The Milwaukee Bucks got their 2012 preseason schedule off to a nice start with a comfortable 97-80 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Canton, OH. Six Bucks scored in double figures, led by Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, who both scored 15 points. C.J. Miles led the Cavs with 18 points, while Kyrie Irving scored 16.
The Bucks' offense looked refreshingly similar to the creative system that developed last season. Of course, it likely helped to face the 26th-ranked defense from last season, a defense stocked with rookies and new arrivals who looked to be in mid-preseason form.
Milwaukee's playmaking was evident in the early going, when the first unit showed off nice chemistry and fluidity. An early possession saw a full ball-swing to Brandon Jennings, who pump-faked from the left wing, drove along the baseline, and swung a quick pass to a diving Ersan Ilyasova for Milwaukee's first field goal. You really couldn't have asked for a prettier play to earn Milwaukee's first made shot of the season.
The first units of each team traded blows for the first quarter before a big second quarter for Milwaukee built an eleven-point lead. The Bucks came out firing after halftime and extended their lead before holding off a late rally to finish a comfortable win.
Some Things We Noticed
- Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis didn't shoot the ball particularly well, turning in 30 points on 26 shots between them. But those numbers belie what was a pretty impressive game for both of them. They each showed off a wide variety of scoring methods, from the three-point line to the rim and everywhere in between (both guys displayed a knock-off Steve Nash floater). Getting the ball through the rim is the most important thing for each guy, but the added versatility each displayed can only help. Ellis also finished with five assists and two steals without a single turnover, while Jennings added seven assists, two steals, and a block. Jennings did turn the ball over an uncharacteristic five times, though.
- Tobias Harris got the start at small forward and didn't disappoint. That same bulldozer style of play under the basket we saw in Las Vegas Summer League was on display in Canton from the start, as Harris drew a foul in the post and sank both free-throws on the opening possession. He was also active and visibly focused on filling his role as a floor-spacer, sinking one of his two shots from behind the arc (a triple from the left corner). Keeping up that long-range shooting will be crucial to his and the team's success. In 24 minutes, Harris scored 11 points on 7 shots, grabbed three rebounds, and blocked a shot.
- Larry Sanders was a terrific garbageman, which is exactly what everyone would love to see from him. His eight ebounds led the team, and while he didn't record any blocked shots, his trademark shot-challenging made a definite impact. But the real pleasing thing was the offense he displayed. He attacked the rim when open jump-shots were there for the taking, and even when he missed the shot, he or a teammate was there to clean up. You still get the impression that his incredible length could be more valuable on that end, but his mindset appears to be in the right place.
- Fair disclaimer: One preseason game is not enough data to formulate concrete opinions on much of anything, especially playing time. But 16 minutes for Ersan Ilyasova? After signing him to an expensive contract extension, Ersan looked like the clear starter at PF and a good bet to see a significant minutes jump. If he isn't going to be a 30+ MPG guy, the opinion of that extension is going to change in the eyes of many. Tonight may very well have just been a chance to see more out of the other guys who were playing well. But the role of every forward on the team is a key question for Scott Skiles to work out, and every answer will inevitably be framed in the context of Ersan's new contract.
- Is John Henson the polished, versatile player he looked like in Summer League? Or is he a skinny rookie who will face a steep learning curve? We saw both players in this game, the latter earning a quick hook and an earful from assistant coach Joe Wolf after a short stint in the first half. But he returned in the second half and looked much better, sinking a trademark lefty hook and finishing with 7 rebounds.
- Beno Udrih left the game with a head injury shortly after entering in the first quarter. As he fell to the floor, the back of his head cracked on Larry Sanders' knee. He remained down on the floor for a few minutes before walking to the locker room without assistance, and was ruled out for the rest of the game shortly thereafter.