The NBA is a strange place.
Not 24 hours after struggling to reach 80 points against the short-handed New York Knicks, the bench-shortened Milwaukee Bucks dropped 108 on the normally troublesome Atlanta Hawks, pulling out a victory in the most improbably of circumstances.
Sparked by the clutch shooting and flashy creativeness of Monta Ellis (33 pts, 15-24 FG, 8 asts, 4 rbs), the Bucks triumphed with a 108-101 victory over the Hawks despite playing their fifth game in six nights, and the absence of their best rebounder (Ersan Ilyasova), and best perimeter defender (Carlos Delfino). Milwaukee pressured Atlanta into committing an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers, a major tipping point that led to 29 points for the Bucks.
“We battled tonight, we were clearly fatigued,” coach Scott Skiles said. “I thought they were too, they had four overtimes the other night. But when push came to shove, and we needed to make a play, we were able to make it.”
Milwaukee built a 17 point lead on the back of a mid-first to mid-second quarter 30-12 run. Of course, this is the NBA and Milwaukee Bucks, both of which have unwritten rules that dictate inevitable comeback surges from opponents facing early deficits.
Aided by the insane athleticism of Josh Smith (30 pts, 14-26 FG, 18 rbs, 5 asts), the Hawks climbed back to take a 79-78 lead into the fourth quarter. Then Monta Ellis took matters into his own hands, exploding for 17 fourth quarter points on 7-9 shots (mostly jumpers), adding 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
“He was active, made big shots when we needed baskets,” Skiles said. “But did it in a good way. When he was covered, he passed it. … He played so well, but didn’t have a greedy game.”
Calling 33 points “unselfish” sounds like an oxymoron, but Ellis consistently passed out of double teams and stuck to the looks he was given by the Atlanta defense. He overshadowed a solid game from Brandon Jennings (18 pts, 6-13 FG, 2-3 3FG, 6 asts, 3 stls). Remarkably, both players got hot when the other was cold (16 of Jennings’ 18 points came in the second and third quarters, 27 of Ellis’ 33 game in the first and fourth quarters). It was easily their best game as a tandem this season, and one that certainly lets the fantastical imagination wander.
MVP: Monta Ellis
This was the smooth, explosive scorer we were waiting for. Ellis’ 33 points against the Hawks marked his first 20+ point performance as a Buck. He got every one of them in vintage Monta Ellis fashion, and came through when Milwaukee needed him most.
Ellis consistently beat his man off the dribble with lightning quickness, at one point drawing a jersey tug foul from Jeff Teague after blowing by Teague on his way to a layup. Atlanta had no answer to Ellis’ typically unreliable jumper either, as most of Ellis’17 fourth quarter points in isolation and spot up situations created by multiple off-ball screens.
“It was just something about today, I was just light on my feet,” Ellis said. “I just went into one of my modes, and it felt good.”
LVP: Untimely injuries
As FOX Sports’ Paul Imig pointed out, the Bucks submitted their inactive list (consisting only of Jon Leuer) without the inclusion of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino. Both starters were ruled out late in pre-game, leaving Skiles with basically eight players to work with on the second night of a back-to-back and fifth game in six nights (have I mentioned this already?).
This should assuage some fears: Two trees grow in Milwaukee
At one point, Marvin Williams (11 pts, 4-11 FG, 6 rbs) rose for a dunk and was met by the twin first baseman gloves of Larry Sanders (4 pts, 2-5 FG, 5 rbs, 3 blks) and Ekpe Udoh (8 pts, 3-8 FG, 10 rbs, 3 blks). That was their flashiest play of the night, but in 15 shared minutes, they had a constricting influence over Atlanta’s shot options.
The duo was +5 and +9, respectively, had three blocks apiece, and was a major reason Josh Smith scored 13 of his 15 second quarter points after Sanders returned to the bench. If you’re watching the Bucks with one eye to the future, the lengthy, young Udoh/Sanders partnership should be somewhat encouraging.
This should leave you apoplectic: 50-32 points in the paint
Despite the pairing of Udoh and Sanders, Milwaukee had their requisite troubles rotating and defending the paint. Atlanta scored most of their points in the paint on great interior passing, suckering the Bucks towards one side to open a throw-down opportunity for Ivan Johnson, Josh Smith, or Zaza Pachulia.
Tweets of the game:
@AnaheimAmigos: Ivan Johnson best Drew Gooden down the floor for a dunk. Gooden countered with a missed 21-footer.
@StevevonHorn: I insist that someone write the “Jennings-Ellis backcourt is starting to gel now” story. Someone do this just to fulfill Mayan prophecy.
Final Verdict: A solid win
The Milwaukee Bucks have just played five games in six nights. This was by far their most complete, and significant, victory. On the second night of a back-to-back, the shorthanded Bucks took on one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, one they typically struggle with, and fended off a second half comeback like we have not seen this season.
“We came out tonight early in the game playing pretty hard, “ Skiles said. “But the really good sign was when it got tight in the third quarter. And we battled for it. We talked about it before the game, we need every win right now.”