MILWAUKEE — Ekpe Udoh let it be known as he came through the Milwaukee Bucks locker room.
“It’s a great day to be a Milwaukee Buck.”
He’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees, at least for one night. Milwaukee sensed a struggling opponent and buried them, leading by as many as 32 points to move to 5-2 on the young season.
“That’s something coach was preaching before we went out there,” Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said. “He said ‘take it to them early and then they’ll shut down.’ That’s what we did. It feels good to beat a team that is in our division knowing that they’ve been kicking our butts last year.”
Granted, this is a different Indiana team than the one that made the Eastern Conference semifinals a year ago. Danny Granger is out, Darren Collison is gone. But Milwaukee is much better built to attack, and mainly defend the Pacers.
In the past, small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Ersan Ilyasova had to guard massive 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. Milwaukee acquired Samuel Dalembert, pressed Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh to improve in order to compete with teams like Indiana.
The first test against size and length didn’t work. Memphis took it to the Bucks inside. This time around, the Bucks defended the interior extremely well.
“We played some of our best defense in the first half tonight and some of our best offense, as well,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We moved the ball well, didn’t let their bigs get going. Overall, a very well-played game other than the last seven minutes.”
The Pacers were playing the final leg of a back-to-back and only put up 72 points in a home loss to Toronto on Tuesday. Indiana has struggled to find its identity without Granger and the Bucks sensed that. And like good teams do, they took advantage with tremendous energy.
“Almost all of the time, that’s what it is with every team,” Skiles said. “If you are the most energetic team in the NBA, you are going to win a lot of games. Most teams are about the same. It’s going to come down to that, who wants it more, those kinds of things.”
Other than playing well on the defensive end, Milwaukee limited its turnovers. The Bucks had just one turnover in the first half and had four before accumulating a few more during garbage time.
“We did a lot of good things out there,” Skiles said. “Our guard play was very good again. Executed well, we set good screens, overall we had our pace going like we like it and did a lot of good things.”
In fact, it was hard to find a flaw. To nit-pick just a little, the bench players did let Indiana creep back into the game a bit down the stretch. There was a temporary moment that it appeared as if Skiles might have to put his starters back in. When you get a rare big lead in the NBA, that’s the last thing a head coach wants to have happen.
“I’m not real happy with the way we finished that game,” Skiles said. “I try not to have a crazy high bar, but we need to be more professional with the way we finish that game.”
But you had to really dig to find that issue. Right now, the Bucks are playing good basketball. Just ask Hibbert.
“They’re night and day from last season,” Hibbert said. “They seem like they are clicking right now. They have some big guys that are playing pretty well down there, but their guards Monta (Ellis) and Brandon (Jennings) are really picking it up. They have a good team this year.”