The Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets have a lot in common. Both franchises had tremendous teams in the 1980’s, but neither team reached the finals. In fact, the Bucks made it to the conference semifinals or finals every year except for one from 1981 to 1989. In the early 80’s they were knocked out by the great 76ers teams, in the mid 80’s it was the Celtics and in the late 80’s they were victims of the Detroit Pistons. They were then one of the worst teams of the 1990’s missing the playoffs for seven straight seasons.
Things turned around when a coach named George Karl came to town and the franchise made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001. Milwaukee was a very good team in the 80’s, miserable in the 90’s and enjoyed a resurgence under George Karl. Sound familiar? (The Bucks did win the NBA championship with some young whippersnapper named Lew Alcindor in 1971, but that was long enough ago very few current fans were around to witness it.)
Milwaukee has been down again lately. Interestingly enough the Bucks have not finished over .500 since Karl left town. After witnessing their 102-97 victory in Denver it looks like things in Milwaukee might be back on the upswing.
The Bucks came into Denver a night after winning a double overtime game in Sacramento on the dreaded late game in the Pacific time zone one night, trip to Denver to play the next. The level of difficulty was increased even more as their best player, Andrew Bogut their most important player on both ends of the floor, only played 15 minutes because of foul trouble.
The Bucks did not seem to care one iota. It did not matter who was in the game, the rotations were perfect, the offense was seamless and the effort was relentless. I kept waiting for the Bucks to tire and slow down, but they never did. They absolutely deserved to win that game, and I was amazed by the quality of their play.
Honestly, I was a little jealous.
Milwaukee did all the little things that the Nuggets do not. They pressure the ball and help each other when necessary. It was not a rare occurrence to see all five defenders in the paint. They all take responsibility for their assignments. They do not switch screens, but get a strong hedge from the help defender while the player getting screened fights through the pick. There were also instances where they would double the player with the ball on the perimeter just to be pesky knowing they could recover to their man on a pass.
Offensively, they do everything 100%. They run their cuts at full speed. The screeners run to their spots at full speed and then set solid picks. You do not get the sense anyone feels they are owed shots.
It is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
The perception of Scott Skiles is that he is too intense and demanding and as a result he loses his players. That may be true, but right now he has his team playing as well as anyone and you can see how they have taken on his unselfish and scrappy persona.
Hopefully the Nuggets will watch film of this game closely because there is a lot they could learn from the way Milwaukee plays.