GAME TIME: Bucks 95, Jazz 87
This was an intriguing matchup of two of the hottest teams in the league, with both Milwaukee and Utah on 16-4 spurts going into the game. But the Bucks' quick-hitting offense and diligent defense succeeded in taking the measure of the visitor's more deliberate game plan.
Indeed, the Bucks victory, and the way in which they won, was impressive on several fronts.
Over the past month or so, Milwaukee has allowed slightly more than 89 points per game, and the Bucks proved the hows and whys of this league-leading achievement against the Jazz.
Here are the ingredients of Scott Skiles favorite recipe for playing defense:
Quick hands constantly sniping the passing lanes. Perpetual hustle coupled with in-your-face aggression. Overplaying perimeter ball-handlers and forcing them into help spots. Nearby perimeter defenders flashing in and out of driving lanes to discourage quick ball-penetrations. Fairly efficient baseline rotations. Andrew Bogut's timing and anticipation compensating for his slowness off the floor to make him an ubiquitous shot-blocker (he's second in this category to Dwight Howard). Although he was out-sized by Mehmet Okur, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute never backed off. Carlos Delfino varied his defensive tactics to include ball-denial, fronting his man, and playing chest-to-chest. Ersan Ilyasova never stopped working, so much so, and to such good effect, that he's become my latest favorite player. Although scoring has been a problem for the Bucks all season long, they always made the extra pass, executed hard cuts, set some sturdy screens (especially Bogut), and put enough points on the scoreboard to make their fans smile.
The specifics in this category are as follows:
Bogut is their go-to point-maker, and he uses his body very effectively to keep his defender away from his shots. He has a terrific off hand, which is actually much better than his natural right hand. The 7-footer is also an alert and unselfish passer.
Delfino is a streak shooter who was off his game -- 4-for-14 -- against Utah, but registered a team-high eight assists and was instrumental in generating easy shots for his teammates.
John Salmons -- 8-for-14 for 24 points -- is Milwaukee's most creative wing-scorer. In fact, Salmons is arguably the most productive of all the players involved in the most recent trades.
Ilyasova scored 14 points in 24 minutes, including a put-back that iced the game.
Brandon Jennings got most of his 23 points by zipping through traffic and finding the rim. Indeed, Jennings has one of the quickest last steps extant.
At the same time, the Bucks' performance revealed several weaknesses that prevent them from qualifying as a truly elite team.
Jennings' jumpers are erratic. Whenever the Jazz doubled Bogut or Salmons, they rotated away from Jennings. This tactic worked to perfection as the rookie shot only 3-of-9 from mid-range and beyond. Moreover, Jennings' defense is just as inept. He was routinely nailed on high screens and had no hope of keeping Deron Williams out of the middle (admittedly not an easy task for even the wiliest veteran).
Bogut has very limited lateral movement, which Carlos Boozer exploited by constantly driving around him on his way to recording 26 points. Moreover, Bogut had trouble finishing the game in style -- scoring only one bucket and three free throws in the second half, and missing a slightly complicated layup in the waning seconds.
Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas are running on fumes, and while Luke Ridnour is quick and athletic, he's woefully weak. Of all the subs that Scott Skiles plugged into the game, only Ilysova was productive.
Overall, the Bucks did prove their mettle when they lost control of the game in the third quarter but eventually rallied to win going away. A gutsy win over a disciplined opponent.
This is a prototypical Skiles team that plays earnest defense and busts its butt to generally score just enough points to win. Kudos to Skiles for breathing life into a dying team and resurrecting them as a winner.
For the first time in recent memory, the Bucks now have a promising future.