By Jake McCormick
Editor’s note: For the rest of the season, I’ll be breaking down Milwaukee Bucks games as if they are a national security measure – literally. I’ll be using the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist color coding system to grade the team, with Green being the highest high and Red being the lowest low. I’m already putting the system to a better use than its current purpose.
George W. Bush once said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — [pauses] – shame on you. Fool me — You can’t get fooled again.”
The Milwaukee Bucks got fooled again in Wednesday night’s 107-106 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers when Kobe Bryant missed a game-winner in regulation but swished a last second jumper in overtime to give the Los Angeles Lakers their 20th win of the season.
Bryant finished the game with 39 points, seven rebounds, and said that buzzer beaters (obviously) never get old.
“I had a really good look on that first one, and wanted to get right back to that same spot,” Bryant said. “I’ve taken that shot a thousand times. It wasn’t like the Miami game where it was just luck. I make that shot in my sleep.”
“He’s at the point in his career where he’s done that quite a few times,” said Pau Gasol, who continued to rock the backboard with 22 rebounds and his third 20+ effort in the last four games. “He’s so confident that it’s like any other shot.”
The loss was a heartbreaker for a Bucks team that was running toe to toe, and leading most of the time, with the defending world champions. It’s no secret that the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference, but the Bucks can take away quite a few positives from the fact that they had multiple opportunities to grab a 20 percent share of the Lakers’ losses before succumbing to the league’s best clutch player.
“It’s frustrating, man,” Michael Redd said solemnly, after the game. “Both teams battled hard tooth and nail.”
Code Green: Redd’s resurgence
Finishing with a team-leading 25 points and a personal season high of seven rebounds, Michael Redd logged 36 minutes off the bench and showed a consistent pulse for the first time this season.
Coach Scott Skiles has put on his best poker face when asked about Redd’s playing time, but it looked like he played the right hunch against the Lakers, especially considering Brandon Jennings was a non-factor in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“Redd looked more like himself,” Skiles said. “He’s been moving around well.”
The sharp shooting lefty only went 2-8 beyond the arc, but his energy level and willingness to foster team chemistry instead of a deliberate one-man show can only help the team’s cohesiveness.
“Just play basketball,” Redd said. “If a man’s open you hit him. If you got a shot shoot it.”
Considering Brandon Jennings’ name was barely called all night (11 points, seven assists, but no overtime minutes) the loss is a little easier to swallow knowing Redd took a step closer to returning to vintage form.
Code Blue: Team chemistry
Two separate times, three different players created an impressive string of quick passes before a quality basket. During the third quarter, a Carlos Delfino-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute-Ersan Ilyasova around the basket combination resulted in the Turk drawing a three point play. Late in the fourth, Luke Ridnour dished to Andrew Bogut, who tossed it to a cutting Michael Redd for a dunk that brought the Bradley Center to life. I wouldn’t call either possession a Tinkers to Evers to Chance, but it’s encouraging to see that the team is creating baskets through unselfish, trusting play.
Code Yellow: Key rebounds
The Bucks were outrebounded 47-38, which was to be expected considering the Lakers’ size under the basket. Andrew Bogut led the team with 12 rebounds, and Ilyasova got into foul trouble early enough that his five rebounds are just an afterthought on the stat sheet compared to his career high 24 points. The one positive to take away from this category is the Bucks’ 16-6 second chance point advantage that resulted from a 9-6 lead in offensive rebounds. They grabbed rebounds when they really counted late in the game and forced Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to work on the glass. Unfortunately, the other stat that goes hand in hand with physicality continued to be the team’s Achilles’ heel against the Lakers.
Code Orange: Keeping Kobe from doin’ work
Jeff Suckpan (Suppan, excuse me) and Chris Capuano used to say that being clutch means you’re average all the time. Being clutch and scoring 39+ points two nights in a row in overtime games must mean you’re great all the time, and it’s hard to argue against that considering what Bryant did after missing his chance at ending the game in regulation.
“The first shot had my original grip and came off the wrong way,” Bryant said, adding that he is getting used to using his thumb to compensate for the injury. “I was just happy to get another look.”
After calling a timeout with less than 10 seconds to go in overtime, Bryant speculated that the Lakers opting to take the ball the length of the court instead of halfway threw the Bucks’ defense off guard.
“When coming from that distance, it’s tough,” Bryant said, alluding to the fact that the last thing the Bucks wanted to do is double team him full court and leave another Laker weapon open for an easy basket.
Still, it’s a mild head scratcher that Skiles chose to keep Charlie Bell on Bryant when Mbah a Moute was available, taller, and a considerably better defender. Skiles said he felt LRBAM had been sitting long enough where he might come off cold.
“(LRBAM) was out quite a while,” Skiles said. “Kobe’s going to get a shot off there, Charlie played good defense; he just made it.”
Code Red: EVERYTHING free throw related
Imagine a combination of Ed Hochuli’s worst games, and put that into basketball terms. Although Odom received a questionable technical and Bryant received predictable “special treatment” chants from Squad 6, the most talked about call was a Bogut block that was as delayed as bad as some pass interference penalties. Now you know what I’m talking about, right, when the refs delay a call and get really, really animated to overcompensate the fact that they know it wasn’t the right one?
Even though Skiles and Bogut indirectly called B.S. on the controversial ruling after the game, the Bucks had more than a few opportunities at the line to make up the one point difference. This includes two free throw lane violations by Ilyasova on misses that gave L.A. mulligans and a subsequent two points.
Likewise, Bogut and Ilyasova missed crucial free throws in regulation and overtime that would’ve put the Bucks ahead.
“For the most part we have to be more aggressive to the bucket,” Bogut said.
Skiles was not shy about the team’s shortcomings at the stripe in the loss, and indicated that their biggest problem is highlighted when the spotlight shines the brightest.
“That’s what the pros are about, stepping up in big moments and answering the bell,” Skiles said. “Often times there’s the difference between good teams and average teams.”
One thing is for sure though: This Bucks team is becoming extremely watchable, despite their record. I can definitely see why they’re some people’s guilty pleasures.Follow paulmbanks