Milwaukee Bucks falter down the stretch in loss to Boston Celtics

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Carlos Delfino, Paul Pierce

AP Photo/Darren Hauck

The Milwaukee Bucks showcased their ability to be completely whelming in their ESPN-televised 89-83 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday night.

By now, everyone who watched the Bucks for the first time knows their story this season, often capped by a failure to land a finishing move when their opponent is swaying like a Mortal Kombat enemy. Milwaukee played as hard as they have all season, but effort only takes you so far when the home stretch of a game is marred by bad decisions.

By Jake McCormick

Milwaukee was again without center Andrew Bogut, and for the second game in a row, Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman got the starting call in the Bucks’ front court. The Celtics had no problem taking advantage of that with bigger lineups that featured Jeff Green at small forward and Paul Pierce at shooting guard.

Boston edged Milwaukee 38-36 in paint points, thanks to 13-17 shots made at the rim against the undersized Bucks interior. Milwaukee was effective enough in creating turnovers (Rajon Rondo had eight) and staying aggressive in the glass (12 offensive rebounds). But following a game-tying Carlos Delfino three with 3:36 remaining, the offense whiffed their last six shots thanks to poor looks and stagnant off-the-ball movement.

Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup:

With energy in high demand early in the first quarter, the Bucks turned to an unlikely spark plug in Luc Mbah a Moute (19 pts, 8-13 fg, 7 rbs, 2 stls) off the bench. Mbah a Moute netted 12 opening frame points on off-the-ball cuts towards the basket and three offensive rebounds that pushed the Bucks to a 12-4 early quarter run.

Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings

AP Photo/Darren Hauck

Brandon Jennings (23 pts, 8-19 fg, 6 rbs, 5 asts, 3 stls) was Mbah a Moute’s first quarter partner in crime, tallying three assists and eight points, but fizzled as the Celtics ramped up their pick and roll defense. Jennings made and missed a few big shots late in the game, including a fancy runner that dropped in for a three point play and a bricked 15 foot bunny with under two minutes to play.

Larry Sanders (8 pts, 4-10 fg, 7 rbs) had his typical ups and downs, starting with a couple decent jumpers and lay-ins plays that highlighted Sanders’ absurdly long wing span. But it ended with jumping the gun on pump fakes, slow reactions to Paul Pierce’s inside moves, and a handful of failed turnaround fade-aways.

When the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks were starving for a basket, John Salmons (11 pts, 4-13 fg, 6 asts, 4 stls) often swooped in and drained a mid-range shot or maneuvered around defenders on his way to the hole. Now, Salmons more often than not settles for long range jumpers (2-7 from 16-23 feet, 1-4 from three) and his shots per game at the rim plummet from 4.2 to 2.7 in the span of a year.

Pessimist: A Sea Of Massholes

One of the most unique things about the NBA is that it is the only major U.S. professional sport where there are more fans of players than there are of teams. This is mostly because a single player can’t impact a football or baseball game the way LeBron James can take over a basketball game.

So naturally, bandwagon fans supporting road teams are going to be present anytime LeBron James, Steve Nash, or Dwight Howard roll into town. That has been as prevalent as ever at the Bradley Center this season during Milwaukee Bucks games, but Sunday night was the first game that truly felt like it was not in Milwaukee.

At least 90% of the fans in the stadium 45 minutes before tip-off were in Boston Celtics gear, a good portion of which were probably not covered in green and white five years ago. It was a far cry from March 2010 at the BC and an unfortunate confirmation that the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks are going nowhere fast.

Optimist: Good Against The Best

Whether they are playing the Miami Heat or Washington Wizards, the Bucks have a tendency to play up or down to their competition. Milwaukee’s defense was as solid as it has been against elite opponents all year, forcing the Celtics to take the majority of their shots between 10 and 23 feet from the basket (11-30).

Eventually throughout a game where the defense is so good, the Bucks offense will reward themselves with a scoring burst or two. The problem is that those runs are never sustained for more than a half quarter at a time, and typically result in an opponent’s follow up to even things out.

Still, Milwaukee is very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. A first round matchup against Boston could be interesting because of both teams’ emphasis on defense and the Bucks’ tendency to play the Celtics’ tough in almost every game.

Realist: Bad, But Not Historically

In the past five seasons, there has been only one NBA team that has finished the year with a top five scoring defense and a losing record. The 2005-06 Houston Rockets gave up 91.7 points while scoring just 90.1 on their way to a 34-48 record. The other 24 teams made the playoffs the year they were a top five defense, and averaged 54 wins and a +5 scoring differential.

The good news is that the current Milwaukee Bucks are not on pace to drop below the Rockets’ abysmal per-game scoring average. The bad news is that they are not getting any better at holding leads or hitting shots on a regular basis. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Milwaukee’s offense is probably not going to find that light switch this season, despite games against Boston where they show flashes of talent that runs contradictory to their record.

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