MILWAUKEE – Fine, so it wasn’t as big or as triumphant as Jeremy Lin‘s return to Madison Square Garden. Emotions weren’t raw and racing just below the surface the way they were for James Harden and the Houston Rockets when he went back to Oklahoma City just a month after being traded.
But Carlos Delfino enjoyed his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t eager to leave and wound up taking some real satisfaction from his first trip back Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“It’s always special going against your old team,” said Delfino, the eight-year NBA veteran who spent the past three seasons in Milwaukee. The 6-foot-6 swingman stuck the Bucks for 22 points – nine in the second quarter to whittle down an 18-point deficit, then 13 in the fourth to seal the comeback in a 115-101 victory.
Delfino averaged 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bucks, starting 159 of his 178 appearances. He helped them reach the playoffs in his first season, then was badly missed in 2010-11 when he sat more than two months with concussion symptoms and neck strain.
Last summer, after a second straight lottery appearance, Milwaukee headed in a non-Delfino direction, counting on Mike Dunleavy and young Tobias Harris at small forward while committing to Monta Ellis alongside Brandon Jennings in the backcourt. Delfino was on the market until late August, his work for Argentina (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the London Olympics done.
It wasn’t Bucks GM John Hammond ringing his phone, it was the Rockets’ Daryl Morey instead.
“I was sad in the moment. I thought I was staying in Milwaukee,” Delfino said. “I had a good feeling with everybody in the city, after you’ve been defending the colors for three years. Then when I didn’t have any offer, I didn’t get sad about that or blame anyone. It’s a business. But I was feeling more about the personal stuff. Getting a call. … I was more sad about that.”
What the Bucks and Bradley Center fans saw Friday was classic Carlos: Not his rousing, somewhat unexpected, one-handed driving dunk but his 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers (while the rest of the Rockets were going 7-of-26 from the arc). Houston is 9-2 this season when Delfino makes at least three 3-pointers in a game; the past two seasons, the Bucks were 20-10 on those nights.
“When Carlos makes a couple, he’s got a beautiful shot,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said afterward. “I watch him in practice sometimes just shoot. When he’s relaxed and guys are rebounding for him, he goes for long, long stretches without missing.”
Delfino, who is 29 but seems to have been on the NBA scene much longer, also is a helpful veteran on an extremely young roster. “Carlos has no agenda,” McHale said. “He’s a pro. … It’s the same thing I felt about Luis Scola last year – these guys have been playing pro ball since they’re, like, 14. They have such a relaxed feel, they’re fun to be around.”
The Bucks aren’t having much fun at the moment. They have dropped three in a row and four of six, heading into their game at Indiana Saturday. Coach Scott Skiles, his staff, Hammond and half the locker room are working in the final years of their contracts.
The roster is heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup at guard. The guy they acquired to plug Andrew Bogut‘s hole last season, Samuel Dalembert, doesn’t play these days. Neither does Drew Gooden, who did what he could to plug that spot last season.
As the Bucks threw the ball away 19 times and shot 38.9 percent in the second half, they could have used someone exactly like Delfino. But he was working from the other end, in road colors, making sure his trip back to town stayed special.