With just one legitimate center at their disposal, the Bucks should have been in big trouble down low against the big-boy Pistons in Detroit on Friday night. So what if I told you in advance that the Bucks' only center would play a grand total of 11 minutes and grab three rebounds, no Buck starter would score more than eight points, and Andre Drummond would drop a 26/20 line? Well, yeah, that would have sounded like a rather huge problem. Pistons in a blowout, right?
Except...well, the opposite.
For the second time in four days, the Bucks used their depth to outrebound and outgun the Pistons, winning 104-88 and giving Milwaukee three wins in four days by at least a dozen points. In the middle of it all was the re-rejuvenated Ersan Ilyasova, who made it seven straight games in double figures with a season-best 22 points (9/14 fg, 3/7 threes) and eight rebounds in 31 minutes. Open threes, putbacks, body-contorting up-and-under finishes in the lane...you know, standard Ersan (just go with it). After leading 53-45 at half and 74-69 after three quarters, the Bucks put the game away with a 19-5 run to start the fourth quarter in large part thanks to Ilyasova, whose 10 quick points left Stan Van Gundy's club dazed, confused and well on their way to a fifth straight loss.
Ersan had plenty of help, too, with three other Bucks' reserves hitting double figures as Milwaukee's bench outscored their Piston counterparts 69-13. Kendall Marshall orchestrated the second unit beautifully with season-bests of 9 points, 8 assists and 24 minutes, while Jared Dudley also added a season-best 16 points (6/8 fg, 4/6 threes). Ironically, it was Sanders -- battling foul trouble for much of the night -- who was the only Buck to play fewer than 22 minutes. Among the starters, Giannis Antetokounmpo had his share of Giannis moments (7p/9r/2b), while Jabari Parker (8p/5r/5a) made up for a 1/6 start from the field by logging a career-best five assists and throwing down two big dunks in the third. But really this game was all about Jason Kidd's bench.
Detroit edged out to a 29-25 lead after one quarter thanks in large part to Drummond, whose eight rebounds matched the Bucks' team total in the opening stanza. But the Bucks' second unit did their thing in the second, outscoring Detroit's reserves 30-4 in the first half behind Dudley and Ilyasova. Ersan splashed a pair of open threes and Dudley found himself open time and again on his way to a game-high 11 points on 3/5 shooting from deep in the half, which ended with Parker finding Marshall for a three-point play to make it 53-45.
The win guarantees the Bucks their first winning month since the Scott Skiles era, with a chance to make it four straight wins Saturday night against the Rockets at the Bradley Center.
Defending Drummond. Sanders, Ilyasova and Giannis all took their turns fruitlessly trying to contain Drummond, but fortunately he was the only guy who really had any luck against the Bucks' smoke-and-mirrors defense. Neither D.J. Augustin (1/7 fg) nor Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (7/19) could punish the Bucks when they collapsed defensively, while Josh Smith had one of those typical joyless Josh Smith games with 13 points and six turnovers on 6/15 shooting from the fielding. Perhaps most interesting was the Pistons' inability to get Monroe more involved -- despite a major size advantage against Parker, Monroe managed just 5 points and 2 rebounds on 2/3 shooting in 23 minutes. Go figure.
Strength of Schedule. The Bucks had the league's easiest schedule in November, so bear that in mind before going too overboard with their 10-7 record.
BUT STILL! At 5-5, the Bucks have already matched the number of road wins they managed in 41 games last season, while their 10 wins thus far puts them 36 games ahead of their pace last year. That's right: Last year's Bucks didn't win their 10th game until February 18, at which point they'd amassed a mind-numbing 43 losses.
The Rook. Jabari has shown better patience and an encouraging ability to make plays for others over the past couple weeks, but at times you feel like the Bucks could be better taking advantage of mismatches presented by his offensive abilities. Example: Neither Parker nor his teammates seemed particularly interested in exploiting his obvious quickness advantage against Monroe in the first quarter, which would seem like something you'd want to do given the Pistons made some early efforts to exploit Monroe's size advantage on the other end.
In the third quarter he was a bit more aggressive, though he twice appeared to be raked across the forearm attacking the basket but didn't get the call. He bounced back quickly, though, attacking the baseline for a stuff, slamming home an Ilyasova miss (below), and hitting a pair of free throws off another attack in the paint.
Jabari Parker with the follow SMASH https://t.co/nNPRx3WUyU— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) November 29, 2014
The Marshall Plan. Kendall Marshall was barely noticeable in the first half, though I don't mean that as an insult. Even when he's playing his best, the game isn't about him, though to his credit he increasingly made his presence felt as the game went on. The Bucks tried to exploit rookie Spencer Dinwiddie in the post repeatedly tonight, and Marshall created two baskets out of iso plays on the right block in the fourth quarter before burying a pair of threes to help put the game out of reach.
Houston, we have a(n injury) problem. The Rockets will also be on the second night of a back-to-back when they arrive at the Bradley Center on Friday, and their recent rash of injuries could mean a golden opportunity for the Bucks to steal a win against a Western contender. Already missing Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley, Houston lost 102-85 to the Clippers at home on Friday. and they were dealt a further injury blow when second-year point guard Isaiah Canaan went down with an ankle injury.
Canaan, Beverley not going to Milwaukee. Howard is traveling but listed as doubtful.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) November 29, 2014