MILWAUKEE -- Glass 31/76 empty, or glass 31/76 full?
With the playoffs in sight, the Bucks lost three excruciating games in the clutch over the past week. So it is fitting that now that the playoffs are mostly a lost cause after 76 games, the Bucks won one.
That is not to suggest that the Bucks were late-game dynamos tonight -- the end of regulation played out much like this week's crucial losses to Chicago, Charlotte, and Indiana. The team concluded regulation on a run of five minutes without making a field goal. And they did not score a single point in the final three minutes, when all they needed to win in regulation was to score a point in the final three minutes. The final four offensive possessions of regulation went a little something like this: Drew Gooden misses jumper, John Salmons tosses the ball out of bounds, Keyon Dooling travels, and Brandon Jennings misses open, straightaway three-pointer.
That last-second misfire made Jennings 0-6 on the night. Never in his NBA career had he started a game and not made a field goal. Fortunately, Milwaukee's defense also held Philadelphia to two points over the final four minutes, and so it was all 79s going into overtime. And overtime is when Jennings took the game over.
Undeterred by four quarters without making a field goal including missing the game-winner on top of a full week of tragic late-game finishing, Jennings managed not to lose the game in regulation and then won the game in overtime. He swung in a three, made a great cut off the ball (Skiles, post-game: "Brandon's become a better cutter off-the-ball this year than he was last year.") for a layup on a pass from Andrew Bogut, deftly dropped in a floating runner off glass to make it 89-85, and personally outscored the Sixers 9-8 in overtime.
Jennings does not shy away in defining moments, and he demonstrated that again tonight both in good times (making all three of his overtime shots) and bad (the last-second miss in regulation). With the reality that the regular season is probably the only season for the Bucks this time, the 21 year-old maintained perspective after the game:
It's still about finishing strong... If you love the game you are going to play hard regardless.
This bumps the Bucks up to 31-45. You can view the win as a positive or a negative. You can hope the team wins out and makes the playoffs, or you can hope the team loses out and wins the lottery. Either way, you are a dreamer -- either way, if you are still paying attention at this point, you love the game regardless.
John Salmons. With an 8-11 shooting night, Salmons moved his field goal percentage back into the 40s -- to 40.1 %. But it's a bit late for mean reversion, because even if he shot exactly 8-11 in every single one of Milwaukee's final seven games (and he most assuredly will not), Salmons would still finish the season at just 42.5 % -- well below his career average of 43.9 % and well below what he has shot in each of the past four seasons (45.6 %, 47.7 %, 47.2 %, 44.1 %).
Nevertheless, Salmons separated for just enough room to knock in the vast majority of his jumpers. This was not necessarily a replicable performance, as he made 8-11 despite not taking a shot from inside six feet all night, but tonight was more about tonight than anything else, and Salmons was the best player on the court for either team. Even with the home return of Michael Redd and the brief reintroduction of Chris Douglas-Roberts (he played the entire second quarter... and nothing else), it was Salmons who earned a game-high 46 minutes by playing a mostly wise floor game aside from a couple slip-ups late in regulation. He led the team in points (19), assists (8), and he helped push the team into overtime with a fine second half (11 points and 5 assists).
Brandon Jennings. Did not make a field goal in regulation (0-6) and did not miss one in overtime (3-3).
Luc Mbah a Moute. The Prince's defense never slumps. And now he's scored in double-digits in nine out of his last ten games -- reaching that distinction for the first time in his pro career. Drew Gooden actually played more tonight thanks to an authoritative game on the defensive glass, but the biggest difference was that Mbah a Moute reached his 12 points on nine shots while it took Gooden 16 attempts for his 12 points.
4. Both teams made four field goals in overtime. But the Bucks made 4-5 while the Sixers made 4-12. And Philadelphia made neither a three-pointer (0-3) nor a free throw (0-0) in bonus time while Milwaukee dropped in its only three-pointer (1-1) and stayed fresh at the line (5-6).
2-8. The Sixers dropped to 2-8 in overtime games this season, so it's not like the Bucks have cornered the markets on lack of clutch play and tough luck over the past five months.
2. Philadelphia has failed to score 90 points just twice since Feb. 12. Both of those games were losses to the Bucks. Milwaukee held Philly to 74 points in a blowout win last month at the BC and then held them to 79 points in regulation (and 87 overall) tonight. On both occasions the Sixers were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and looked the part, but this is all bout Milwaukee's tight defense.
Victory. This feels like a hollow victory, but it's a victory, and we have only been able to say that 31 times this season.
Atmosphere. Maybe Milwaukeeans did not receive the memo that this season is um, effective immediately, kind of over? Or maybe it's not really baseball season until Monday when the Brewers play their home opener. But the 17,079 Bradley Center denizens were surprisingly loud and rambunctious a day after its team lost its biggest game of the year. As is custom, some filed out after regulation, perhaps unaware that NBA games do not end in ties, but the BC mostly bounced.
Brandon's resilience. Last season everything went just right. It started with Brandon dropping 55 points and ended in surprise run to the playoffs. This season has been a complete disaster. He is no longer a hot new name on the NBA block. The Bucks are no longer a media darling. And the last week has been particularly brutal for both Jennings and the Bucks in clutch, must-have situations. Jennings is frustrated -- and his recent comments about the team not retaining some of his preferred players from last season make it clear that he misses last year as much as we all do -- but the 21 year-old is still pushing, still taking last-second shots. And still having some success.
Awkward. Not so good at making a playoff run, not any better at tanking, and so the Bucks are just stuck in an odd place -- out of reach from the Pacers for the playoffs and close to catching Warriors and Bobcats in the lottery watch.
Late in the fourth. The Bucks continued their staggering run (with the exception of the Toronto game) of epic late-fourth-quarter oafishness on the offensive end. The fact that this team has reached the point where they can finish the final five minutes of regulation in a close game without a making a single field goal to the surprise of exactly no one is quite horrifying.
Missed chance. The Bucks have played the Sixers, Knicks, Pacers, and Bobcats in the last eight days. These are precisely the teams that are in the bottom part of the playoff picture in the East. These are the teams that the Bucks could not keep pace with. Has anyone been particularly impressed with any of them?