Clutch time. It’s when Monta Ellis has played some of the Bucks’ most important ball in recent games, but tonight it was Brandon Jennings who hit a three to tie the game 99-99 with 13 seconds to go against the Utah Jazz, who wouldn’t score quickly enough to stave off overtime and couldn’t outgun Milwaukee in extra minutes to clinch a rare road win as the Bucks sealed a 109-108 victory to tie their longest win streak of the season at four straight games.
The Jazz were minus one of their primary big men as Al Jefferson stayed on the sideline recovering from an ankle sprain, but Paul Millsap returned to score 22 points, grab 14 rebounds and scare the living bejeezus out of Bucks fans when the refs missed his foul on Larry Sanders late in OT and gave the Jazz an extra, ultimately futile possession. His late three-point attempt? Not a terribly efficient look, but certainly terrifying.
The Bucks got production out of everyone they needed it from. Monta Ellis (34 points) and Brandon Jennings (20 points) took the majority of shots and carried the scoring load per usual, going a combined 23-35 from the field while Sanders anchored the interior, snagging 11 defensive boards to go toward a total of 16 rebounds, six blocks and eight points. Sanders’ biggest moment came in the final seconds of regulation when he denied Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward an at-rim opportunity to end the game. J.J. Redick, seemingly having a handle on things since being acquired from the Magic, scored the first eight of Milwaukee’s 10 points in overtime, though they hardly would have mattered had his foul after another Sanders block in the final minute of OT changed the outcome of the game.
For all the talk about Tobias Harris’ performances against sub-standard teams with the Orlando Magic, Redick is doing what he was brought in to do: offer floor spacing for the rest of the Bucks cast. Tonight it paid off as Ellis scored most of his points near the rim, but even in what ranks as a relatively cold game for Redick (7-14, 3-9 from three, one turnover), his presence also had a positive influence on Jennings. There is a slightly lighter scoring burden for him to carry and he no longer has to feel pressured to be a shooting threat from perimeter. Yet he went 4-5 from long range and comfortably dished out 17 assists to go with three steals at the other end of the court. It was Jennings’ second-highest assist total of the year next to the 19 he recorded against Toronto on Saturday, and the most steals he had in a game since forcing four turnovers against Philadelphia on Feb. 13.
It wasn’t a walk in the park. The score doesn’t indicate as much, after all. The Jazz managed to gain the edge in points in the paint, 56-52, and surrendered only 11 fast break points to the speedy Jennings/Ellis duo that has the Bucks ranked as the NBA’s fourth highest pace of play team. What did the Jazz in was a combination of failing to score on second chances (they had 23 offensive rebounds as a team) and committing 21 turnovers that led to 24 points for the Bucks — two more points that the Jazz scored off Milwaukee’s 17 turnovers. Derrick Favors put up 23 points and 15 rebounds as one of six Utah players to score in double-digits, but it is also difficult to win when three starters fail to score in a combined 52 minutes of playing time. (Note to Marvin Williams, Earl Watson and Randy Foye: you all get honorary game balls tonight.)
The Bucks shot 47.4 percent from the floor, including a 41.7 percentage from three that got them by as the Jazz shot eight percent higher from the free throw line on 18 more attempts. In the long run, a team cannot shoot so poorly from the charity stripe and succeed, but for a game in which every player that saw action made a contribution — tangible or not — the Bucks can be happy with not only the win, but with the development they are seeing as they inch closer to claiming the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.