Luc Comes Up Large

After an overtime loss in a winnable game against the Orlando Magic last Thursday, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said it was do or die time for the Milwaukee Bucks.

« This is a game we really wanted to have to start this (four-game) homestand, » he said after the four-point loss to Orlando. « We got to come out on Friday with the same intensity, if not better. We definitely need to have these next three games if we still want to be in the running for the eighth spot. »

This weekend, thanks to big contributions from Luc, the Bucks got two thirds of the way there.

Milwaukee picked up the offense over the weekend, totaling 210 points in a Friday win over the New Jersey Nets (110-95) and a Sunday win over the New York Knicks (100-95). No. 12 poured in double digit points in both wins, including a season-high 19 to help beat the Knicks.

After their victory over of New Jersey on Friday, the Bucks came out fired up on Sunday and outscored the Knicks 32-9 in the first quarter. The Prince matched the Knicks on the scoreboard in the first, tallying nine points himself.

« It was our energy and intensity, » Luc Richard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. « We knew how important this game was to us…. pushing for that eight spot. We needed to win this game and I think everyone understood that. »

In the second quarter, New York nearly evened the score, cutting the 23-point lead down to four late in the frame. But Luc stepped to the line and knocked down two free throws with 1:09 left in the half to put Milwaukee up by six going into halftime.

The Knicks continued to fight in the third, but the Bucks maintained a lead of at least three for the first 11 minutes of the quarter. Then, with 26.9 seconds to go in the third, Carmelo Anthony hit a three to cut Milwaukee’s lead to just one. But Luc answered with a hook shot off a Brandon Jennings feed with 2.4 to go. It was No. 12’s final field goal of the night and it put the Bucks up by three heading into the fourth.

Milwaukee finished the game strong, never letting the Knicks climb within less than two and the Bucks hit their free throws down the stretch to seal it. Among those free throws were two more from Luc Richard, who ended the game a perfect 13-of-13 from the line in the victory.

Luc said his success at the line was a product of aggressive play on offense to drive and subsequently draw fouls, as well as some extra practice on his stroke, as the Journal Sentinel’s Charles F. Gardner reported:

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said he spent some extra time shooting free throws at practice Saturday. It paid off as he went 13 for 13 at the line while setting career bests in attempts and made free throws. He tied a season high with 19 points.

« I was trying to make things happen, be aggressive, » Mbah a Moute said. « I felt pretty comfortable yesterday leaving the gym. »

Mbah a Moute said he tried to get a rhythm with his free throw stroke and shot 30 or so during practice.

Luc also came up big on the defensive end, where he harassed Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire all afternoon. His assignment late in the game was Anthony, who proceeded to hit a three with 17.4 ticks to go, pulling New York within three. But when Anthony went back to the same spot to try and do it again five seconds later, the Prince wouldn’t have it.

« It was a good play because I thought he was coming from the baseline, but he curled and came from the top. He really got right there in the corner. If I even came close I was going to foul, » Luc Richard told the Journal Sentinel referring to the first three.

« The second one I knew the ball was going to him. I wanted to be right there so he couldn’t get the shot off. He didn’t get a good look at it, so that was good. »

Luc also added eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals to the cause in the victory. Alex Boeder of Brew Hoop was once again impressed by the all-around performance of the Prince:

« Luc Mbah a MouteThe Prince hassled Amare Stoudemire into a contested 14-foot brick of a jumpshot on New York’s first offensive possession of the game, foredooming Stoudemire’s wayward 11-28 shooting night. Mbah a Moute literally had a hand in stopping all three of New York’s relevant offensive players. He frustrated Stoudemire, blocked Billups, and breathed all over Anthony. Mbah a Moute also chipped in with an atypical offensive performance — notably making 13-13 at the free-throw line…Mbah a Moute actually has a quick first step off the dribble, and he is the Buck most prone to make a strong (if not always fruitful) drive to the basket in the halfcourt — now that Maggette no longer plays. In a team-high 45 minutes, Mbah a Moute racked up 19/8/1 along with three steals and three blocks. Brilliant. »

The driving force behind the two weekend wins wasn’t just Luc, but the entire Bucks starting five.

In their win over New Jersey on Friday, the Bucks starters all finished in double figures on the scoreboard, tallying 95 of Milwaukee’s 110 points. On Sunday, the offense was even more starter-centric with just two of the Bucks’ 100 points coming from the bench. Boeder explains why what he calls the Bucks « symphonic quintet » of Luc, Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino and John Salmons, is thriving.

« They are not the group the started the season starting. But they are the ones that started most of last season. And they are clicking like a group that has played an hour or two of winning hoops together. Of the 21 starting lineup combinations that the Bucks have tried this season, this is the most common one. But this marked just their 11th start together. They are now a modest 6-5 after two straight impressive ones. Nothing overwhelming, but these five are nothing even resembling the 22-36 record of all of the other starting fives. »

It was clear in the win over the Nets that the quintet is indeed getting more comfortable as a unit again. Injuries had destroyed their rhythm, but from strong screens and pinpoint passes to tight defense, the new old look Bucks are starting to feel it.

Luc went 7-of-10 from the field in the Milwaukee victory and all seven of his buckets came off a feed from a teammate. The Bucks finished with 25 assists on the evening, including 10 from Jennings who had a particularly strong rhythm with the Prince, as Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball wrote:

« On back to back possessions early in the fourth quarter, Jennings began the play awaiting a Luc Mbah a Moute screen, penetrated off of it and found a rolling Mbah a Moute for a layup.  Jennings can make these passes, but it’s important that the Bucks bigs get themselves in a position to receive them. »

Of his 15 points on the night, Luc scored 10 in the fourth and Milwaukee pulled away with the win. He also added five rebounds, an assist and a steal.

« It was a good effort by everybody, » Jennings told the Journal Sentinel. « The way they were playing defense, we knew if we moved the ball we could get anything we wanted. We got a lot of things to the basket. When they started pressing and went into the 2-3 (zone), that’s really when we moved the ball pretty well. »

The Bucks finish their four-game homestand Wednesday night when they play host to the Sacramento Kings.

After Wednesday, only 4 of Milwaukee’s final 12 games are at home at the Bradley Center. So as they fight for a spot in the playoffs, every one of those games has become a must-win.

« We have to try and win every game we can right here at home, protect home court if we want to make that push, » Luc said. « We’ve been doing a good job of it the last couple weeks. We’ve been playing better at home. And we have to steal a few on the road, too. »

Wednesday’s tilt with the Kings tips at 7 p.m. CST on FSN Wisconsin.