Ranking the Milwaukee Bucks recent wins against elite teams

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By Jake McCormick

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and Atlanta Hawks all have one thing in common: They’ve fallen victim to the white hot Milwaukee Bucks over the past two weeks. No doubt the five game winning streak against teams with superior records speaks volumes about the Bucks’ confidence, swagger, and chemistry, but each win ranks differently in terms of significance for Milwaukee’s chances in the playoffs.
1. March 20: 102-97 win at Denver

Scott Skiles waited 67 games for a signature road win, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time against a tougher opponent. It’s impressive that the Bucks were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the game, but even more so when you consider it was the second game of a back-to-back West Coast swing and the Nuggets are the second best team in the better Western Conference. Milwaukee didn’t get check into their hotel until 3 a.m. the night before, and still managed to play their best defense against Denver’s best players.

The icing on the cake that makes this win stand out above the rest is the combined 11 points, six rebounds, and four assists from Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. Three months ago, that stat line would almost guarantee a loss against a battle-tested team. Now it has become a caricature of the Bucks’ ability to spread the ball around and yield to the hot hand offensively.

2. March 9: 86-84 win against Boston
This was a playoff game a month before the start of the postseason, complete with outstanding defense, a never-back-down mentality, and timely stops and shots. Milwaukee had already beaten Cleveland two days earlier, but Boston was healthy, determined to shed the “bored with the regular season” label, and came out swinging right away. The Bucks once again played lockdown D when it mattered and refused to be intimidated by a lineup of three future Hall of Famers.

All of the above were essential building blocks in Milwaukee’s heightened confidence, but Jennings’ tussle with Glen Davis and jawing with Kevin Garnett was the mortar that will keep those bricks in place. The Bucks are by no means a passive team, but Jennings added a whole new dimension to their game by standing up to a team most consider to be a playoff mainstay year in and year out. A lack of fear can be a dangerous weapon when facing off against a seemingly superior team, especially when crunch time rears its head.

3. March 11: 95-87 win against Utah
Beating the best teams at home in the Eastern Conference is one thing, and smothering a Western Conference powerhouse on a hot streak is a different animal. The Jazz entered this game with a six game streak of 100 points or more and a scorching Deron Williams.

The Bucks’ defense forced Utah into an oh-fer night from three point land, and Williams was essentially a non-factor the whole game. Milwaukee even iced the game with 19 seconds left on a pair of John Salmons free throws, proving that pressure situations don’t scare the Bucks like they have in the past.

4. March 22: 98-95 win against Atlanta
Bogut and Jennings followed up their 11 point performance against the Nuggets with an 11 point performance against the Hawks Monday night. Atlanta also had the second most road wins in the East, shot 55% from the field and did a great job of preventing any inside penetration by the Milwaukee guards/forwards. Yet the Bucks still won, largely because of Salmons’ ability to match Joe Johnson shot for shot in the fourth quarter on his way to a season-high 32 points.

This was another textbook display of how far Milwaukee’s bench and depth have come since bringing on Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse in February. The faces of the franchise don’t always need to play their best games, and the Bucks role/bench players are more than capable of carrying a little extra weight on their shoulders. I chuck that up to the three Cs: Confidence, chemistry and coaching.

5. March 6: 92-85 win against Cleveland
This one is ranked fifth mostly because Lebron James was not on the court, but Cleveland is still a solid team without the NBA’s best player. There is a reason James reaches double digits in assists on a regular basis, and Milwaukee contained everyone except Antwan Jamison and Delonte West. Sometimes when a team’s best player isn’t ruled out until an hour before game time, that can change the entire game plan on both sides.

Beating the Cavaliers started the Bucks’ five game joy ride through NBA powerhouses, and a lot of that can be attributed to simply making adjustments in-game to find a way to victory. Elite teams don’t change their identity, but they find ways to overcompensate for something that is lacking. Milwaukee got that ball rolling by beating the Cavs without Lebron, and Skiles has done a great job of reminding the team that one player can’t be their only focus.

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