The Milwaukee Bucks entered their Tuesday night home game against the New York Knicks with a heightened level of frustration with their offense. What transpired in their 107-80 win over the Knicks was something that cliches like “turning the corner” are made of.
By Jake McCormick
Offensive consistency is not a word typically associated with teams led by Bucks head coach Scott Skiles, but it became a staple of Milwaukee’s victory on Tuesday, as the team dropped 41 points in the first quarter and never looked back.
First quarter: 10-0 and 13-2
Point guard Brandon Jennings was vocal over the past few days about the team’s need to get back to the basics of “just playing basketball,” and Milwaukee’s league worst offense has been hesitant at best.
Sometimes teams just need an in-house call out to wake up, and it seemed as if Jennings’ statements did the trick in the first quarter. The Bucks dropped a season-high 41 points on 68.2% shooting, and had scoring runs of 10-0 and 13-2.
Jennings also said he needs to shoot more, and backed that up with two threes and a team-leading 12 first quarter points. Milwaukee also stifled New York defensively, as the Knicks were only able to hit on 30.4% of their shots.
Highlight: Drew Gooden got his groove back, at least for a quarter. From a mid-range jumper to a SportsCenter-worthy pass to himself off the backboard for an easy lay-up, Gooden avoided his usual first quarter foul trouble on his way to 11 points (4-5 on field goals, 3-4 from the line) and three rebounds. Milwaukee fans have been waiting to see what a proven big could do next to Andrew Bogut, and Gooden did not disappoint (at least for the first quarter).
Second quarter: 8 free throws, 8 points
After such a torrid start to the game, the Bucks were destined to cool down to their usual 40% mark from the field, although there was only a two shot differential in made baskets between 17 shots from both teams.
Milwaukee’s bench handled most of the heavy lifting in the second quarter, and had 15 of the Bucks’ 23 total points on 3-6 shooting and all eight free throws (six courtesy of Corey Maggette, as expected).
Ersan Ilyasova contributed a wide open three, Earl Boykins hit a couple jumpers, and Jon Brockman added a couple free throws and a charge while playing aggressive defense. The bench finished the game with 42 combined points, and took another step closer to matching the success of last year’s reserves.
Highlight: Brandon Jennings only had four points in the final five minutes of the quarter, but both baskets were crowd pleasers. His first was a two handed slam in transition, and the second came a minute later when Jennings maneuvered from right to left to right to left in the lane on his way to a kiss off the glass. Jennings finished the half 7-10 (2-4 on threes) for 16 points, a steal, and no turnovers.
Third quarter: 12-3 closing run
Just when you thought the Knicks were poised to make things interesting after whittling a 20+ point lead down to 14, the Bucks clamped down on defense and exploded for a 12-3 run to close out the quarter.
Milwaukee took advantage of three turnovers and two Andrew Bogut blocks in the last 4:24 of the third quarter to seal the game and turn the fourth quarter over to the bench. If the Bucks ever find a way to consistently turn their frequent defensive stands into points on the other end, they’ll be able to match-up with any team in the league.
But as it stands now, the offense just needs to prove it can hit shots with or without help from turnovers or tough defensive possessions.
Highlight: The speed of the most electrifying Bucks possession of the night would’ve made Mike D’Antoni proud, if it wasn’t against his team. Andrew Bogut stuffed a driving Amare Stoudemire, Brandon Jennings scooped up the ball and took it from end-to-end before tossing a backwards bounce pass to Bogut for a dunk that made the less than half full Bradley Center sound like it did against the Atlanta Hawks in last year’s first round playoff series.
Fourth quarter: 23 combined bench points
Much like the fourth quarter of the Green Bay Packers‘ Sunday night thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys, both the Bucks and Knicks accepted the inevitable and allowed their benches to close things out with 23 of the game’s last 30 points.
Ersan Ilyasova led all scorers with seven points and six rebounds in the quarter, which may or may not add to the frustration you probably already have with Ilyasova’s apprehensive play against regular NBA rotations.
Still, Brandon Jennings and the rest of the starters had to be enjoying the rest time to stay fresh for the back end of their fourth back-to-back in the 2010-11 campaign.
Highlight: Rookie power forward Larry Sanders always garners a healthy cheer from the Milwaukee faithful when he takes the court, and even in garbage time, he showed exactly why the Bucks took a chance on him in last June’s NBA Draft. In six fourth quarter minutes, Sanders recorded a block, an ally-oop from fan favorite Earl Boykins, a couple hustle attempts to save a ball from going out of bounds, and three fouls. The latter fact shows he’s still got a ways to go, but it’s hard not to enjoy the flashes of Sanders’ athleticism and talent.
The Milwaukee Bucks are heading to Atlanta tonight to take on last year’s playoff rival Hawks, which will certainly be their biggest game of the season when it comes to defining the path they’re on. A win or loss isn’t necessarily the biggest measure of progress, and the Bucks just need to show that Tuesday night’s stomping of the New York Knicks was not an isolated flash of brilliance.
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