By Jake McCormick
After the Milwaukee Bucks’ overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks Sunday to cap off a 2-1 road trip that boosted the team above .500, I Tweeted and Facebooked that the bandwagon for casual Bucks fans is now officially boarding. After tonight’s 100-87 win against the Washington Wizards, the wagon should be selling tickets faster to a Coheed and Cambria concert, which are harder to get than you would think.
It was a night where Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings were non-factors, and the supporting cast drove the Milwaukee win bus. Jerry Stackhouse continued his recent hot streak, giving Bucks’ fans a flashback to 2000-01 by scoring 10 points in the 10 first half minutes. Stackhouse carried the Bucks’ offense from the end of the first to the beginning of the second with a combination of jumpers and a few impressive reverse layups.
Carlos Delfino was stroking it from three, going 3-5 and tallying a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. The combination of Delfino and John Salmons has given Milwaukee two aggressive combo guards, and the end result has been a lot more quick decisions and a more loaded arsenal to throw at opposing teams.
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova
Ersan didn’t take his first three pointer until the seven minute mark in the second quarter, and it was the best thing that happened to him. Ersan took his first seven shots within 18 feet, and connected on five of them. Working the ball inside, Ersan was able to establish his duel-threat ability without having to attempt a three, and had a season-high six assists to show for it.
“He was really active and changed the tempo of the game for us,” Skiles said. “One thing about Ersan is you know every single night he’s going to play hard.”
LVP: Brandon Jennings
Jennings’ shooting percentage keeps plummeting while his visible frustrations keep rising, as Jennings had six turnovers and shot 1-6 from beyond the arc. There is a positive to this, though: having a little more stability in every other area of the offense lets Jennings slow down and play and fail the way a rookie is expected without focusing a lot of the attention on his development. He did have a decent game defensively, and forced a rare eight second back court call in the third.
“My offensive end is just terrible right now,” Jennings said. “I’m just trying to do what I can on the defensive end, but the offensive end will come when it comes.”
Best supporting role: John Salmons
Everyone can say that Saving Private Ryan was amazing on so many levels, but you really don’t fully understand that concept until you actually see the movie. That’s how the Bucks are with John Salmons on the team; I could throw out the fact that the team is 7-1 with Salmons, that his 22 points came pretty quietly, or the team is a lot quicker and more agressive on offense, but you really have to see it to believe it.
Key stat: 41 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists from the bench
The combination of Ilyasova, Stackhouse, and Luke Ridnour contributed all across the board, and played a huge part in sustaining the Bucks’ lead throughout the second half. Milwaukee’s bench continues to be a strong point, even when Bogut and Jennings have off nights, and it’s encouraging to know that the bench can log quality minutes to help rest the starters as the playoffs draw closer.
The game was sealed when…
After a Randy Foye three at the 10:00 mark in the fourth quarter to put the score at 82-67 in Milwaukee’s favor, Luke Ridnour took three steps and lofts a 35 foot pass to a streaking Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a dunk. The Bucks didn’t trail after the first quarter, but Washington’s outside shooting touch kept the game more competitive than it should have been.
Milwaukee gets to travel to the nation’s capitol on Friday to take on this very same Washington team. Skiles made a point to say that if the Bucks approach Friday the way they did Wednesday night’s game, the Wizards will come out on top. But given Milwaukee’s recent hot streak and ability to make quick adjustments, it’s hard not to expect another win before taking on the elite Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.