Apparently there isn’t much of a difference between Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls and the conference’s lower seeds.
A 100-95 win over the New York Knicks Sunday afternoon proved the Milwaukee Bucks are, in fact, capable of building an early lead and holding on against decent competition.
By Jake McCormick
Defense is an inconvenient philosophy for the Knicks, so any surprise over the Bucks 16-4 run to start the game and subsequent 32-9 first quarter advantage should sit solely on the shoulders of the Bucks’ offense. Carlos Delfino (10 pts), Luc Mbah a Moute (9 pts), and John Salmons (9 pts) individually matched New York’s total output for the quarter (4-25, 16% fg).
The Knicks fired back with a 10-2 run to start the second quarter and entered halftime with a 13-4 advantage. Both sparked by Chauncey Billups (13 pts, 4-5 fg, 2-2 3fg) and eight Bucks turnovers converted into nine Knicks points. New York outscored Milwaukee 63-43 in the second and third quarter, thanks in part to their 6-11 shooting along the perimeter.
Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups combined to score 69 of New York’s 95 total points, but Stoudemire’s 25 points came on 28 inefficient shots. The rest of the Knicks offense shot 30% from the field, and an open shot against the Bucks’ defense was as rare as a Coelacanth sighting off South Africa.
Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup:
Carlos Delfino posted two straight career best games this weekend. Delfino led the charge Friday with 28 points (8-11 3pt) and 8 rebounds, and one-upped himself with a career-high 30 points (6-11 3pt) and season-high 11 rebounds in Sunday’s win over the Knicks. Interestingly, Delfino connected on six treys once in 2009-10, and has done so twice in a row in 2011.
Speaking of rediscovering lost mojo, John Salmons has played his best basketball of the season over the past three games (23 ppg, 56% fg, 50% 3fg, 5 rbs, 5 asts). Against the Knicks, Salmons was selectively aggressive around the rim, and equally as confident with his mid-range shots (4-9 from 10-23 feet).
Brandon Jennings finished the game one assist shy of his second triple double of the season, and he was at his best as a facilitator in the first quarter (0 pts, 5 asts, 6 rbs). Jennings fell back into his scoring role in the second half (12 pts, 4-10 fg), with four of his five total coming off runners and layups within eight feet of the basket.
The Knicks never held a lead, but drew within one possession of a tie or lead on a few occasions. In each one, Andrew Bogut received the call offensively and responded with solid lefty and righty hooks (13 pts, 6-12 fg). New York’s lack of a center helped Bogut position himself consistently on the defensive glass, as he pulled down 12 rebounds (2 offensive) and blocked two shots as well.
Luc Mbah a Moute only shot 3-11 from the floor, but grabbed eight rebounds (five offensive), block three shots and had three steals, and connected on all of his career-high 13 free throw attempts. Mbah a Moute has become one of the Bucks’ best offensive rebounders because defenders allow him a big cushion when he’s positioned closer to the perimeter.
The fanfare surrounding Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in New York has recently been replaced with the reality that defense is still required to beat good teams. The Knicks have now lost five of their last six games, bringing their record with Melo to 7-8, and have allowed 99 points or more in seven straight.
The Bucks have strung together two great offensive performances this weekend, but history has proven Milwaukee’s stock is more likely to plummet than rise as the season draws to a close.
Optimist: Starting fury
The Bucks starters were responsible for 98 of the team’s 100 points, and Milwaukee’s bench totaled around 29 total minutes. Four of the Bucks’ five starters logged 40+ minutes, and Bogut finished the game with 15 seconds of that mark.
Those high number of minutes should be negated by three days of rest this week. If anything the starters’ production is a good sign of growing team chemistry and health.
Realist: To Win, Or Not To Win, That Is The Question
The Bucks could be a very dangerous eighth seed in the playoffs if they convert the past two games into a season-ending hot streak. However, Milwaukee has enough holes that a top 10 draft pick is probably much more beneficial for the team’s long-term plans.
Playoff experience is never a bad thing, but the question of whether that advantage outweighs a high position in the NBA Lottery will remain until the Bucks prove they can consistently win/lose crucial games.
Follow Jake on Twitter.