MILWAUKEE -- Ultimately, it just took a little longer to lose tonight.
The three-game winning streak last week has now officially been negated. While the Bucks were far more competitive, more exciting, and more resiliant in defeat than in the previous two games, this loss counts the same. And the loss count is up to 41, meaning that last season will officially remain the only winning one in Milwaukee over the past eight.
The last time these teams met at the Bradley Center, the Bucks won against a depleted Magic team missing star center Dwight Howard. As a result, Andrew Bogut dominated the game, netting 31 points and 18 rebounds, despite missing 11 free throws.
Tonight, the Magic won against a depleted Bucks team missing star center Andrew Bogut. As a result, Dwight Howard dominated the game, gathering 31 points and 22 rebounds, despite missing 11 free throws.
The Bucks were a dreadful, dreadful team in the first quarter. Brandon Jennings was the only player with any sort of a clue out there, but his teammates dropped pass after pass, missed shot after shot, and even Jennings was marked for three turnovers in the opening quarter. Howard, meanwhile, set the tone for the game with nine points, five rebounds, three free throws, and two blocks in the first.
Coach Skiles rightfully gave up on the starters after the first quarter, and Earl Boykins and Keyon Dooling pushed the offense in a new direction as Howard rested for most of the period. Boykins tallied five quick assists in six minutes, and the Bucks couldn't get out in transition but they were at least outletting to midcourt a couple times. There was pace and there was purpose. It was not always pretty, and they only managed to break even in the quarter, but the bench scored 22 of the 23 poitns in the second, and they gave the starters one more chance to catch up.
And the starters did catch up. Well, mostly the starting shooting guard. The heretofore comatose John Salmons burned up the Magic for 16 points in the third quarter, the Bucks shut Orlando out for the final two and half minutes of the third, and even carried a 63-61 lead into the final 12 minutes. Rather, the final quarter. The fourth quarter represented the Bucks at their most Bucksian: stifling defensively and even more stifled offensively. The Magic shot 21.1 % in the fourth quarter -- and won the quarter. But they did not win the game in the fourth quarter, because with four seconds to go in regulation Jameer Nelson fouled Brandon Jennings on a straightaway three-pointer--trying to intentionally foul to prevent a potential game-tying three pointer, Nelson let Jennings make a quick move into his shooting motion before he could wrap him up. Jennings made all three of his throws, Jason Richardson missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer, and neither team had yet reached 80 points. So they got to play five more minutes.
But not even another Jameer Nelson foul on a Brandon Jennings three-pointer (this time a four-point play) could save the Bucks. Milwaukee scored two points in the first three minutes of overtime, and though Jennings' four-point play tied the game at 85-85, and a well-executed play out of overtime gave a cutting Earl Barron (!) a layup to tie it at 87-87, it was not in the cards this evening. The Magic went all 2008-09 Magic on the Bucks at the end, with Howard (dunk), Turkoglu (jumper), and finally Nelson (jumper) sealing the game.
John Salmons. An invisible first half followed up three games in which Salmons scored a total of 16 points. So if there is one thing that I did not expect after halftime, it was that John Rashad Salmons would score 16 points in the third quarter. But just as Andrew Bogut solitarily carried Milwaukee's offense for a portion of the night against Atlanta, it was Salmons who put the Bucks on his back in the third period against Orlando.
Mid-range jumpers, drives to the hoop, corner threes -- all of it was on display as I watched Salmons personally outscore the Magic 16-15 in the third. Fine for me to do; the issue was that everyone started to watch Salmons -- Bucks included. No real offensive rhythm for anyone else until Jennings managed a couple late-game mini-miracles...
Brandon Jennings. When Young Buck (do people call him that anymore?) followed up four straight makes with six straight misses, you could not have been faulted for assuming that Jennings and the Bucks would fall quietly into the night. Instead, Jennings almost earned hero status by scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including coolly making three straight free throws to force overtime and then sticking a four-point play on Jameer Nelson in overtime. Took an unconventional route to a 23/3/8 line in 46 minutes.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Big ups to Mbah a Moute for sharing a starting frontline with a rookie power forward playing center who failed to grab a rebound and fouled out in 17 minutes against Dwight Howard. In addition to the even more strenuous defensive duties, The Prince hit a couple jumpers to start the fourth quarter, pushed four assists, and did not turn the ball over in 44 minutes.
22-39-37. The Bucks scored five points in the final 46 seconds before halftime just to reach 37 going into the break. Over their past three games, they have scored 22, 39, and 37 through the first half -- an average of 32.7 points heading into halftime.
4. The Magic scored a combined four fastbreak points in two games at the Bradley Center in a total of 101 game minutes. They did not scoring any fastbreak points in the first meeting at the BC back in December when they only suited up eight players, and they totaled just four points on the fastbreak tonight. Unfortunately, the Bucks also only scored four fastbreak points tonight -- tying their lowest output of the season.
Both of these teams rank in the bottom five of the NBA in fastbreak points per game.
13. Dwight Howard (13-24) made as many free throws as the Bucks (13-17), with the home team racking up 27 fouls in total.
Smallball. Coach Skiles went with Jennings/Dooling/Salmons/Mbah a Moute together for almost the entire third quarter that sparked the comeback. Okay, so with Bogut, Ilyasova, and Gooden out, his hand was forced, but the team had to try something, anything to combat the Orlando's size dominance -- and this worked for one quarter at least.
Johnny Drama. As noted in our preview, the Bucks had played in five straight blowouts (19+ differentials) one way or the other coming into tonight. And it looked all the part of another when Orlando went up 32-18 on a Jason Richardson three-pointer early in the second quarter. Instead, John Salmons single-handedly brought Milwaukee back into the game and we were treated to an unpredictable and compelling finish.
Indiarlotte. Like the Bucks, the Pacers and Bobcats also lose virtually ever single basketball game. Indiana was dominated by Boston and Houston crushed Charlotte tonight as the "race" for the final playoff spot increased in hilarity yet again. The Bucks are still 2.5 behind the Pacers and 2.0 behind the Bobcats.
Jameer Nelson in the fourth quarter. Nelson made the biggest shot of the night, crossing up Brandon Jennings to put Orlando up 91-87 with 23 seconds in overtime. But not even that could erase the memory of a tremendously awful fourth quarter that extended into the beginning of overtime. Nelson missed all six of his shots in the fourth quarter and infamously fouled Jennings (who was 1-8 on threes at the time) on a three-pointer up three with four seconds in regulation.
Glass half empty. The Bucks fell back to 17-17 at the Bradley Center. There are only five teams (Kings, Timberwolves, Wizards, Cavaliers, Raptors) in the entire NBA with losing records at home this season, and the Bucks are in danger of joining that ominous division-dwelling club.
The clock just runs down. Before the game, Coach Skiles:
It's not that we haven't moved the ball, it's that we're not getting anything from it. In recent games the clock just runs down and we've had trouble beating people off the dribble most of the season.
Prophetic words, as the Bucks did "not getting anything from it" for eight straight minutes early on -- going without a field goal for the final five minutes of the first quarter and first three minutes of the second quarter. The part about "the clock just runs down" also was fitting on one particular play, as John Salmons and Brandon Jennings took turns dribbling out the shot clock for 24 seconds before Jennings was forced to launch an off-balance three from roughly halfcourt just to try to beat the shot clock. Shot clock violation. And this all came after a Bucks timeout. It was Milwaukee's answer to the Zach Randolph's Classic: