Last year’s Bradley Center matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers left the coach, players, and fans foaming at the mouth from an indefensible foul call that led to a patented Kobe Bryant finishing move.
The re-match Tuesday night ended in much less controversy, but an equal amount of disappointment as the Lakers snapped the Bucks’ three game winning streak with a 118-107 victory.
By Jake McCormick
The Milwaukee Bucks boast the NBA’s top scoring defense (89.4 points per game), and the Los Angeles Lakers countered Tuesday night with the league’s top scoring offense (112.5 points per game). Naturally something had to give, and the Bucks made the fatal mistake of replacing their trademark defense with a rare scoring outburst that played right into the hands of the Lakers.
“I think getting stops and having them miss defensively was the key tonight and we didn’t do that,” said power forward Drew Gooden, who had a solid 22 points on 8-11 shooting and 13 rebounds.
Heading into halftime making 55.3% of your shots is a great way to set up a win against quality teams, but doing it against the Los Angeles Lakers just sets you up for failure during crunch time. With the game tied 75-75 at the four minute mark in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant rattled off seven straight points, which was enough to solidify a permanent lead for Los Angeles.
“It was kind of like a back and forth game in the beginning,” said Brandon Jennings, who tallied a Bucks’ season high 31 points along with six assists. “When we’re playing against a team like that you know you don’t want it going back and forth.”
Optimism: 46.7% shooting
Despite the lackluster defense, the Bucks’ offense came out of the gate swinging and at one point in the second quarter pushed their shooting percentage about 70%. Obviously things regressed back to normal, but Milwaukee was taking and hitting open shots without hesitation and moving the ball when it became necessary.
Brandon Jennings became the first Milwaukee player in 2010-11 to break the 30 point barrier, ironically after a pre-game discussion between myself, Alex from Brew Hoop, and Jeremy from Bucksketball where Jeremy and I shot down Alex’s prediction that Jennings would achieve that mark. He finished the night with 31 points, but missed four of his last five three point attempts after making four in the first half.
Drew Gooden also flashed some previously unseen range throughout the game, draining two first quarter threes and another long jumper with ease. Gooden had his best night as a Buck on the glass as well, pulling down 13 rebounds, including four key offensive rebounds, and looked every bit the part of the solid player we expected to see when the season began.
Milwaukee’s offense showed some glimpses of their capabilities against an elite Lakers team, and had this game been played later in the season with a more experienced and cohesive team, I have little doubt the bandwagon Los Angeles fans that packed the Bradley Center Tuesday night would’ve left with their heads hanging low.
Pessimist: 118 points allowed
As coach Scott Skiles said after the game, if you allow a team to score 118 points on 78 shots, you’re going to have a tough time pulling out a win. The Bucks’ bread and butter defensive game was nearly non-existent from start to finish against the already tough to defend triangle offense.
“Right from the beginning of the game we really struggled on the defensive end of the floor, and they did too,” Skiles said. “At one point we were shooting 67% and it was a tie game. We commented on the bench that this was going to be a difficult game for us to win even though we were playing well offensively.”
Just about every Lakers role player flexed their shooting muscles during the later stages of the game, and Shannon Brown in particular was devastating from the perimeter, knocking down four threes in the fourth quarter and totalling 16 points without missing a shot in that span.
It’s one thing to pair bad defense with a good offense against a team like the New York Knicks or Golden State Warriors, but trying to outscore teams like the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat without playing some form of constantly alert defense won’t fly for more than a half, as demonstrated Tuesday night.
Realist: 16-27 from the line
The Lakers had a dominant 19-1 advantage in free throws heading into halftime, yet the Bucks were still up two points going into the break. By game’s end, Milwaukee evened things out and only shot two less free throws than Los Angeles (27 to 29). As for the actual makes and misses, that’s a completely different story, as the Lakers hit 24 free throws while the Bucks could only muster 16.
Center Andrew Bogut‘s 2-10 night from the line was a huge downer, and the somber, frustrated look on his face in the locker room after the game told any story you would need to hear about his thoughts on the matter. It’s obvious to anyone who watched any of those eight misses that he just doesn’t feel comfortable at the line because of his elbow, and that could be a Hack-a-Shaq-type game changer in the future.
Free throws were an omnipresent issue in big games against elite competition in 2009-10, and Tuesday night proved Corey Maggette can’t be the only player making them consistently.
The Bucks followed a defensive masterpiece against the Warriors with a crisp offensive performance against the Lakers, but they have yet to reach their peaks simultaneously. I can only assume that comes with time, but the longer that is, the worse things are bound to get once the Bucks hit their journey through the River Stycks of their schedule in December.