With the way Monta Ellis and Carmelo Anthony exchanged buckets, and the crescendo of the Bradley Center crowd as the clock ticked down, you’d swear the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks were battling in a playoff series.
The Knicks 111-107 win over the Bucks featured dominating scorers, significant defensive stops, and a final two minutes of heavily scrutinized play execution. It was as close to a playoff atmosphere as a regular season game can get, and it hurt like one too.
With the loss, Milwaukee now sits two games behind New York and three games behind the Philadelphia Sixers for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. For the first time in a while, the Bucks played a team on their level, and came away with the same problems we’ve seen over the past 57 games.
There were 18 lead changes, and despite a horrendous first quarter in which Milwaukee allowed roughly 2 million points in the paint, the Bucks were in a great position to pull away late in the fourth.
A missed Brandon Jennings (22 pts, 10-22 FG, 2-9 3FG, 7 asts, 4 rbs) technical free throw with 8:53 remaining and the Bucks up 94-86 sparked a Knicks comeback. Both teams traded crunch time baskets consistently (three ties, three lead changes in final five minutes).
However, the steady two-way presence of Tyson Chandler (19 pts, 6-6 FG, 7-7 FT, 11 rbs, 5 TOs), assassination skills of Anthony (32 pts, 13-26 FG, 2-4 3FG, 10 rbs, 3 TOs), and Bucks’ errant playcalling and execution ultimately stamped New York’s anticipated ticket to the 2011-12 NBA playoffs.
MVP: Monta Ellis
It couldn’t be anyone else. With the spotlight shining brightest, Monta Ellis (35 pts, 14-25 FG, 3-7 3FG, 10 asts, 6 rbs, 4 stls, 5 TOs) came up with the Bucks’ best one-man offensive performance this season.
Particularly in the second quarter (14 pts, 5-6 FG 5 asts), Ellis was dominant, and given his reputation, surprisingly selective. He anticipated holes in the Knicks’ constant defensive switches, exploited them for quite a few finishes around the rim (6-6), and selectively pulled up for an occasional three or mid-range jumper.
Ellis’ flashiest play of the night was a drive and behind-the-head dish to Larry Sanders, who skied for a shattering dunk.I think I speak for all of Bucks Nation when I say, “Please sir, I’d like some more.”
LVP: Length, girth, height
The Bucks allowed 50 points in the paint, and 28 in the first quarter alone (the injured Drew Gooden had something to do with this). Credit Sanders and Ekpe Udoh for gauzing the wound and making a few spectacular blocks from the second quarter on, but neither player is currently capable of shouldering 35 minutes at the five on a nightly basis.
This should delight only NBA Lottery preferring fans: Closure
According to John Hollinger’s NBA playoff rankings, the Bucks have a 39.6% chance of making it to the postseason. The Knicks and Sixers, however, have 76.4% and 84.1% chances of facing the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in the first round. If I were you, I’d start tinkering with Chad Ford’s mock lottery simulator and reading Draft Express scouting reports.
This should raise your blood pressure: Same old problems
The Bucks may be a few bounces from becoming a playoff team, but they are deeply flawed compared to the flawed Knicks. Like the Dagobah cave in The Empire Strikes Back, the NBA playoffs have a way of exposing, and exploiting, those weaknesses.
At the end of the day Milwaukee still had problems defending post-ups, over-pursuing on defense, and creating shots when they were needed most down the stretch.
Tweets of the night:
@Ian_Segovia: This game really turned when Drew Gooden got taken out
@StevevonHorn: Game is starting to take on the character of a playoff game now. Second half is more grindy and slow. Stakes are high.
Final verdict: Fun while it lasted
This was easily one of the most exciting games of Milwaukee’s season, and the high stakes just amplified the letdown of the final result. The Bucks have never been closer to the end of the season than they are right now, as New York owns the tiebreaker.
Technically, Milwaukee is now 2.5 games out of the eighth spot, and essentially back to where they were a year ago: slated for the 10th-12th spot in the lottery. That annual melancholy acceptance of a season finished is creeping up, and it feels like a better idea to start focusing on the offseason than the outside chance of a playoff berth.
After all, we are Milwaukee Bucks fans.