In a game that was filled with hustle, efficiency and overall a valiant effort of energy all around, the Bucks rebounded from their three-game losing streak with a blowout victory over the Denver Nuggets, 92-74. It resurrected feelings of last season’s team that won games due to grit and determination, something that has been vacant for the most part of this year’s campaign. Let’s dissect the win even more and discuss what we learned.
Michael Carter-Williams has responded to being benched. It was only a matter of time before Jason Kidd pulled the plug on inserting MCW in the starting lineup, as he first experimented with it Sunday in Charlotte. The trial extended last night, as once again Jerryd Bayless received the nod at the point guard position. In the two games that he’s sat on the pine, you have to appreciate how MCW has responded to his coach’s decision. In a league that is too often dominated by players egos and self-pride, he has embraced the reality of himself being benched and is using it as a catalyst to improve his game on the court. MCW came off the bench and contributed heavily in his 30 minutes of court time, tallying a near triple-double. He scored 12 points, nine assists and hauled in six rebounds. It’s this kind of play from the point guard position that Jason Kidd and the Bucks envision. His +27 RPM was the highest on Milwaukee last night. MCW has something that is commonly viewed as a missing element in a traditional point guard – height. When his 6’6” body frame is utilized to his talents, Carter-Williams is able to separate himself from that conventional point guard style. We saw it last night by his ability to soar over forwards and centers for rebounds that normal point guards would have never attempted to go after. Court vision was at a season high for MCW last night as well, thanks to his ability to get past the initial line of defense and penetrate the paint guarded by the Denver big men. By doing that, it allowed MCW to toy with them and pick whether to pass or put up a shot. He ended up accomplishing both last night, notching 12 points with nine assists. Perhaps his new haircut is the reason for his recent success. He abandoned his muffin man style that he had been rocking all season and went back to his short buzz cut. It served him well at Syracuse and he won the Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia with short hair, so maybe, just maybe, a lack of aerodynamic flow was his problem. It will be compelling to see if Carter-Williams can keep up his newfound success.
We were shown that the Bucks can play solid defense. It just needs to come on a consistent basis. Okay, okay, granted it was the 6-12 Denver Nuggets who rank 25th in the league in points scored per game and a team that lost Kenneth Faried. But still, it was comforting seeing the Bucks enforce a suffocating defense that held a team to 74 points. How did this happen? First off, the Bucks did a terrific job of ensuring that every shot was met with a hand in the face. Constant communication and rotation on switches is what put Milwaukee in that position. After allowing a hair-pulling 15 threes to the Hornets on Sunday, the Bucks responded well, holding the Nuggets to six threes. Access to the paint was also sealed off, something that Denver exploited in the prior matchup in Colorado. In that November 11th meeting, the Nuggets penetrated the Bucks defense for 46 points in the colored hardwood. The Bucks nixed that advantage in last night’s game, limiting them to only 36 points. However, it wasn’t only the depletion in points in the paint that stands out when analyzing the Milwaukee defense. Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay was held in check after torching the Bucks in the last matchup, as he recorded a double double with 22 points and 10 assists in that game. His assists were capped off at four last night, limiting shots off the perimeter that were so critical to Denver the last time these two teams met. The energy and intensity that the Bucks brought out was critical in holding Denver to 74 points. Grit and toughness paints the picture of what this team symbolizes. We saw it last
season. The only problem is that the Bucks haven’t brought forth that style game in and game out. As the coaches have emphasized, to climb out of this slump, it begins by constantly finding their identity on the defensive side of the ball. Once that happens, the Bucks may be set for a jump back over the .500 win percentage. It really is ironic comparing this season to last year’s. Lack of offense served as the troubled waters for this team last year, while the defense reigned supreme and acted as the running motor. This season those two identities have flip-flopped, leaving the Bucks in an unfamiliar spot and scrambling to make adjustments. We saw those adjustments last night and saw how effective they can be when combined with the hustle that defines this team. Once the connection is made on a consistent basis, this team may be finding its old identity once again.
Jabari Parker continues to show his high-flying skills. When you think that the oneyear anniversary of Jabari Parker tearing his ACL is quickly approaching, it’s incredible to see the highlight plays he puts in on a consistent basis. One of the most fearsome worries was that his spring and bounce would be lost after undergoing the surgery. However, Parker is proving all of those doubters wrong. Last night provided the most recent pieces of evidence, as he climbed up the ladder for two impressive dunks. The first one came as the Bucks were in transition running down the court. Khris Middleton dribbled past the timeline on the nearside of the court as Parker flanked down the opposite end, preparing to receive a pass from Middleton. Jabari caught the pass and beat an outstretched Kenneth Faried to the rim, igniting the Bradley Center crowd. Parker’s second exciting dunk came with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. He corralled in a pass from Jerryd Bayless and took advantage of a porous lane defense provided by the Nuggets. Jabari quickly raced down and ascended up to the rim with an incredible burst of hops. If you haven’t seen this highlight, go hunt it down. His athleticism shows no sign that he tore his ACL less than a year ago. These kinds of plays from Parker are extremely comforting to Bucks fans, as there were worries that that part of his game would be lost after the damaging injury. It makes one drool thinking about the kind of player he hast the potential to become. We look forward to see what he has in store for us in the future.
Although last night was an extremely satisfying victory for the Bucks, its vital to keep waiting things out and to see if they can provide this style of play consistently. If these kinds of performances only register as flashes in the pan, it will be a long winter in Milwaukee. The word that surrounds this team is now consistency. We know they can provide the firepower that is so fundamental to winning games in this league. All that’s missing is bringing out that effort on a persistent basis. Once that is solved, we may be back to seeing the Bucks we envisioned we would be seeing in the offseason.