Sunday 03rd March 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

In One Game, the Bucks Show Their Upside and Bad Luck

At halftime in Houston last night, the Milwaukee Bucks were down nine, fresh off a 13 point second quarter and losing center Andrew Bogut in the first to a sprained ankle. If you’ve watched many Bucks’ games over the last couple of years, since they had the Atlanta Hawks Fearing the Deer back in the first round of the 2010 playoffs (not that I’m assuming you have), this scenario feels all too familiar: Bucks, in general, play well, Bucks have one terrible quarter, maybe somebody gets hurt, Bucks try to mount comeback, Bucks fall short, lose on road.

These things happen to every NBA team on a given night, but living in Wisconsin means seeing a lot of the Bucks, and it’s difficult to feel sometimes that this sort of occurrence isn’t some kind of sad routine. Which is why the 105-99 win Milwaukee snagged over the Rockets last night felt especially insane.

The Bucks rank 20th in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 31.6%, but they rank 11th in attempts from beyond the arc. They’ve got capable long-range threats, especially with the offseason signing of Mike Dunleavy, Jr., to join Stephen Jackson, Carlos Delfino and Brandon Jennings as guys who can all catch fire from deep. It just doesn’t seem like they do, especially together.

Well, in the second half they did. Milwaukee shot an absurd 9-for-14 as a team in the last two quarters from deep. Jennings has been shooting and scoring better this season than last, yet his outside touch usually comes in waves; here, he drilled three three’s in the third. Beno Udrih, who spelled Jennings for the closing minutes of the third, nailed a his only triple, a timely one, to give the Bucks the lead going into the final frame.

This is the part where the Bucks play hard to the bitter end, but run out of shots and points, if you’re acting like you know what you’re talking about. It’s hard, sometimes, to not feel like this team in snakebitten; especially the terribly unlucky Bogut, who will now deal with another setback.

Bogut said as much after the game, when stating he was unsure of his status for Friday’s Midwestern battle with Chicago Bulls, Bogues dropped this gem:

“Someone has a voodoo doll and is putting pins in me.”

Now, hopefully there isn’t some weirdo cult prince jabbing needles into an Andrew Bogut doll, but you never know. One has to feel for the guy, though, as just getting into a rhythm on the floor between injuries is often the first concern, rather than simply just playing basketball. It feels like the Bucks cannot reach their ceiling without him, whatever that is.

But then you remember that, when the Bucks made their postseason run a few years back, it was also without Bogut, just like last night. The fourth quarter felt like it was all Dunleavy and Jackson trading threes, and the perfect definition of the term “glue guy,” Ersan Ilyasova, ripping down rebounds — as he’d done all night, finishing with 19 freaking boards, five on the offensive end.

Of course, they had to make it interesting, as the Rockets cut the lead down to four at one point, but the Bucks held on for a precious road win, making sure their obscene 14 threes made (one more than free throws made on the night) worthwhile, and giving us another glimpse at their potential potential.

Now, we’re not shooting for the stars here, but the Bucks should be a consistently entertaining, dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. They should be in the playoff mix all season, not scraping the edges for an under-.500 eight seed. They won’t — no team can — always shoot like this, but they’ve got guys who can. Can they stay healthy? Can they be good enough offensively, night after night?

It’s hard to see why not, except that this team feels too often a day late and dollar short, or sometimes, like they just don’t have the voodoo on their side. Wins like this, really, only leave further questions to be answered.

Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta dot gmail dot com.

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