Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bucks 100, Spurs 98

I had a few thoughts about this game I wanted to jot down. There's also a solid recap of the game up at brewhoop:

For those who have trouble seeing why numbers people will look at point differential instead of won-loss record to assess a team's quality, notice that in this game: (1) Charlie Bell hit a couple of impossibly difficult jumpshots in non-crunch time -- shots that would miss 8 times out of 10 and shots that, if they had missed, could have tilted the game in San Antoni's favor, and (2) Tim Duncan missed an easy layup that would have sent the game into overtime. How often will these events happen in the same game? Milwaukee played great and absolutely earned this victory on the road, but realistically it's a game that could have gone either way.

The Spurs played a lot of the game with Tim Duncan as the only big in the lineup (as they have throughout the entire season as they wait for a number of injured bigs to recover) , and all of the Bucks took advantage by cutting to the basket whenever Duncan was drawn out of the paint. Andrew Bogut was the biggest beneficiary, scoring on a number of dunks over Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan was drawn out of the paint more and more in the second half because of Luke Ridnour, who heated up and scored 11 points in the third on 5-8 shooting. The Spurs responded by trapping Ridnour aggressively to end the third and throughout the fourth, and the Bucks made them pay with smart off-ball movement. 

That isn't to say, necessarily, that the Spurs made the wrong choice by going to the smaller lineups (not that it is much of a choice, given the health situation). Combined, Tony Parker, Roger Mason Jr., Michael Finley, and Manu Ginobili shot 25-41, including 9-12 from the three point line. More often than not, if the Spurs get that kind of perimeter production, they'll win. 

The Bucks outrebounded the Spurs 43-29. It helped that Michael Redd (averaging 3.3 rebounds per game for the year) grabbed 10 rebounds himself. 

It doesn't show up in the numbers, as far as I can tell, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (who also happened to play a mostly solid offensive game) did a lot of really nice things defensively in the third quarter. He made the right rotations at the right times, and generally was always in the right place, and fought to get there. It's not surprising to see that for the season, he has the best defensive net plus/minus rating on the team. Considering that he's taking minutes that last year went to Yi Jianlian and Charlie Villanueva, it's understandable how much better the team is defensively this year.

I generally forget to mention when I think a local broadcast team does a good job, but I thought the Spurs broadcasters were very watchable and informative. There are a number of broadcast teams around the league who do excellent work, and I'll try to remember to give them some credit whenever possible (New Year's resolution!).

Example #408,344 that Tim Duncan is really good: check out this sequence from about halfway through the second quarter. Duncan, at that point, was a bit frustrated for a variety of reasons. Anyways:

- Duncan rebounds an Andrew Bogut miss and immediately turns around and leads a fast break, dribbling the length of the court and setting up Roger Mason for a wide open three point look in the right corner (Mason misses, but it's a brilliant set up from Duncan). 

- After Mason's miss, Duncan gets back on defense, and sees Andrew Bogut about to pass to a cutter in the paint before Bogut actually makes the pass. Duncan hops back into the passing lane and intercepts the pass, and immediately looks up and throws a perfect outlet to Tony Parker, who is streaking down the court. Parker misses the resulting layup, but again a great setup from Duncan.

- As the rest of the players work to get back up the court after Parker's layup attempt, Richard Jefferson finds himself with the ball at the three point line with only Tim Duncan in front of him (no one else has even crossed the halfcourt line yet). Duncan obviously knows the scouting report on Jefferson, so he sinks back towards the hoop and holds his ground, drawing the inevitable charge from Jefferson as he comes crashing into the paint. 

- On the Spurs' ensuing offensive possession, Tim Duncan makes a tough, leaning 8-footer in the paint over Andrew Bogut and draws the foul on Bogut in the process. Duncan completes the three-point play by hitting the free throw.

- After a Michael Redd made jumper, Duncan gets the ball on the left side about 15 feet out, and makes the bank shot over Bogut.

All told, in about one minute and 15 seconds of game time, Duncan leads a 5-2 mini-run for the Spurs, making every play on both ends of the court. In addition to scoring the 5 points during this time, he creates two turnovers on defense (one of which comes off of a fast-break situation), grabs a rebound that leads to a fast break because of his ball-handling ability, and draws two fouls. It's difficult to think of another player who could have done all of that in 75 seconds. Perhaps Kevin Garnett, maybe Rasheed Wallace? In any case, it's a brilliant little sequence in the midst of a very exciting game.

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