Bucks @ Denver Nuggets, 8:00 pm CST, FsWis
Double OT: Bucks 114, Kings 108
This one never seemed to be going well, even in the first half when Brandon Jennings was hitting five three balls and the Bucks maintained a 5-7 point edge throughout, only to see it cut to one at halftime. Rarely does so much deadeye long range bombing go for naught.
That’s because a lot of other things weren’t going so well for the Bucks. Andrew Bogut was big in the paint but the shots weren’t falling (7-18, late in the 4th) and his free throws (1-6) had reverted to last year’s clanking form. The Kings’ 21-year-old center, Spencer Hawes, was getting loose in and around the paint for putback dunks and other short range damage (18 pts, 8 rebs, 6 assists) while Kings guard Beno Udrih was having the game of his life, slashing, twisting and leaning his way to a season-high 26 pts and 9 assists. Udrih averages 12.2 pts per game.
And then there was Carl Landry, sent to Sacramento from Houston as part of the deal that sent Tracy McGrady to the Knicks. As usual, Landry was everywhere the Bucks didn’t want him to be. After Jennings sank one (his 8th of the game) from downtown to pull the Bucks within 2 at 84-82, a Landry lay-in, a Udrih three and a putback by Ime Udoka (yes, he’s killed the Bucks on the glass before) made it 91-82 as the clock ticked under the 2-minute mark.
What was going on in Sacramento? Hawes, Udrih, Udoka? Who are these guys? This was supposed to be the battle of the Rookie of the Year contenders, Jennings and Tyreke Evans (who would soon be headed for the trainers’ room, his jaw split after a collision with an Ersan Ilyasova elbow on a rebounding play). Jennings wasn’t matched on Evans — he guarded Udrih, the Kings point guard. John Salmons took the Evans assignment.
Then the advantages the Bucks had been looking for all night arrived, all in the space of two minutes. Ilyasova hit a jumper. Udrih missed on a drive and, when Hawes grabbed the rebound, he foolishly shot instead of running clock. Ex-King Salmons hit for three to make it 91-87. Landry did what he rarely does against the Bucks — he missed. Bogut dunked (that’ll improve the offensive efficiency) off a Salmons dish, and it was down to two.
Two Kings free throws, a Salmons three, more Kings free throws and a high arcing 27-foot bomb from Ilyasova tied the game and sent it into OT. The Kings never stood a chance. They lived to fight a second OT but were playing uphill the entire 10 minutes of extra play. The Bucks had finally found their groove 46 mins into regulation, not a second too late.
And Hawes could have won it by simply NOT shooting with a fresh shot clock and about a minute-and-a-half to play. Though he’s 21 (soon to be 22), he’s in his 3rd pro season and has probably been playing roundball since he was a little Spencer. There’s no excuse for getting greedy at the prospect of winning the boxscore battle against a rising All-Pro center who’s had a big feature article at yahoo.com staring a nation of the NBA obsessed in their million mosaic face at yahoo.com. Why else would the hoop look so tempting? Hawes lost the boxscore battle anyway, as though it were the moral to a Red Auerbach basketball fable. Bogut finished with 21 pts, 11 boards, two blocks and two steals, and never quit playing (Hawes kinda disappeared). Let this be a lesson to young Spencer, who does seem to have a bright future ahead if the Kings stick with him.
In the 12 mins spanning the final two minutes of regulation and two OTs, the Bucks outscored the Kings 32-17. Salmons led with 12 , Ilyasova added 7, Bogut 6, Jennings 4 (35 on the night) and Delfino finally hit his first three of the night. It was too much for Sacramento, a team built for youth, not necessarily for crunchtime grit and savvy.
That’s not to say that the Bucks are old pros at this. Earlier in the season, they might have lost this one. But after 33 games settled by three points or less and seven overtimes (won 2, lost 5), the Bucks may be getting the hang of this. Having Salmons around to bail them out in the clutch certainly doesn’t hurt the cause. Here are the highlights:
The Bucks starters played heavy minutes to finish the Kings off (53 mins for Salmons, 45 for Bogut, 45 for Jennings and 47 for Delfino). If I were Scott Skiles (and I’m not) I’d give Bogut tonight off in Denver and take it easy on his primary rotation mates, giving the bench players an opportunity to find their rhythm. Name any one of them other than Ersan — they’re out of sync and struggling, and could use some extended playing time together.
The Bucks play Eastern conference rival the Atlanta Hawks at the BC Monday in a game that has all sorts of implications for the Bucks. The Hawks are a measuring stick of the Bucks progress, a very possible Round One playoff opponent and a team the Bucks have yet to beat this year. It’s the first game of a 5-game homestand which the Bucks may have visions of sweeping if their legs aren’t dead from the road. They’ve already beaten Denver this year, Nov. 11 at the BC. No need to wear the starters out going for a season sweep in the West that would be tough enough to get when well-rested.
Puppy love: Brandon Jennings has a crush on Ciara. Apparently, he tells all in the next issue of GQ Magazine, coming soon to a newstand near you. My advice: Don’t buy GQ — just click this link and read all about it at Ball Don’t Lie. They’re all over it, got an advanced copy of the mag, like, really.