Up 12, down nine, up 21.
That was the Milwaukee Bucks’ sporadic second half in a nutshell. In a game full of elongated runs, the Bucks (16-12) got the last laugh and secured a 19-point victory, 104-85, over the Miami Heat (20-8).
An energized Bucks starting unit jumped out to an early nine-point lead in the first quarter and Milwaukee never trailed in the first half. They entered intermission with a comfortable 12-point lead, 56-44. Then things got interesting.
The Bucks opened up the second half by missing their first 12 shots, with Monta Ellis accounting for half the failed attempts, before Brandon Jennings mercifully hit a 14-footer with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter. The Heat, meanwhile, took advantage of the Bucks’ inabilities by knotting up the score at 58 points apiece midway through the frame. Milwaukee’s inordinate slump continued, and Miami soon enjoyed a nine-point lead following consecutive jumpers by LeBron James, which capped off a 27-6 run. The Bucks quickly answered with a 7-0 run of their own in the final couple minutes of the third quarter to pull within two at 71-69.
Milwaukee’s momentum carried over into the final frame, which they opened up with nine more consecutive points. With impressive offensive execution from the starting unit — sans Marquis Daniels, plus Mike Dunleavy — the Bucks’ lead ballooned up to 21 points before Erik Spoelstra and Scott Skiles cleared their respective benches with three minutes remaining. After limiting the Bucks to just 13 points in the third quarter, the Heat loosened the defensive reins and gave up a 35-point scoring explosion in the fourth quarter.
Ball security was a significant factor throughout the game. The Heat turned the ball over 21 times, with LeBron guilty of six of them, while the Bucks only gave the ball away a season-low fives times. Milwaukee capitalized on Miami’s errors, attempting 22 more field goals, scoring 21 points on fast break points and 25 off turnovers.
Another key to last night’s win was Luc Mbah a Moute’s contributions on both ends of the court. He nearly matched LeBron’s game-high 26 points with an efficient 19 of his own, while frustrating his counterpart all night long. One possession at the beginning of the third quarter was particularly impressive. Dwyane Wade passed the ball to an isolating James near the top left corner of the key. With less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, LeBron tried to back down Mbah a Moute to no avail. The Prince held his ground and pushed King James horizontally, which forced LeBron to hoist up an off-balance, highly-contested jump shot with three ticks left on the shot clock. He missed badly.
This was the back down attempt:
This was the result:
Milwaukee was led by Jennings (25 points, 8-16 shooting, seven assists, four steals), Mbah a Moute (19 points, 8-15 shooting, seven rebounds, two blocks) and Larry Sanders (16 points, 8-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, four blocks). Dunleavy (18 points, 5-12 shooting, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals) provided a spark off the bench and hit the three-point dagger with five minutes remaining, extending Milwaukee’s lead to 19.
With the Pacers’ loss to the Hawks, the Bucks now sit atop the Central Division due to tiebreakers. The Bulls, Bucks and Pacers are all four games above .500.
Handling the Heat:
The Bucks have now won four of their last six meetings with the Heat.
18,717 strong packed the BMO Harris Bradley Center Saturday night. It was the first sellout of the season.
Monta Ellis is Dwyane Wade, Has it All…Or Something:
Mbah a Moute seems to be frustrating the HELL out of Lebron down low. So very physical with him.
— Jeremy Schmidt (@Bucksketball) December 30, 2012
So the @bucks beat the Heat by 19, trended worldwide, and regained first place in the Central Division? Really?
— K L Chouinard (@AnaheimAmigos) December 30, 2012
The Bucks have a quick turnaround, as they head to Detroit and battle the Pistons (10-22) Sunday night at 6:30 CST.
Head coach Scott Skiles was reluctant to call Milwaukee’s victory over the defending NBA champions a “signature win” – cautioning that it would mean very little if the Bucks fell to the lowly Pistons.
“This win is only good if we win tomorrow night,” Skiles said in his postgame press conference on FS Wisconsin. “Otherwise, it’s just another win. You can’t play really well against the Heat and then not show up tomorrow night. You have to follow it up with another good effort.”
Perhaps Skiles has a good memory. Last season, the Bucks defeated the Heat 105-97 in Milwaukee on Feb 1. Milwaukee then traveled to — you guessed it — Detroit and came out extremely flat, dropping a disheartening contest 88-80. They followed that up with a pair of losses to the Bulls and Suns.
As former Orioles manager Earl Weaver once said, momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.