Although J.J. Redick and Tobias Harris garnered all the pregame hype, it was Monta Ellis who stole the show.
The Bucks (33-32) needed every last basket by Ellis — and a 45-point outburst in the final frame — to finally overcome the Orlando Magic (18-49), 115-109.
Milwaukee played lackadaisically on both ends of the court for the first 36 minutes and entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point deficit. Ellis, too, got off to a slow start. He converted just one of six shots and turning the ball over five times in the first half.
“Early on, he comes out and has three turnovers in about the first four minutes of the game, and it looks like it’s just not his night,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “But Monta is a competitor. He just had a little fire in his eyes.”
After connecting on four of his next six attempts in the third quarter, Ellis exploded in a fashion Bucks fans had not yet witnessed. He kept Milwaukee within striking distance with a couple successful trips to the free throw line early in the fourth quarter. Then, Ellis — a 24.2 percent three-point shooter this year — hit five three-pointers in a six-minute span to close out the game, while sprinkling in a layup and fastbreak dunk for good measure.
“It was just going in,” Ellis said after the game. “It was one of those days where you feel it. The crowd got into it. My teammates had faith in me to give me the ball at the time, and I was able to knock down the shots. I didn’t think about it. I just shot the ball.”
In all, Ellis went off for 25 points in the fourth quarter on 8-10 shooting. He finished the game with a season-high 39 points on 22 shots, six rebounds and five assists. Ersan Ilyasova (20 points, 7-13 fg, 11 rebounds), Brandon Jennings (15 points, 4-15 fg, 14 assists) and Larry Sanders (13 points, 6-13 fg, 11 rebounds) all chipped in and posted double-doubles for the Bucks. The key piece in last month’s trade between the two teams, J.J. Redick, struggled against his former Magic team. Redick only played 23 minutes and scored four points on 1-5 shooting, 0-4 beyond the arc.
“I’m happy that we won the game, but I’m really concerned with the way we’re playing right now,” Boylan said. “It’s not good enough. We need to play better. We need to be a better team. Right now, we’re not a very good team. You can’t rely on scoring 45 points in the fourth quarter to pull a game out at home.”
All Orlando starters scored in double figures, with guard Arron Afflalo and forward Moe Harkless leading the charge on a combined 47 points. Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who was an imposing presence in the paint on both sides of the court, finished the game with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
Tobias Harris, who received a nice ovation from Bucks fans in pregame introductions, made his return to Milwaukee for the first time since the trade. He got into early foul trouble — picking up three in the first quarter — but managed to stay on the court for 32 minutes, posting a respectable line of 14 points (4-8 fg), eight rebounds and two blocks. Harris fouled out of the contest with 2:43 remaining, after bowling over Ilyasova on a drive to the basket.
Prior to the game, Boylan complimented Harris’ scoring ability and work ethic, while noting that the forward’s lack of playing time in Milwaukee was the result of a numbers game.
“Tobias plays minutes, and he scores points,” Boylan said. ”That’s what he does. He plays the four for them. He played the three with us, but I think he’s a little more comfortable in that four spot. For us, we’re overloaded in that position.We have another guy who’s doing the same thing in Ersan.”
As was apparent throughout the game, Harris looks significantly more fluid on the court at the power forward position. However, just as he lacks lateral quickness to guard small forwards, Harris lacks the ideal size to bang in the post with bulky power forwards. On two occasions in the fourth quarter, Ekpe Udoh — someone not exactly known for his rebounding — went right over Harris for an offensive rebound and easy put-back.
Yet, Harris’ offensive numbers don’t lie. He has already come into his own as a legitimate scoring threat in the NBA. He’ll just have to wait a bit longer to exact revenge over his old team.
“I would have loved to come out of here with a win, but that’s just not how it happened,” Harris said.
Indeed, Monta Ellis had other plans.
Ellis was noticeably limping and favoring his right leg during timeouts late in the fourth quarter. After the game, Boylan said Ellis “jammed his leg a little bit” and is battling through a couple thigh bruises.
Luc Mbah a Moute was inactive for the third straight game with turf toe. There’s no timetable for his return, according to Boylan.
“It’s one of those injuries that’s pretty painful,” Boylan said. “You have to push off on that part of your foot, so I think it’s going to take a little while for him to get comfortable with that part of it. I don’t really have a clear indication as to how long it’s going to be. We just to hope for the best.”
The Bucks host the Portland Trail Blazers (31-34) on Tuesday (7 p.m. CDT), which will complete their three-game home stand.