scored on the first two possessions for the Raptors, but then picked up his fourth personal foul. All the Bucks did then was shut out Toronto for a full six straight minutes. No baskets, no free throws, nothing. Ilyasova blocked Demar Derozan, Dooling continued to fluster Jose Calderon, and Mbah a Moute was all over the glass. The Raptors are not offensive genuises by any means, but they are not slouches on that end either. And so after all sorts of well-earned worry stemming from four straight games of opponents making more than half of their shots from the field, the Bucks took back a bit of their defensive swagger here at home (Toronto shot 36.0 % from the field in the game and 31.6 % in the fourth quarter).
The Bucks played their best quarter of the night (outscoring the Raptors 26-16) without a single second from Bogut, Jennings, or Maggette.
Three Two Bad
Fans in the stands. A deserved standing ovation by... 11,975 good folks. And that is a generous tally. Football season is over, okay.
The Drew Gooden and Michael Redd. Sanders has not played in three of the team's last seven games, during which he has totaled four points and zero blocks. Sanders not consistently cracking the active list even as season-starting power forward Gooden is out does not bode well.Commercial. Milwaukee's relative return to health could delay the basketball maturation process of Larry Sanders, who was not suited up tonight, listed as one of the three inactives along with the injured