With their schedule set to take a decided turn for the difficult, the Bucks should have been laser-focused on extending their unbeaten road record to four games in Charlotte on Monday night. They should have matched the Bobcats aggressiveness, which helped Charlotte rack up an ultimately unassailable 30-11 edge in free throw attempts. And they should have been able to hang onto a 92-81 lead with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
But someone forgot to pack the magic pixie clutch dust that helped the Bucks make plays late in Saturday night's win against the Hornets, and instead the Bucks simply looked predictable and a bit spooked in the closing minutes on Monday night.
Kemba Walker (19 pts, 7/13 fg including 6/6 to start) took it to Brandon Jennings early, B.J. Mullens iso'd his way to another big game against the Bucks (7/14 fg, 19 pts, 9 rebs), and former Buck Ramon Sessions came off the bench and got it done late (23 pts on 13 shots).
There was decidedly less balance from Scott Skiles' club, with Monta Ellis (31 pts, 14/28 fg, 5 ast, 6 to) and Mike Dunleavy (16 pts on 10 shots, 5 reb, 4 ast, 4 blk) the only Bucks who managed to string together more than a few good minutes here and there. Jennings was partcularly ineffective, starting the game 2/9 from the field and finishing it 3/9, all while barely even being noticeable in the final period. Aside from their huge deficit at the line, the Bucks also reminded us that their 13/25 effort from distance on Saturday was something of a fluke; while they're not as bad as the 2/16 effort we saw on Monday, the ability to punish teams consistently from the outside is going to be difficult so long as Jennings runs hot and cold (0/4) and Ersan Ilyasova just continues to run, well, cold.
Monta Ellis. Seemingly every easy basket the Bucks generated started with Ellis, who hit 8/11 shots inside 10 feet and set up another four dunks or layups with passes, the second straight game in which his playmaking has been central to the Bucks' inside game. He will reasonably feel hard done by that he only managed one trip to the line, but he also ran out of ideas in the last few minutes with the Bucks simply running Ellis off P&R right every time down the court. His potential game-winning three with four seconds remaining was a decent look from the left wing, but it looked off from the start and he missed all three of his shots in the final three minutes.
Mike Dunleavy. Funleavy made a mere 1/4 from deep on the night, but there's still no arguing with his overall line: another efficient 16 points (6/10 fg), five rebounds, four assists, no turnovers and a double-take-inducing four blocks.
Doron Lamb. Finding a third Buck to highlight on Monday was no easy task, so it's probably fitting that I'm picking a guy who didn't even play in the second half. Entering the game 1/10 for the season, Lamb teamed with fellow rookie John Henson to give the Bucks a second quarter shot in the arm--reprising the strong but abbreviated effort he put in against the Bobcats during preseason. Lamb hit a pair of jumpers--no threes, of course--and found a seam to drive for a layup to finish with six points, one assist and no turnovers in six minutes.
Beno Udrih could also be highlighted here, shaking off a dicey game on Saturday to finish with seven assists, just a single turnover and a +8 rating in 16 minutes.
+19. The Bobcats didn't kill the Bucks from any particular spot on the floor--they made just 3/11 threes and were outscored in the paint 54-42. But that doesn't matter too much when one team makes 19 more free throws.
22-12. The Bucks were beaten in the two areas they have most relied on to win: they were outrebounded defensively and outscored off turnovers 22-12.
12. The Bucks managed to block a season-high 12 shots, the fourth time they've cracked double digits in nine games. All those blocks erased some of the Bobcats' 11 offensive rebounds, and Milwaukee currently ranks sixth in the NBA with 7.0 blocks/game.
Montakeover. In the end, Ellis didn't have enough help to win the game (almost) by himself, but it was still impressive watching him nearly will the Bucks to a win.
Rookies. With the Bucks lagging in the first half, Skiles gave the nod to John Henson for the third straight game and second round pick Lamb as well. Aside from Lamb's previously discussed exploits, Henson swatted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and scored twice, once off a nice cut and another off another long two. Together they helped the Bucks erase a 10-point first quarter deficit, but only Henson would make second half appearance, dropping in another lefty hook that extended the Bucks lead to 11 midway through the fourth quarter. It all went downhill from there, but don't blame the rookies. It's not clear how much regular playing time will be available to them going forward--it's generally not a good sign when Skiles feels the need to put them in--but we can only assume that injuries and subpar play from the guys ahead of them will provide opportunities at various points going forward.
Fouling up. Did the Bucks get a raw deal from the officials on Monday? Did they really commit twice as many fouls as the Bobcats? Note that I hate using officiating as an excuse, and in the grand scheme of the universe there's no sense in blaming Monday's loss on anything but the Bucks. Charlotte was more aggressive and outplayed the Bucks, no getting around it. Good example: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's non-stop motor and attacking instincts kept Tobias Harris in foul trouble much of the night.
That said, the Bobcats' aggressiveness in drawing early fouls seemed to set a tone that, shall we say, didn't help the Bucks' cause later in the game; I coudn't help but feel as though the Bobs were getting the benefit of the doubt on any shot the Bucks contested in the fourth quarter. Which was frustrating, but no more frustrating than the fact that Charlotte also deserved to beat the Bucks in a game where Milwaukee really should have done better.
Brand-off. So it turns out Brandon Jennings is still, you know, Brandon Jennings. After his excellent, controlled effort on Saturday, Jennings never got it going against his old buddy Kemba Walker and the result was an ugly box score line and a fairly invisible fourth quarter that saw Ellis left to do all the heavy lifting. Brandon will bounce back--hopefully on Wednesday night--but he hasn't shaken his old consistency problem just yet.
Ers-off. I wish these bad puns weren't writing themselves, but I can't help it. And unfortunately Ilyasova can't seem to help himself either. After a so-so game on Saturday, Ersan returned to his early season anonymity against the Bobcats, hitting just 2/5 from the field and generally being outplayed by Mullens. Ilyasova front-rimmed an open put-back attempt in the first couple minutes and that seemed to set the tone for another night where he was quiet on both ends and ended up watching the final 18 minutes from the bench.