Perhaps the play that best characterized this game was its last one. With Bucks leading by a point in the final seconds, 93-92, Bulls guard Richard Hamilton — who scored 30 points while making 12 of 24 field goals on the night — went to work to create one final shot. Rookie Doron Lamb guarded him. Hamilton dribbled to his right, backed Lamb up with a bump just inside the foul line, and gathered himself to elevate.
Keep in mind that coach Scott Skiles would never have let a rookie guard Hamilton for the final possession of a regular game. This wasn’t a regular game. The Bucks were down 27 points near the end of the third quarter, when Kirk Hinrich took a three-point shot that spun around the rim, flipped up high, and tapped gently down on the rim a few more times before finally falling back through. But a reserve group of Ekpe Udoh, Beno Udrih, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Dunleavy, and Lamb did the unthinkable, slowing the Bulls on one end while systematically finding rhythmic shots on the other until it snowballed into a 42-14 scoring run. The super subs had made their mark on the game, and in Skiles’ eyes, they had earned the right to finish it.
So with a promising season about to flatten into a .500 one, Lamb stood his ground. While Hamilton set himself up, Ekpe Udoh smartly abandoned his defensive assignment, Joakim Noah, in favor of helping Lamb on Hamilton, who set up the play with head turned. When the shot went up, not only did Hamilton have to deal with Lamb, but he also had to account for Udoh’s long, outstretched arm. The shot went wide, and the Bucks came away with the win and their Central Division lead intact.
In typical Udoh fashion, the boxscore fails to account for what he did on the play. No block. No steal. No rebound. No assist. No points. But Ekpe played impeccable defense over the final 20 minutes without respite. He blocked four shots in that span and impacted a number of others. His final line: 11 points on 9 shots. 6 rebounds and 2 assists. 5 blocks. Most importantly, for a team that has been hammered by foul disparity over the last two weeks, he did it while picking up just a single foul.
Udoh had nearly made himself into the scapegoat, when the Bulls were able to claw and paw away and inbounds pass off him with eight seconds left. It would have truly been a shame for him to get that type of blame.
Udrih and Lamb helped turn around what had been to that point a listless effort by the Bucks’ guards. They scored a combined 19 points on 14 field goal attempts while each finding their signature shots: for Udrih the pull-up jump shot in transition (PUJIT) and for Lamb the running baseline floater. Udrih, who finished with six assists, also worked the high pick-and-roll to get himself open jump shots at the top of the key. Brandon Jennings started the game on a sore ankle he sprained Saturday, but couldn’t overcome its ill effects. Monta Ellis‘ defense on Hamilton would be criticism-worthy if he had ever played any.
The Bucks’ offense flowed in the fourth quarter in part because Ilyasova emerged from a season-long slump while taking on a new role: bench player. Skiles elected to start rookie John Henson over him, and while Henson played well and actively early (and better than anything Ersan had done as a starter this season), he picked up two quick fouls and had to leave the game. He did manage an efficient seven points in those first five minutes though.
Back to Ilyasova — he looked far more comfortable in his backup role. Ersan made a pair of easy baskets in the first half — one on a helpful assist from Udrih and another off an offensive rebound. Then he kept shooting his jump shot in the second half until a few finally dropped and his confidence soared. It was THAT obvious. With an actual scoring weapon in his arsenal, the aimless pump fakes that required a reset of the offense finally turned into pump fakes that led to dribble penetration. He did get caught up in the air a pair of times, which required him to heave the ball into the backcourt to avoid a turnover. But his teammates bailed him out — collecting what were essentially loose balls — and his poise never wavered.
Ilyasova finished with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. It is almost like he needed a meaningless game where he could hoist jump shots with aplomb until he got his groove back. A 27-point game fit the occasion perfectly. But unexpectedly, enough of those shots fell, and a game without meaning suddenly had some.
Oh so many tweets…
WHO WANTS TO RIOT ON STATE STREET? *continues to work on research paper*
— Preston Schmitt (@pdschmitt1) November 27, 2012
I’m a minute away from running around my house naked due to this furious Bucks rally
— Andy S G (@_AndySG_21) November 27, 2012
My behavior is truly unbecoming right now. *cackles *fingagunz *hip thrust
— Ian Segovia (@Ian_Segovia) November 27, 2012
“You just walk the game down to 18, to 16, to 12, to eight — which is what we did.” – Coach Scott Skiles #MILvCHI
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 27, 2012
— Bucks PR (@BucksPR) November 27, 2012
“We shared the ball well and played defense. We kept believing in ourselves.” – Ersan Ilyasova #MILvCHI
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 27, 2012
That was crazy WOW
— BRANDON JENNINGS (@justryod3) November 27, 2012
That just happened!!! #Bucks
— Tobias Harris (@tobias31) November 27, 2012
Hahahahahhahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahhahahahahaha!! Go Bucks!!
— Drew Gooden (@DrewGooden) November 27, 2012
— Tas Melas (@TasMelas) November 27, 2012