The Milwaukee Bucks continue to put distance between themselves and Philadelphia 76ers in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and suddenly, they’re closing in on a higher spot.
They’ve just needed a little extra time to do it.
The Bucks won their fourth straight game on Monday night, surviving another overtime thriller with a 109-108 victory over the Utah Jazz. The win came on the heels of an overtime triumph on Saturday, a 122-114 win over the Toronto Raptors.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute chipped 10 points, five rebounds and a steal, while playing 24 minutes in Saturday’s win. On Monday he added seven points and four rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
The pair of hard-fought extra time wins pushed Milwaukee two games over .500 and seven up on the Sixers for the East’s final playoff spot. Now the Bucks sit just a game behind Boston for the seven seed.
The arrival of guard J.J. Redick has sparked Milwaukee to a 4-1 record in their last five games (Getty Images).
They’re now 4-1 since the arrival of guard J.J. Redick in a trade from the Orlando Magic, with their only loss over that span a one-point defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks in Redick’s debut. But none of the four wins since have been decided until the final minutes either.
« We’re winning close games right now. It’s tough to do in this league, » Redick said. « This team has proven we can win close games and hopefully that will continue. »
Of the four wins, over the course of the current winning streak, two have come against teams currently in the playoff hunt with the other two against sub .500 teams Toronto and Dallas. Luc noted recently that the Bucks must be just as motivated to win those games as they are when they play division rivals.
« It’s for everybody. It’s not just for teams above us, » Luc said about the team maintaining a high energy level. « You’ve got to play with a sense of urgency whether you play the Magic’s or the Bobcats or you’re playing the Heat. It’s still the NBA. Any team can beat you, so for us, our team, I think when we play with a sense of urgency and we play harder than the other team, you usually give yourself a good chance to win the game. »
That wasn’t the case in Saturday’s win over the Raptors, a team that sits several games behind the Bucks and had lost three straight coming in. Toronto jumped all over the Bucks in the first and went on to score 32 points. They took a lead of 11 points early in the second.
But the Bucks responded with a great offensive attack before the half, shooting 72.2 percent from the field and 2-for-2 from beyond the arc in the second. Milwaukee then dominated the third quarter defensively, forcing four turnovers and blocking two shots while outrebounding the Raptors 14-8 and holding Toronto to 35 percent shooting for the quarter.
However, the Raptors overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth, capped off by an Alan Anderson dunk in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime. In the extra frame, the Bucks outrebounded the Raptors 8-2 and shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe to shut the door on Toronto.
But the key to game was ball movement. Brandon Jennings (11 points) set a new career high with 19 assists. Jennings was joined in double-double performances on the night by forward Ersan Ilyasova, who led all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds and center Larry Sanders (13 points, 12 rebounds, five blocked shots).
« We had some good ball movement, » Bucks head coach Jim Boylan said. « The team is playing well together right now. The team is sharing the ball with each other and staying active. The bigs are finding openings. Our guys were delivering the ball to them tonight. It’s a good thing to see. It’s another stage in our development as a team. »
The Bucks continued that development on Monday against a much better team in the Utah Jazz. The teams played relatively even in the first half, as, while the Bucks never managed to grab the lead, they kept Utah from ever pushing the lead higher than nine points.
Thanks to that resilient effort, the Bucks trailed by just three at halftime and they took the game over in the third thanks to stout defense. Milwaukee held Utah to just 17 points on 36.4 percent shooting from the field and forced five turnovers in the third. Luc played all but 2:48 of the third and helped set the tone defensively.
Luc helped the Bucks lock down Utah’s shooters like Gordon Hayward in the 3rd quarter Monday (Getty Images).
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined to make 10-of-13 shots in the quarter for 24 points. The Bucks tallied 30 points as a team in the third to establish a 10-point lead entering the fourth.
« I know that Oklahoma City puts up some combo numbers, as does Miami, but that was a hell of a backcourt duo putting on quite a show, » Boylan said. « There was a point I was like, ‘This must be a great game to watch if you’re sitting in the stands.’ They were making plays; we were making plays. »
Still Utah showed some resilience of their own and dominated the fourth thanks mostly to the play of their bench. Utah’s reserve crew of Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Gordon Heyward and Demarre Carroll teamed with Paul Milsap to outscore the Bucks 34-24 in the fourth.
After rallying all the way back, the Jazz took a three-point lead on a Burks layup with 2:10 to go. Ellis tied it with a trey and later answered a Milsap jumper with one of his own to once again knot the game. After a Kanter jumper pushed Utah ahead and Ellis followed with a miss, Milsap went to the line with a chance to make it a four-point game with 14 seconds left. But he missed one of two and Jennings buried a trey with six seconds left to send the game to overtime.
The extra session was hotly contested as well, featuring five lead changes. The last came when Redick buried a triple with 47 seconds left to put the Bucks in front by two. Carroll split a trip to the line and Ellis hit a jumper with 14.7 remaining to push Milwaukee’s lead to three.
In the final seconds the Jazz missed a layup and two treys before finally Kanter finally put it in with 1.6 seconds to go, but all the Bucks needed to do was get the ball in and they did to seal the win.
After winning two straight at home, the Bucks head back out on the road for a three-game trip out west that begins on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
It’s the second meeting of the season between the two teams and Milwaukee will be seeking a little revenge from a 111-85 drubbing at the hands of the Clippers on December 15th at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Luc had 11 points and six rebounds in that loss and he’ll be tasked Wednesday with defending high-flying Clippers forward Blake Griffin.
The game tips off from the Staples Center in Los Angeles shortly after 9:30 p.m. CST and you can catch all the action on FSN Wisconsin.
- Missing pieces may haunt Bucks and Golden Eagles (OnMilwaukee.com, March 5, 2013)
- Outwit and outlast: Bucks 109, Jazz 108 (Bucksketball, March 5, 2013)
- Bucks 109, Jazz 108: The One With 30% More SportsCenter Highlights (Brew Hoop, March 5, 2013)
- Monday Game Report: Jazz at Bucks (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, March 4, 2013)
- Bucks’ victory over Jazz is guard oriented (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, March 4, 2013)
- Bucks beat Raptors 122-114 in overtime (NBA.com, March 3, 2013)
- Bucks share their way to win (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 3, 2013)
- Saturday game report: Raptors at Bucks (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 3, 2013)
- Bucks 122, Raptors 114 Recap: Bucks entertain…while making things difficult (Brew Hoop, March 3, 2013)
- The NBA’s most underrated stoppers (Bleacher Report, March 2, 2013)