Overview: The Cavs were able to dispatch the Bucks behind a team-high 21 points from Delonte West, who scored 14 straight points during a game-deciding 29-0 run in the first half.
-First bullet, Delonte West. After playing 5 minutes in the last game, Delonte came out and led the team in scoring on Sunday night. It looks like it’s going to be a roller coaster ride with Delonte for the foreseeable future, but when Delonte plays like he did tonight, it’s fun to watch.
-In a lot of ways, Delonte’s game can be seen as a study in contrasts with the Bucks’ leading scorer in this game, Brandon Jennings. Both West and Jennings are about the same size, both are left-handed, and both are combo guards. That’s about where the similarities end.
-It’s been a little while since we saw a player quite like Jennings, using that beautiful, flashy handle of his to dance where he pleases on the court, weaving in, out, and around the perimeter and looking to unleash a move to the hole, jumper, or pass at any second. It’s a style of play that was much more prevalent before the hand-check rules really started to make an impact on the game, for whatever reason.
I won’t call go so far as to call Jennings’ style a “throwback” to the earlier part of the decade, but his game looks a lot more like Steph Marbury’s, Allen Iverson’s, or a (better shooting) Steve Francis’ than it looks like Tony Parker’s, Derrick Rose’s, Rondo’s or Deron Williams’, who are always attacking straight angles and looking to get to the hole and finish.
Jennings’ style is extremely fun to watch on every level, it’s really tough to game-plan for, and Jennings obviously has enough talent to pull it off, so it’ll be interesting to see if Jennings can recapture the type of success he was having early in the year without having to make significant changes in how he plays.
-And yet I digress. Delonte was, in a lot of ways, the opposite of Jennings in how he got his points tonight. Delonte isn’t the best ball-handler in the world, has trouble shooting long jumpers off the dribble, and will seldom blow by a defender on the perimeter. But Delonte is extremely strong for his size, isn’t afraid of contact in the slightest, is a willing passer, and knows how to set his shot up if he’s within his range. Delonte’s offensive game is all about of economy of movement, and that was on full display on Sunday night.
-When Mike Brown does give Delonte minutes recently, he’s asked him to take over Mo Williams’ role as the primary creator for the second unit. I don’t think it’s the absolute best use of his abilities, because he does so many good things when he’s put around good teammates, but it give Mo some rest, and Delonte is a point guard of sorts. Delonte’s been struggling a bit in the role, because he has a little more trouble getting his own shot than Mo does and isn’t quite quick enough on the perimeter to consistently force the defense to collapse. But against the Bucks, Delonte was able to leverage the scoring talents he does have to score 14 straight points in the second quarter and swing the game.
During Delonte’s scoring explosion, the guards for the Bucks were the undersized tandem of Luke Ridnour and Charlie Bell. Delonte immediately recognized the size mismatch he had on Ridnour and took him to the block. Catching the ball at the elbows and working down from there, Delonte scored on Ridnour from the low-post and buried two easy 16-footers over Luke. Delonte is also one of those players who understands that sometimes you have to dare the defense to foul you, and was able to shoot 6 free throws during that stretch because of his willingness to force the issue. (Also a factor on that issue: the Bucks give more fouls than any other team in the league.)
It’s nights like this that you can really see why Mike Brown had his coaches prepare tapes of Delonte’s game to teach to his left-handed some moves. Delonte was catching the ball where he could do something with it, assessing his defender, making quick decisions, and trying to take a high-percentage shot or get to the line. The end result was a stat-stuffing 21/4/3/2/1 line on only 9 field goal attempts, a game-changing run, and an imaginary game ball.
-LeBron was fairly passive in terms of his scoring tonight, not taking any shots of 19 feet, giving the ball up if his drive wasn’t there, and looking to set up the assist at every possible opportunity. (Although he was again trying too hard to get his bigs a home-run pass when the angle wasn’t there, resulting in 5 turnovers.)
And in the “Things that it’s cool to see LeBron do” file, tonight we saw two aggressive post-ups where LeBron really attacked his man on the block instead of waiting for the double, then when he did get the double, he kicked it out to Mo Williams for a wide-open three. That extra step that LeBron got by forcing the double with his dribble rather than waiting for the double to come is what gave Mo the space he needed to hit those threes. And in the fourth, LeBron flashed a great mid-post move when he used his jab step near the top of the circle, backed to about the free throw line, faked right, pivoted left, and was able to get a clean look at a turnaround jumper from 13 feet, which he drained.
-Really not Shaq’s best game in a lot of ways. He was a team-low -18 in 15 minutes, only had one rebound, missed a lot of his shots from the post, and committed some silly offensive fouls. But the good news might outweigh the bad for Shaq in this game, because Shaq and LeBron were starting to find some serious chemistry, with LeBron actively looking to set Shaq up for some nice dunks. That’s a very good sign. Also, I think I like Shaq from the right block just a little bit more than I like him from the left block right now-he looks less awkward setting his feet and turning baseline on his hook than he does trying to go across the middle of the lane when he shoots the hook.
-Neither Andy or Z had big scoring nights tonight, but they did the little things that they do best and finished with matching +31 marks.
-Another great game for the defense, although this Bucks offense is pretty terrible. With Jennings not hitting from outside and Bogut looking awful, the Bucks just didn’t have anyone that could give them offense, and their best success came in the second half, when Jennings pretty much decided to take every shot. Jennings had an uncharacteristic night: he’s had one of the most extreme good shooter/bad finisher skews in the league among high-volume scorers this season, but tonight he was only 2-13 on jumpers and a respectable 6-9 around the rim. Even still, Jennings didn’t shoot the Bucks out of the game as much as he failed to shoot them back into it.
Bullets of Randomness:
-He only played defense on LeBron for a few minutes, but Mbah a Moute is on a very short list of the best perimeter defenders in the league. It’s extremely rare to see LeBron get bothered on the perimeter like he was tonight by “The Prince.” He could be a special player on that end, although I wonder how he’ll ever make himself useful offensively. The plan right now seems to be to make him into a 3-and-D guy, but his stroke does not look all that natural, and I have a pet theory that perimeter guys with insanely long arms have a tougher time developing a good stroke on their jumper because of the sheer amount of coordination getting that much arm into the correct place takes. (Durant would be an exception that proves the rule.)
An idea might be to make him into a four offensively and use a bigger guy who can guard fours and shoot threes to cross-match with him. Either way, I hope something works out so that I get to watch “The Prince” play a lot of defense over the next few years.