Before Saturday night's 107-98 Milwaukee Bucks victory over the Orlando Magic, my wife and I met up with a college friend at Rock Bottom Brewery.
Everything was moving on schedule until a fairly intoxicated man stopped by our table and started talking. And talking. And talking. And talking.
Try as we might, through a litany of forced pauses and clock watching on our phones, he didn't leave. He was nice enough, but really it was our fault for letting him stick around longer than tolerable by sober minds.
In a nutshell, that's what it felt like watching the Bucks beat the Magic, who were playing without two of their best players (Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo). Orlando hung around thanks to a gluttonous night on the offensive glass (20 offensive rebounds) and some early Milwaukee miscues (11 TOs in the first half).
After exchanging the lead six times over a three-minute period in the third quarter, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis spearheaded a 19-6 quarter closeout that put the game firmly in Milwaukee's hands to start the final frame. Orlando again closed the gap to seven midway through the fourth quarter, but a quick Bucks timeout followed by an 8-0 run that cemented a Milwaukee win in the final game of a four-in-five nights stretch.
"It was definitely, offensively, a team effort. Everybody moved the ball well. We just had a nice little rhythm going," coach Jim Boylan said. "Sometimes when we play with that kind of ease, we can get a little distracted and lose a little focus, and we did at a couple of occasions. But we were able to kind of bring it back and know that at some point in time we were going to have to rely on our defense to get some stops so we can create a little bit of a cushion."
Monta Ellis. Playing a shade under 44 minutes, Ellis matched a season high with 11 assists, and scored a respectable 21 points on 7-16 shooting (1-6 from beyond the arc). Ellis fit the closer's role perfectly, as all six of his fourth quarter points came on free throws.
All night, Ellis' penetration created shot opportunities for himself (6-7 in the paint) and pretty much anyone breaking towards the basket or spotting up form the outside. Uncharacteristically, he also got a rave review from Boylan after the game for his defense (more on this below).
Brandon Jennings. Jennings finished with 20 points on 8-16 shots, five assists, one steal, and just one turnover. Most of his production came in the second half (14 points, 3 assists), including six points and three assists (in three minutes) that served as the main catalyst to the Bucks' 19-6 third quarter run.
Larry Sanders. He had a couple retro Larry moments, including an air-balled, molasses-slow hook shot five feet from the cup. However, Sanders, who is still recovering from a recent illness, was a savior converting off the glass, tipping in a handful of shots and nabbing six offensive rebounds.
Sanders finished the evening with 17 points (7-15 fg), 13 rebounds, six blocks, and little fanfare. It's really amazing how this stat line is becoming the norm for Sanders. Now think how amazing it would be if he got even better at finishing plays (7-13 in the restricted area).
56. The Magic needed 56 shots to score 56 points in the paint. Credit the Bucks for limiting them to 50.9% shooting around the rim, but the close range opportunities were abundant for Orlando.
+4. Even with Orlando's barrage of second and third chance shots, Milwaukee still won the second chance scoring battle, putting back 23 points to the Magic's 19. Most came in the first half (15), while the opposite rang true for Orlando's fortunes (13 second chance points in the second half).
+5, +8. After a freewheelin' first half with the rock (11 TOs, 15 Magic pts), the Bucks limited their second half turnovers to five, while forcing 10 out of Orlando. Milwaukee tallied 13 points off turnovers while containing the collateral damage from their own mistakes (five Magic points off turnovers).
Monta Ellis' defense. Let's talk about Ellis' ability to fight through an onslaught of screens. Rather, let's let Jim Boylan talk about it:
"I thought our pick and roll defense was good. Before I go any further, the defense that Monta Ellis played tonight on JJ Redick was as good as you'll see all year. For the entire time he was out there, Monta was totally focused defensively. When he's playing like that, focused, he can guard just about anybody. Tonight he did an unbelievable job on JJ."
90s retro. Nelly. Haddaway. EMF. C & C Music Factory. The Space Jam theme. Graphic deer jerseys. Underwhelming play against fleeting names (DeQuan Jones, E'Twaun Moore, Ish Smith, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn). This game was a Nickelodeon cartoon and Crossfire board game contest short of recreating my childhood.
Jennings' second half. Brandon Jennings is on a mission to singlehandedly debunk F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum about no second acts in American life. Over his last 10 games, Jennings has averaged 26.7 points (43% fg, 45.7% 3fg), three rebounds, and 6.2 assists in the second half. He's also averaged 6.6 free throw attempts (two higher than his season average), and swiped 1.6 steals per game in that span.
Three Two Bad
First quarter turnovers. Milwaukee took care of the ball admirably in the second half, but early sloppiness played a key role in keeping the Magic around. The Bucks registered five first quarter turnovers (8 Orlando points). Over their last 10 games, Milwaukee has committed most of their turnovers in the opening frame. Playing catch up is fine against a team like the Magic, but it'll be a problem when the Bucks take on playoff-caliber teams.
Defensive rebounding. The Bucks ceded 20 offensive rebounds to the Magic, 11 of which fell into the hands of Nikola Vucevic (5) and Mo Harkless (6), and lost the overall rebounding battle 52-42. Boylan addressed the issue post-game, pointing to the team's momentary lapses of focus and deficiencies in girth as reasons for the on-going rebounding problem:
"Part of that is giving them second and third opportunities," Boylan said. "We're making them miss, we're playing pretty good defense, just not finishing the plays off. To me, that's a little bit of (lost) focus right there."