Cavs Know Bucks Will Be a Dangerous Playoff Opponent
CLEVELAND -- The Milwaukee Bucks didn't say a lot, but they didn't have to. The final stats from the Bucks' 101-98 loss to Cleveland said plenty.
In the game, the Cavs shot 45 free throws, the Bucks nine. It was a disparity that almost seems impossible.
But despite that disparity -- which is unheard of in most NBA games -- the Bucks still were able to wipe out a 10-point third-quarter deficit, still were able to lead the Cavs in the final minutes and still were able to take the team with the league's best record to the final seconds.
Impressive? Yes. Something to build on? Not for these Bucks, who came to Quicken Loans Arena having won seven-of-10 games.
"We should have won that game," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We gave them that game."
Milwaukee led the Cavs 95-93 with 1:25 left and had the ball, but missed a three. After the Cavs tied the game on free throws, John Salmons missed a jump shot with 35.9 seconds left. Down two, Salmons let J.J. Hickson slap the ball off his knee and out of bounds with 13.3 seconds to go.
"The game was there for the taking, and it's not often when you come into this building and the game is there for the taking," Skiles said. "When it is, you have to take it."
So Skiles was not about to use a free-throw disparity as an excuse. In truth, the game did not seem poorly officiated. Center Andrew Bogut said he didn't even know about the disparity until he saw the numbers at game's end, though he called the difference "a little over the top."
"I guess we were fouling too much and they weren't fouling at all," Bogut said.
"I hadn't seen anything like that," said veteran Jerry Stackhouse. "But sometimes it's the way the ball bounces."
The disparity was not out of character either. The Cavs are second in the league in free-throws attempted; the Bucks, fifth from the bottom.
"They're a jump-shooting team," Cavs guard Mo Williams said. "We go to the rack a lot."
Evidently both happened a lot on Wednesday.
But it's to the Bucks' credit that instead of focusing on a wacky disparity, they focused on the fact they did not win a game they could have won. On a night when the Celtics lamented officiating calls, the Bucks said they lost because they blew chances, not because of a free-throw disparity of Grand Canyonesque proportions.
It's a measure of their growth, and of the reality that come mid-April they could be a very dangerous combination.
The Bucks are deep, very deep. They have Bogut patrolling the middle, and 6-10 Ersan Ilyasova coming off the bench. They have Brandon Jennings, but when Jennings does not play well (like Wednesday, when he shot 2-for-9) Skiles pulls him. At game's end, Salmons, Ridnour and Stackhouse were on the floor while Jennings watched.
Milwaukee has good shooters, talented players and the kind of attitude that will make them a playoff challenge -- especially if their young legs go against the elder citizens of the NBA in Boston (which right now would be the matchup).
The Bucks beat the Cavs in Milwaukee the last time the teams played, but the Cavs were without James. Wednesday the Bucks gave the Cavs a legitimate scare on their home court, where they've lost six times the last two seasons.
"That's a really good team," James said. "The addition of John Salmons has really helped them. When you got a Scott Skiles team they are going to play hard no matter if they're up or down. They're going to play the same way."
James' teammates shared the healthy respect.
"You don't want to take them lightly," Williams said. "They're well coached and they have some talent on that team. They play together and they play hard. You have that kind of mix in the blender, you can win some games."
Every year in the playoffs a team emerges, usually a lower seed. If the playoffs started now, Milwaukee would be fifth -- but rising. Milwaukee is 11-4 in March, and they've won 21 times since Feb. 1, which matches the league's best. In that time, the Bucks have gone 21-8. In the East only Orlando (20-6) and the Cavs (21-5) have a better percentage.
Can the Bucks be that team that emerges?
"We would hope so," Stackhouse said. "But you never know. There's a lot of dynamics that go into the playoffs. We think we're suited for it with the style we play, because we defend and we're able execute in our half-court."
Stackhouse might have undersold his team's case. Cavs forward Antawn Jamison said the Bucks could be "very dangerous."
"They got a lot of confidence," Jamison said. "They've got a great mixture of veteran guys as well as young guys. That's a team that if they get it going, they can definitely get some momentum and be very dangerous in the playoffs."
If Milwaukee stays the fifth seed and is able to win its first-round matchup, its next opponent would be the same Cavaliers team that had to work to the final seconds to win this game.
"We know we can play with them, especially on their home floor," Bogut said. "We know they're a dominant team on their home floor. If we face them in the playoffs, we'll see what happens."