On the morning of Groundhog Day, the Bucks led the entire NBA in at least one statistical category by a long way. That category? Players listed on the daily injury report.
According to this list, the Bucks had seven players out for the game against the Raptors. (They also lead the league with three players out for the season on that list.) Fourteen teams had either zero or just one player on the injury report. One of those teams was the Raptors, who also happened to be on a six-game winning streak, who also happened to be at home against the Bucks on Groundhog Night.
The first time the Bucks played in Toronto this season, they allowed 124 points and lost by 42. Even for the standards of the second-best offensive team in the NBA, that game still counts as the highest-scoring game of the season for the Raptors. They dominated from the start, leading for all but 36 seconds. The Bucks struggled on offense nearly as much as on defense. In particular, Khris Middleton had just about the worst shooting night of his season, going 1-for-8.
Middleton was the only remaining Bucks starter from that Nov. 21 blowout loss who started on Groundhog Night for the Bucks in Toronto. The shooting shooting shooting guard had a slightly better game this time, with 25 points and nine rebounds including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. The Bucks held the Raptors to 75 points, by far their lowest scoring game of the season. They led the entire game, even those 36 seconds.
The week before the Groundhog Night win, O.J. Mayo sat in his corner seat in the home locker room (Johnny O’Bryant to his right and Jared Dudley to his left) an hour before tip and studied opponent shooting charts. They were just handed to him, they were probably warm from the printer, and they were probably warm because the opponent that night was the Pistons – winners of 11 of their previous 14.
The Pistons had just scored 128 points in their previous game. The Bucks had held 11 of their last 13 opponents to fewer than 100 points.
Individual defensive statistics are still a bit more difficult to evaluate, but Mayo told me that head coach Jason Kidd and staff track “high hands” and “deflections” and tells them their numbers after each game. Mayo also said the key to their defensive success – on a team that frequently doubles and switches and aggressively takes chances to create turnovers – is operating as one trusting group.
“We are talking more, communicating more. Our trust is better. Knowing that someone is going to be there, guys are not scared to help. They know they have help behind them.”
The Bucks gave it to the Pistons 101-86 that night, and Mayo was the star of the evening with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field.
Against the Raptors on Groundhog Night, Mayo apparently talked a bit too much to the referee and was ejected in the first half. That meant the Bucks were down eight players, and had just eight remaining players.
The seven other players out against the Raptors included the team’s two leading per game scorers (Brandon Knight, Jabari Parker), the team’s opening-night starting center (Larry Sanders), the team’s most recent starting center (Zaza Pachulia) and starting power forward (Ersan Ilyasova), the team’s best passer (Kendall Marshall), and well, someone we hope will be good someday (Damien Inglis).
Groundhog Night marked the first game that Knight has missed this season. Jorge Gutierrez (Jorge Gutierrez) started for the first time this season in his place, making him already the 14th different player to start for the team.
The Bucks are 13-10 since Parker went down. In the game he was injured, the team won on a buzzer-beater in Phoenix. The team is 5-3 since Marshall went down. In the game he was injured, the Bucks crushed the Knicks in London in one of their showiest games of the season (the Knicks have won five of seven since then, by the way). The Bucks now rank second overall in defensive efficiency in the NBA.
It is a weird season, where every player seems important – keep in mind the Bucks have played their bench more than any other team in the last 17 years – yet individual players rarely seem far more important than each other.
Parker and Marshall and Inglis are out for the season with injuries that require surgery. And it feels like everyone is playing for them. Or maybe it just feels like everyone is playing for just about everyone. The most important thing is #OwnTheFuture. The surprise is a little bit of #OwnTheSuture.