The night after the Milwaukee Bucks played their best all-around game of the young NBA season, they played their best all-around game of the young NBA season.
By Jake McCormick
After hitting a 26 foot three pointer at the 9:14 mark in the third quarter to put the Milwaukee Bucks up 63-41 over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, point guard Brandon Jennings cracked a smile.
It may have been because his three pushed the Bucks’ lead to double digits, Milwaukee was building a lead on the road against a team they haven’t beat since Jennings was a junior in high school (2006), or possibly because he knew that the Bucks’ 107-80 blowout of the New York Knicks the night before was no fluke.
Whatever the reason, the Bucks walked off the court 15 minutes later with a signature 108-91 road victory that took five months to obtain against an elite home team last season (102-97 at Denver).
It’s just a two game winning streak, but Milwaukee was at a crossroads that gave the team a choice between regressing to their performance over the first seven games of the season or turning a home/road back-to-back into a statement against that underwhelming start.
After starting the season 6-0, the Atlanta Hawks have now dropped three straight games, albeit all to 2009-10 playoff teams (Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks). All three teams are considered to be as good if not better than they were a year ago, so really this is just nit-picking.
The Bucks predictably came out a bit flat footed in the first quarter, and shot 40.9% while Atlanta made 62.5% of their shots. But that really was the only slip up Milwaukee experienced the entire night.
Even with the two game losing streak going into Wednesday night’s game, the Atlanta Hawks were still ranked in the top five in nearly every offensive category. The Hawks were second in offensive efficiency (110.2) and shooting percentage within 10 feet of the basket (54.5%), first in efficient field goal percentage (53.22), in 10-15 feet shooting percentage (52.7%), and true shooting percentage (58.3%), and third in total rebounds (52.23).
The Bucks defense held the Hawks below their season averages and trumped Atlanta in every category listed above, so why dwell on an understandably sluggish start when things ended in the best way possible?
Optimist: 95 points
In the past two games, the Bucks bench has combined to score 95 total points (42 and 53, respectively). Seventeen of those points came in garbage minutes at the end of the Knicks game, but it went a long way in giving the bench rotation confidence and experience together going into Wednesday’s game against the Hawks.
Heading into the season, there were concerns over how Bucks coach Scott Skiles would manage so many capable players on his bench, and Skiles always calmly responded that they would deal with it when the time comes and the rotation generally sorts itself out.
The last two games gave us a glimpse into the bench’s full capabilities when they occupy every spot on the floor, which is something most NBA teams can’t brag about. Here’s a break down of the bench’s hyper-production against the Knicks and Hawks:
Corey Maggette – 52 m/34p/11-14 fg/11-12 ft
Ersan Ilyasova – 45m/29p/19r/13-25 fg/3-7 3fg
Keyon Dooling – 41m/11p/5-13 fg
Earl Boykins – 40m/17p/11a/8-13 fg
Jon Brockman – 26m/4p/8r
Skiles is already known for his ability to mix and match rotations to maximize their output, and that strength was brought out for the first time in Milwaukee’s beat downs of New York and Atlanta. From the end of the first quarter with his team down 10, Skiles road the lineup of Earl Boykins-Keyon Dooling-Corey Maggette-Ersan Ilyasova-Jon Brockman all the way through a 25-9 Bucks run that lasted just past the six minute mark in the second quarter.
Obviously there’s no guarantee the Bucks’ bench will drop 30-40 points a game for the rest of the season, but it makes the option of an all-bench lineup on the court much more appealing when that capability is there.
Realist: Two roads diverged on the hardwood…
The bottom line is that Bucks coach Scott Skiles talked about needing to prove the team had taken a collective step forward in dominating the New York Knicks, and thrashing the Atlanta Hawks in their building for the first time in four years tells you all you need to know about Milwaukee’s mindset, confidence-level, and chemistry.
The starters also had a few notable performances that hearkened back to 2009-10. Jennings strung together his second straight impressive shooting performance, going 7-16 from the field (4-5 from the perimeter) for a 19p/6a/5r night, and John Salmons looked much like he did last March, going 7-12 for 16p/3a/2stl in 30 minutes.
The Bucks needed to make a statement Wednesday night against the Hawks, and they wrote a declaration with swagger.
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