Losses to the Celtics, Pacers and Knicks may continue to raise questions about the Bucks' playoff pedigree, but there's still no questioning the Bucks' mojo against the NBA's lesser lights.
Facing off against a Cavs team that had lost five straight including the last four by double-digits, the Bucks put another tanking team to the sword with their now familiar passing and shooting clinic, piling on a season-high 121 points in a game that was competitive for about...well, let's say five minutes (charitably). The win along with the Knicks' loss in Atlanta moves the Bucks back to within 1.5 games of the final playoff spot in the East, with tomorrow night's home tilt against the Grizzlies offering a chance to shave it down an additional half game.
As you might expect, there was little to dislike about the game from a Milwaukee perspective. Kyrie Irving (29 points on 20 shots including 6/6 threes) gamely dueled a red-hot Brandon Jennings (28 pts, 11/17 fg, 6 ast, 4 stl, 30 min) for three quarters, but the Bucks took control early and doubled-up the Cavs in the second quarter 36-18 en route to a 71-44 halftime lead that was as lopsided as the incredible crooked box score looked.
Ersan Ilyasova did his best Kevin Love impression early (14 pts, 6/7 fg, 5 rebs in the first quarter) before Jennings and Mike Dunleavy (16 pts, 5/7 fg, 19 min) combined for 26 points in the second quarter, hitting every jumper in site as the Bucks pushed the tempo and rarely finished a possession without an open look. Blame the Cavs' indifferent defense for much of it, but the Bucks also had their A-game going with crisp ball movement and passing from everyone on the court. Beno Udrih also continued his excellent play of late, racking up 10 assists in only 25 minutes as well as a game-high +33 differential. The big nights from the aforementioned group more than offsetting relatively quiet nights from Monta Ellis (6/16 fg, 13 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast) and Drew Gooden (4/11 fg, 9 pts, 5 reb), and the Bucks' youngsters led by Tobias Harris (8 pts, 3/4 fg, 5 reb in 8 min) helped the final margin with a strong finish in garbage time.
Ersan Ilyasova. After missing the Hawks game with back spasms, the Ersanator looked back to 100%, drilling 9/11 shots for a 20/10 night in a mere 23 minutes. Ilyasova wasted little time in burning the Cavs repeatedly with dives to the bucket and his usual tip drill down low, before capping off a 14-point first quarter with back-to-back threes.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings didn't press things in the early going, starting with a tidy six points and three assists in the first quarter before exploding for 15 in the second. Though he got loose for a pair of layups late in the first half, most of the damage came courtesy of his jump shot. Speaking of which, Brandon's pretty good when he's making jump shots, isn't he? #ANALYSIS
Mike Dunleavy. Another game, another silly efficient night from Dunleavy, who needed just 19 minutes and seven shots to rack of his 16 points. He stroked his first three with 35 seconds left in the first and made another three triples in the first 2:28 of the second. I'll do the math for you: that's 12 points in three minutes, sparking a 19-2 Bucks run that slammed the door on the possibility of a competitive game.
32 vs. 6. Another 30+ assist night which was made all the more impressive by the fact that the Bucks turned it over a mere six times.
.568/.625/.611. A weird shooting line tonight--weirdly awesome because the Bucks shot 57% from the field and made 10/16 from three, and weirdly weird because the Bucks made a higher percentage of threes than free throws. I'll take it.
+8. All 13 Bucks in uniform played at least five minutes, and all of them finished at least a +8 on the evening. For all the talk about Skiles' shortening his bench, there's nothing nicer than seeing it emptied in a blowout win--especially when there's another game on tap in 24 hours.
Rolling. What do the Warriors, Blazers, Bobcats and Cavs have in common? They're all giving up on the season to varying degrees, they've all hosted the Bucks in the past two weeks and all of them have been absolutely smoked by Skiles' bunch. The recipe has been similar each time: ball movement, 30+ assists, fast pace, Dunleavy balling, lots of points. And it's also made the job of recapping those games enjoyably repetitive.
Udrih of Light. Sorry, that's my best Beno pun (you have to use the new "Ooo-dray" pronunciation that's going around). Back to the point, the flash of Jennings and Ellis will always get more headlines, but Udrih has deservedy carved out an important niche off the bench, showing that he can play with both of the Bucks' lead guards while making everyone else better, too. Since the all-star break: 5.4 apg and just 1.2 turnovers in 21 mpg, which in combination with the Ellis acquisition has meant Shaun Livingston's exile to the end of the bench.
On a related note: if the Bucks were to hypothetically trade their starting point guard, a hypothetical backcourt rotation of Udrih/Livingston with Ellis could work out alright, no? A bit light on the three point shooting, but...
Sanders/Udoh. This is more of a minor point, but I'm starting to dig this combination. Neither stuffed the box score tonight, but the Bucks were +16 with the pair on the court together in the first half and for the second straight game they looked like a potentially imposing pairing up front. Hey, we can dream right?
Quiet night for Monta. Nothing to lose sleep over, but it would have been nice to see Ellis follow up his first good game in a Bucks uniform with something other than...well, you know, a bad one.