Luc, Bucks Hanging Tough At the Break

The 2012-2013 season got off to a tough start for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but as the NBA season hits the All-Star break this week, he and the Milwaukee Bucks are ready for the opportunity to finish strong and make a playoff run.

Luc and the Bucks are in the thick of the playoff rate at the All-Star break (Getty Images).

After missing the first 14 games of the season, which the Bucks split at 7-7, Luc returned to the line-up December 1 and immediately injected a missing element into the Milwaukee lineup. In that first game back, Luc helped the Bucks as part of a strategic defensive substitution by coach Scott Skiles in the final minutes. With his aid, they defeated the Boston Celtics 91-88.

The Bucks went on to win five of Luc’s first seven games back as he quickly worked his way back into the starting line-up at power forward, forging a formidable defensive duo with shot-blocking sensation Larry Sanders in the Bucks frontcourt.

« I haven’t played basketball in eight months. I haven’t practiced, anything. I’ve just been playing games, » Luc said shortly after his return. « I’ve played basketball four times in eight months. I got a long way to go. It’s not where I’d like to be yet. I can play. The hardest thing is the conditioning and my knee. I’m just happy to be out there contributing, wherever I can. »

Despite dealing with lingering soreness in the knee, Luc showed flashes of brilliance in multiple aspects of the game in December. He matched his career high in assists with six against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 14th, then posted a double-double against the Indiana Pacers on December 18 and put up 20 points against the Boston Celtics on December 21. Luc played over 30 minutes in each of those three games, all Bucks’ victories.

However, the Bucks started off 2013 with a four-game losing streak, which left them hovering back around the .500 mark. Subsequently, they parted ways with Skiles and promoted assistant Jim Boylan to interim head coach.

« The team responded pretty well to him. He knows the team and he knows what the city wants, what the guys want., » Luc said of Boylan. « Sometimes it’s good for an assistant coach to come up because the players are more comfortable with the assistant. He understands some of the struggles the players are going through, from an assistant’s perspective. Now he’s the head coach. It’s a good change for the team. Now it’s up to the players to make the best of it. »

The move energized the Bucks initially and they started off the Boylan era with wins in eight of their first 11 games to seize control of their postseason chances as the season passed the halfway mark. But the season took another turn at the end of January as they dropped six of seven games to fall back to the .500 mark.

However they broke a four-game skid with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on the Wednesday before the break and currently hold a four-game lead over the Sixers for the eighth seed in the East.

Game of the Year

The Bucks enter the break on an incredible high note after a thrilling 94-92 victory over the 76ers on Wednesday night, thanks in part to a couple of great hustle plays by Luc in the final seconds, making Milwaukee’s most recent game Luc’s best of the year to date.

Luc’s hustle plays late in Wednesday’s win over Philly sent the Bucks into the break with a win (Getty Images).

The Bucks had lost four games straight with a five-game skid going into the All-Star break as a stark reality as they took on Philadelphia, a team that had been steadily pulling themselves back into the playoff race and sat just three games behind the Bucks in the East standings at the time.

So, Milwaukee desperately needed a win to head into the break on a high note and set the tone for the stretch run.  To top it off, Bucks big man and shot-blocking machine Larry Sanders continued to sit out with back soreness. Lucky for the Bucks, Luc stepped up in the clutch.

The Bucks fell behind early as the 76ers shot 64.7 percent from the field including 2-of-3 from three-point range to race out to a 28-18 lead. Milwaukee methodically chipped away at that lead and trailed by just three going into the final period, setting up for some last minute fireworks.

The lead changed hands five times in the final quarter and the final moments of the game found the Bucks clinging to a 94-92 lead with less than 10 seconds to play. Luc’s final stat line read 10 points on just 3-for-11 shooting with eight rebounds, but what made the game special was what No. 12 did in the final seconds with the game and major momentum for the Bucks on the line.

« Luc is a great defender. They had their bigs out there so Luc was able to really lock in, » Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. « Any kind of breakdowns, he’s helping. Then he was just active driving the ball and making good decisions. His play was instrumental in us being able to claw our way back into the game. »

No. 12 first managed to force a jump ball with a few ticks left by gaining partial possession of a loose ball. Though the Sixers won the tip, giving them the ball with a chance to tie or win the game, Luc managed to deflect a pass from Royal Ivey to Jrue Holiday and then raced to the sidelines before the loose ball went out to swat it into the open court. The play wasted enough time to run out the clock and give Milwaukee a much-needed win.

« There’s a jump ball and crazy stuff can happen. It can get tipped out and somebody can launch a three, and there you go, you lose. Those types of things happen in this league all the time. Credit to Luc. He made a huge play for us. »

The 76ers Jrue Holiday beat Luc in the jump, tipping the ball to Royal Ivey, who then looked to pass the ball back to Holiday who had set up in 3-point range, but Luc acted fast and deflected the pass toward the sideline.  Reacting fast again, Luc then raced toward the sideline and swatted the ball toward the open court near the Bucks basket to keep the clock running and finish the game.

By The Numbers

  • 6 – number of games the Bucks have won this year with Luc playing 30 minutes or more.
  • 7 – total number of games Luc has played 30 minutes or more this season.
  • 7.8 – a career high mark in points per game this season.
  • 16.7 – Luc’s +/- mark in the clutch this season.
  • 40 – Luc’s three-point shooting precentage at home this season.

In Their Words

Former Bucks coach Scott Skiles on Luc’s 2012-2013 debut:

« [Luc] was aggressive and had a nice drive. Being able to put him in late in the game on [Jason] Terry and being able to switch the pick and roll with Pierce, that’s something we haven’t been able to do. »

Frank Madden, Brew Hoop

« Mbah a Moute is still playing his way into form, but there’s something fundamentally enjoyable about watching him chase and harass guys like Ginobili on the defensive end, right? Moreover, his aggressiveness on the offensive end has been a positive (if not always productive) thing. »

Luc has stepped up a notch offensively, but his defense on stars like Kobe hasn’t suffered (Getty Images).

Skiles on Luc’s versatility:

« Luc can guard any of those guys. It’s big for us having him back. »

Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball after the Bucks beat the Miami Heat

« In what may have been his most physical game of the year, Mbah a Moute proved up to the challenge of defending whoever he was tasked with on any given possession, while contributing offensively too. Moute attacked the rim with vigor all night and made the most of opportunities when he found himself open for jumpers. »

Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball:

« One more note on Moute because we don’t talk about him enough: he gets to the line better than anyone else on the team. He took half the shots Jennings did and got to the line twice as much. He doesn’t shy away from contact like Jennings. He doesn’t try to do stupid things in mid-air like Ellis. He just goes up and if there’s a defender there, he takes contact. That’s all it really takes. You don’t always need to get some circus shot off, you can just go to the line. It’ll be fine. »

In His Words

The last several months have brought Luc through a period of adversity that tested him mentally and physically.

Dealing with an injury for the entirety of the lockout shortened 2012 season, then having surgery afterward and working his way back through rehab has given Luc a perspective that he didn’t have before. Above all else, he’s just thrilled to be back on the court.

« It has been a long road. It’s been very, very hard. But it’s been a good learning experience, as is everything that happens in your life. It’s been tough. I’d never dealt with anything like it before. Just the difficulty of the injury – it wasn’t just ankle break that just gets fixed and then you come back. It was patellar tendon surgery. There’s a bunch of different results with different people. But now I’m feeling good. »