“They’re a tough team,” he said. “Once they go on their runs, they tend to bury you.”
Indeed, the Spurs (26-8) went on runs early and often to claim their league-high seventh straight victory, 117-110 over the host Bucks in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate. Milwaukee lost its second consecutive contest to fall to 16-14.
The Bucks competed extra-hard in the second half to prevent mass exodus from the arena and actually won both the third and fourth quarters statistically. They whittled a peak margin of 23 points down to nine early in the final period, but that did little more than save some face. The Spurs responded with a 10-0 to re-open the lead, and a final flurry by Milwaukee fell short.
The best word available to describe San Antonio’s execution most of the night is “surgical.” The Spurs cut with purpose, passed with precision and shot with expert marksmanship. They got wherever they wanted on the court and ran their offense with such ease that their field goal percentage was at or above 60 into the second half.
Tim Duncan will soon be 37 and is for my money the greatest power forward who ever lived. His play Wednesday resembled his prime, as he did damage inside and out, running the pick-and-roll to perfection. If such a thing is possible, his statistical line of 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists doesn’t adequately capture the extent of his dominance. Nor does the line of 23 points, 11 assists and just three turnovers do point guard Tony Parker justice.
No box score could ever account for how thoroughly Parker controlled the game with his dribble penetration and quickness, especially in the second half. Duncan scored 20 in the first half and had seemingly rendered the last 24 minutes moot. But when Milwaukee fought back down the stretch, Duncan deferred to Parker, who fueled what was essentially the Spurs’ knockout blow and had 10 points in the fourth.
It was a virtuoso performance by the two, one which had to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Not that Bucks coach Scott Skiles was cheerful after watching it.
“Not really our game,” he said. We've got to get our hands on balls and pick up deflections and get out in the open floor. If we're playing in a set offensive-type game, and most teams if that's the type of game you're getting into with them (the Spurs), they're going to carve you up pretty good."
The game certainly wasn’t what the Bucks hoped for on their home floor, but give them this: They upped their intensity and didn’t pack it in when faced with 17-point halftime deficit that felt more like 30. Faint praise, yes, but they played well enough offensively to make things interesting. There was also what could be a developing story in the frontcourt rotation, as rookie John Henson saw more minutes off the bench than Ekpe Udoh and came through with a career-best 20 points. We’ll see if that leads to an expanded role for the first-round pick.
So if you believe it is possible to have momentum from a loss, go ahead and argue the Bucks have a little heading into Friday’s matchup with Houston. Milwaukee will, of course, have to raise its game defensively to win. The Rockets aren’t on San Antonio’s level overall, but they do average 106 points per game, second in the NBA. They have momentum of their own, having won nine of 12. Monta Ellis will have his hands full with James Harden; expect to see Luc Richard Mbah a Moute take his turn guarding Houston’s new franchise player.
In the ever-important point guard matchup, Brandon Jennings faces Knicks-import Jeremy Lin in a battle that promises to be fun to watch. Jennings, who displayed his offensive talent with a game-high 31 points Wednesday, is no doubt grateful that Lin, a fine player, isn’t as talented or as accomplished as Parker. It is remarkable Jennings could form a coherent sentence, let alone lead everyone in scoring, while chasing Parker around all game.
Those who were there Wednesday witnessed the veteran Spurs conduct basketball surgery at its finest. Let’s hope the young Rockets don’t catch the Bucks still in recovery.