The Milwaukee Bucks tossed a proverbial monkey off their backs with a 92-90 victory over the Detroit Pistons Tuesday night. It may have been the size of a Pygmy Marmoset, but it was still a monkey that had prevented the Bucks from beating the Pistons in their previous two meetings.
By Jake McCormick
Without Andrew Bogut (rib strain), Luc Mbah a Moute (flu-like symptoms), and Ersan Ilyasova (concussion), Milwaukee was in full Nellie-ball mode for most of the game. Corey Maggette and even Carlos Delfino played the flex four at various points, and the Bucks’ perimeter (9-23 3fg) and mid-range game (12-25 fg from 10 to 23 feet) were just good enough to push Milwaukee to their first win over Detroit in three games this season.
The Bucks were still at the mercy of their own missteps, including a shot clock violation that game the Pistons the ball back with the chance to tie or take the lead in the game’s waning minutes. But when teams inch closer to waving the white flag on a season, any win is a welcome respite from that reality.
“It was a good shorthanded win. Things didn’t go smoothly for us, we had a couple of opportunities late in the game to kind of seal it,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We were playing good defensively. We were able to get stops. We played pretty hard, especially the last four or five minutes of the game.”
Milwaukee Bucks starting five:
Brandon Jennings’ (21 pts, 8-19 fg, 5 rbs, 4 asts, 2 stls) game-saving block on a Will Bynum three point attempt was followed up with a couple game-clinching free throws. Jennings did most of his work off pick and rolls and had a couple impressive maneuvers under the basket.
Posting up on the first possession of the game, John Salmons (14 pts, 6-12 fg, 4 rbs) drop stepped backwards for a successful fade-away jumper. Salmons played confident all night, hit a couple late game clutch three pointers, and selectively added a few mid-range jumpers as well.
Jon Brockman (8 pts, 4-6 fg, 8 rbs) got the biggest crowd reaction of the night with a first quarter tomahawk dunk followed by a catch and follow-up dunk off an assist of Brandon Jennings. Both were the most athletic plays of the night for both teams, and Brockman played up to his reputation as an undersized, sneaky athletic big man.
Keyon Dooling (12 pts, 5-9 fg) scored seven of his 12 points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to stave off a Pistons charge. Dooling’s success mostly comes along the perimeter, and when his shot is falling, it gives the Bucks an oft-needed boost of scoring to go with their stout defense.
Carlos Delfino (16 pts, 5-12 fg, 4 asts) takes more three point shots than anyone in the NBA, and that often hasn’t been a good things this season. But Delfino’s perimeter game (3-7 3fg) in conjunction with his active defensive efforts (10 rbs, 4 stls) were crucial to keeping the Bucks ahead and preventing the Pistons from extending a lead beyond three points.
Pessimist: Limited bigs have big limitations
Jon Brockman, Larry Sanders, and Earl Barron deserve props for their aggressive play on the boards all night (25 combined rebounds, 13 offensive). But their interior defensive awareness did enough to offset some of those positives.
The Pistons scored 52 of their 90 points in the paint, mostly from their guards driving off a pick and roll or simply barreling into the lane Corey Maggette-style. Close shots were the only thing working well for Detroit (4-16 3fg, 7-25 from between 10 and 23 feet), but the Bucks made stops when it absolutely counted and prevented the Pistons from putting together any huge runs.
Detroit doesn’t have much of a post-up game beyond rookie Greg Monroe, and the game wouldn’t have been as close if Andrew Bogut, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Ersan Ilyasova had been healthy. The Bucks don’t have a lot of true post up players to begin with, and losing their top three options would be much more detrimental against a bigger team than the Pistons.
Optimist: Tough defense without top defenders
The biggest defensive play of the night came from the most unlikely of shot blockers. Up 90-88 with less than 30 seconds to play, Brandon Jennings closed out fast and hard on a Will Bynum corner three pointer and sent the ball into the first row.
“My first instinct was that he was going to pump fake, so I didn’t want a pump fake to let in to him and give him a three (point) shot,” Jennings said, “but he went up for it and I had to make a big block.”
If anything, Jennings’ block was symbolic of the Bucks’ always consistent focus on getting the job done defensively. He doesn’t have “shot blocker” prominently displayed on his resume, but Jennings’ experience in Skiles defensive system naturally inclines him to contest every shot.
Brandon Jennings obviously wasn’t the only Bucks player outhustling his expectations on the defensive end. Despite lacking their best two overall defenders, Andrew Bogut and Luc Mbah a Moute, the Bucks still played tough perimeter defense and stifled Detroit’s slashers when it really counted.
Realist: Unfortunate Bucks-Pistons similarities
Milwaukee Bucks GM John Hammond has succeeded in building a team similar to the Detroit Pistons. The only problem is the Bucks’ model happens to bear a stronger resemblance to the current Pistons, rather than the Detroit teams of the mid-2000s.
Aging, un-athletic, saddled with bad contracts, and lacking a true go-to scorer, the Pistons look every bit the part of the Milwaukee Bucks’ worst nightmare in the next few seasons. But the Bucks do have the advantage of a younger core (Bogut, Jennings, even Larry Sanders), and trust in their coach’s system and philosophy.
Even in a lost season, wins still feel good and boost team confidence. They would just be a lot better if it meant more than a step closer to NBA Draft discussions.
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