If NBA games were decided in the first half, the Milwaukee Bucks would’ve handed the best team in the league (record-wise) their seventh loss of the season.
But the reality is that they were playing the 33-6 San Antonio Spurs, who rank first in the NBA in offensive efficiency, fourth in points, sixth in assists, seventh in rebounds, and 12th in points against per game.
By Jake McCormick
The Bucks’ 91-84 loss definitely was a tough pill Spurs center Matt Bonner was happy to shove down Milwaukee’s throat with 17 points on a flurry of three pointers and predictable pump fake drives (we’ve heard this story before). It also was especially crushing after Andrew Bogut (13 points, 10 rebounds in first half while abusing Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess) led the team to a 51-43 lead at the break.
However, the main problems that caused this game to hurt so much were the same the team experienced in close games against perennial playoff opponents a year ago.
The inability to hold leads, yet the ability to keep the game close until the end, was ever present until the acquisition of John Salmons last February. Despite scoring on 33 second half points against a Spurs defense that only allowed 12 second half points in the paint, the Bucks battled back with a run of 8-0 in the last five minutes to bring the game within reach at 81-80.
Coincidentally, it was Salmons who capped the run with a mid-range jumper and three pointer, but the Spurs in their typical boring, fundamentally sound fashion, clamped down hard on the Bucks only proven closer and never allowed Milwaukee to get closer.
Mistakes in ball movement and San Antonio’s defensive intensity shut the door for good like a vintage Trevor Hoffman save. But you have to believe that the game itself would’ve swung in a different direction with Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino and Drew Gooden on the court (Gooden did play fairly well in limited minutes).
Pessimist: The shots just keep on missing
For anyone who has watched the Milwaukee Bucks all year, it’s no surprise to see an 18.8% drop off in shooting percentage after a season-high in Saturday’s win over the New Jersey Nets. After posting 51 points and an eight point lead at halftime over the Spurs, the Bucks only managed 33 total second half points (a San Antonio opponent season low).
Simply put, the latter 24 minutes felt as bad as the first 24 were good, and the end result was another close loss to a playoff-caliber team. San Antonio’s defense clamped down hard on Andrew Bogut in the second half, resulting in just two points on 1-6 shots.
Optimist: Welcome back, Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden stepped on the court in the second quarter for the first time since December 20, to a mildly enthusiastic cheer from the crowd. But in his 10 minutes of play, Gooden definitely made his presence felt, notching eight points and three rebounds.
Gooden admitted before the game he wasn’t 100%, and a few lapses in defensive awareness in the paint served as proof. But by and large, it was refreshing to finally see one of the Bucks’ three injured starters on the court and contributing immediately.
His best play was street ball-esque, where he pivoted towards the hoop, threw the ball off the backboard and grabbed his own rebound for a put back lay-up. It certainly wasn’t as acrobatic as Earl Boykins’ right-left-right-left pivot up-and-under Tim Duncan 15 feet from the cup to beat the shot clock, but it was something that made you feel like Gooden is close to being a regular contributor.
Realist: Help is on the way
The Milwaukee Bucks slogged through the toughest schedule in the NBA over the past month, without their floor general and top scorer and two key contributors. Now, Milwaukee’s improving health is rewarded with the easiest schedule in the NBA from Friday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers through the end of the season.
John Salmons is finding a consistent three point/scoring stroke, Brandon Jennings is just a week or two away from returning, and there have been confirmed Carlos Delfino sightings at the Bradley Center and at the Cousins Center practice floor.
The Bucks’ record certainly doesn’t reflect their effort against high quality opponents over the past week, and that very well could be a sign that the team is finding its identity despite the wave of games lost to injuries.
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