If the Milwaukee Bucks can beat the NBA’s hottest team while holding them under 100 points, maybe there really is reason to “Fear the Deer.”
Playing their fourth game in five nights, the Suns fell behind to the Bucks early and couldn’t recover, losing Saturday 107-98 for the first time in their last eight games against Milwaukee.
Some of the loss can be attributed to tired legs, but ultimately it was a combination of that and the Bucks’ determined defense that snapped the Suns’ 10-game win streak. The loss was only the Suns’ fifth since the All-Star break.
The Suns really lost this game in the first two quarters. The Bucks held the Suns to 18 points in the first quarter and 16 in the second. In that half, the Suns’ bench unit outscored the starters 18-16.
The Suns’ starters just didn’t seem to have enough in the tank and couldn’t beat Milwaukee’s defense. The bench contributed 62 points while the starters scored just 36. In the fourth quarter, the subs got most of the minutes and outscored the Bucks 36-26, but it wasn’t enough to complete a comeback.
Jason Richardson finished the game with only an assist and a steal to his name in 22 minutes on the floor. It’s been clear recently that Richardson’s strong play is crucial to the Suns’ success, and this game just highlighted that. (Maybe J-Rich was down because Butler topped his alma mater Michigan State just minutes before tipoff?)
Grant Hill was off. too, scoring just two points, but grabbing six rebounds. (Maybe he was worried about Duke?) All things considered though, it was a good night for Jarron Collins, whose two points were his first as a starter.
Luckily for the Suns, Leandro Barbosa had his best game since returning from a wrist injury. Scoring 21 points, the Brazilian Blur looked like the Barbosa of old, flying up and down the court and making crazy moves to the basket. Goran Dragic came up big as well, playing more minutes than Steve Nash and collecting 20 points and six assists.
We all know the Suns’ bench is one of the NBA’s best, but this game clearly displayed just how important their starting unit is. On the bright side though, the starters got some rest.
Right from the start it was clear that the Suns weren’t really themselves against the Bucks. To start the game, the Suns were 0-for-8 shooting from the field. The sluggish start allowed the Bucks to set the pace of the game.
“We just wanted to come in here and try to run them even though that’s the type of game they like to play,” Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings said during the postgame show. Jennings led all scorers with 23 points.
Amare Stoudemire was the only Suns starter to do much worth mentioning, as he totaled 22 points and eight rebounds despite scoring just eight points in the first half. Stoudemire was probably the least popular man in the Bradley Center Saturday night though, as he was blamed for a chilling injury to Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
With four and a half minutes left in the second quarter, Bogut caught a fast-break pass for a dunk as Stoudemire followed. After putting the ball through, Bogut’s left hand appeared to slip off the rim, sending him tumbling to the hardwood. As Bogut braced for the landing, he appeared to dislocate or break his right elbow. It was truly hard to watch. He was taken away from the arena in an ambulance.
Stoudemire touched Bogut’s back on the play and got called for a flagrant foul. Now, I’m no NBA referee, but it looked like Stoudemire barely touched him. Bogut was moving very fast down the court and it looked like his hand slipped. For Bogut to fall the way he did, it would have taken a much harder shove from Stoudemire. But Bucks fans decided that Stoudemire may have just put their playoff outlook in jeopardy and booed him the rest of the game.
“The fans didn’t have a clean view of what happened,” Stoudemire told The Associated Press after the game. “But I think once they see the replay they’ll see that there was nothing intentional.”
The loss, which leaves the Suns in a ridiculous four-way tie for second in the Western Conference, can partially be contributed to the Bucks’ hot shooting (42-of-78 for 53.8 percent). That hot shooting, however, can also be attributed to defensive breakdowns. More than once did a wide-open Buck get a free shot from three-point land. And without Robin Lopez guarding the hoop for the Suns, the Bucks were able to penetrate with ease.
So really it was a combination of things that led to the Suns’ first loss since March 12 against the Lakers. But in the big picture, taking four out of five games on the road and sitting in a tie for the two spot in the West is really not a bad place to be. Of course it would have been huge for the Suns to capitalize against a weaker opponent and snag solo control of second, but they just didn’t have it in Milwaukee.
“They needed this win and we’ve been on a long road,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “It’s a tough team to face at this juncture of a trip.”
If the Suns can play stretches like they have during this trip (albeit against weaker opponents from the Eastern Conference), they will be able to transition seamlessly into playoff mode. The team must now take advantage of three days off, as its final five games are all against good Western Conference teams. Only the Rockets will not be in the playoffs.
However, if the Suns want to make those final games count, the likes of Hill and Richardson can’t afford games like they had tonight. This loss is no reason to panic by any means (especially considering the fatigue factor), but there are few opportunities left, and the Suns must seize each one of them.
With the game seemingly out of reach, rookie forward Earl Clark got 12 minutes of playing time. He made the most of it, adding seven points and five rebounds. Most impressive was Clark elevating for a two-handed tomahawk dunk. Looks like the D-League did him some good. … Before leaving with the injury, Bogut failed to record a block, which — according to The Associated Press — ended his franchise-record 38-game block streak.