For those who missed tonight's latest Bucks loss, the box score might suggest Milwaukee put out a respectable performance in Phoenix. Afterall, how often does this Bucks team hit 54% of its shots or 48% of its threes? And closing to within seven points early in the fourth quarter--well, that would seemingly qualify as a competitive night from the league's worst team playing on the road to an 19-win Suns club, right?
Normally, by the Bucks' low standards...yeah, sure.
But watching the Bucks' effort, execution, and body language only reiterated the story of a team that is 7-26 and showing few signs of getting any better. Milwaukee was a pass behind the Suns' ball-moving three-point barrage (12/27), and their offense didn't make things any easier with an atrocious 25 turnovers that led to a stunning 36 Phoenix points. The downside extended to Giannis Antetokounmpo suffering through his worst game as a pro (0 points, 0/2 shooting, 3 rebs, 4 turnovers) and Larry Sanders struggling to control the paint, requiring another one-man gang effort from Brandon Knight (25 points, 8/12 fg, 8 ast, 4 to) and hot-shooting nights from O.J. Mayo (20 points, 7/11 shooting, 5 ast) and Caron Butler to save the Bucks from further embarrassment.
Leading the way for Phoenix were Channing Frye and Gerald Green, two proven gunners whom the Bucks neglected far too often in the desert Saturday night. Frye buried six triples en route to 25 points on just 12 shots while Green added 24 on 14 shots, alternating open threes with breakaway dunks courtesy of some comically lazy Bucks' perimeter passing. And with the injured Eric Bledsoe watching in street clothes, the task of initiating the Suns' explosive offense fell exclusively to Goran Dragic, whose impact went well beyond his so-so stat line (15 points on 5/13 fg, 6 ast). The Bucks struggled to contain Dragic's initial penetration all night, mostly on P&R, and one or two passes later the Suns always seemed to end up with a good look.
The same couldn't be said for the Bucks, who labored badly for open shots and hung around thanks largely to Phoenix's inability to close out quarters. The details:
- Butler scored eight points in a 13-4 run to close the first quarter, hitting three jumpers that narrowed Phoenix's lead to 28-26.
- Knight scored seven in an 11-2 run to close the second quarter, trimming the Suns' advantage to 60-49 at the half.
- Knight added a further seven as part of a 14-5 run to finish the third quarter, bringing the Bucks to within 87-78 entering the fourth.
- A bad season, er, night at the office was punctuated with a shouting match between Sanders and Neal in the locker room after the game.
Gary Neal and Larry Sanders in big argument in Bucks locker room after game. Was going on as reporters entered.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 5, 2014
Sanders could be heard questioning Neal's attitude. Later Neal exited using profanity.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 5, 2014
Nasty confrontation between Larry Sanders, Gary Neal in Bucks locker room. Neal as he left: ``I earn my money. You should try it sometime.''— Robert Baum (@Thebaumerphx) January 5, 2014
O.J. Mayo on locker room argument between Neal and Sanders: "Team bonding, man. A little kumbaya, man. It's all good."— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 5, 2014
- Nate Wolters made a rare appearance in garbage time tonight, his first appearance since the loss to Minnesota on December 28. Watching Neal vainly attempt to run the offense tonight reiterated the obvious question of how Drew has resisted the urge to give Wolters a try as backup point guard, especially with Luke Ridnour busy starting next to Knight. Wolters' shooting struggles have been a problem, but he's also been the Bucks' best (only?) guard at getting others involved. That's probably something worth considering on a team full of guys standing around, right?
- At one point Suns' broadcaster Eddie Johnson characterized the Bucks' offense as an "open gym"-type effort, and it's difficult to argue. The Bucks have seemingly been stuck in preseason mode all season, which makes pretty much every defense they're facing look like the '86 Bears. Knight hasn't shown any better vision than that other Brandon, no one is capable of drawing the kind of attention needed to give their ball movement any payoff and teams are rarely punished for pressing the Bucks on the perimeter.
- Speaking of which, have the Bucks set a record yet for lazy perimeter passes that lead to opposition fast breaks? Good lord. Knight and Mayo have been consistent offenders all year, but tonight they had company as Ersan Ilyasova and Caron Butler got into the act with backcourt passes that were pick-sixed by the always-aggressive Suns.
- Since entering the starting lineup, Giannis has had his share of poor first quarters. But this is the first one he never bounced back from, which makes it by far his worst game as a pro. In many ways it's surprising we haven't had more of these types of games--part of the territory for a 19-year-old trying to play a man's game.