The Bucks are in the playoffs and they did it the right way. Led by Larry Sanders (6 blocks/12 points/9 rebounds) and Monta Ellis (6 steals/9 assists/22 points), the Bucks took control early and won their tenth straight game against the Toronto Raptors.
Not to bury you with an avalanche of cliches, but if there’s honor in making the playoffs as a 37-39 team, that honor stems from taking the final leap to the postseason with a 100-83 blowout of the Raptors.
The Bucks began the game with a magic number of two. Shortly after the second half tipped in Milwaukee, the Heat cut that number to one with a defeat of the 76ers in Miami.
And for good measure, the Raptors simply stopped scoring at the same time. In the first eight minutes of the third quarter, the Raptors scored one basket and committed seven turnovers. Almost reluctantly, a 19-point Milwaukee halftime lead swelled to 32.
From there, Gustavo Ayon and Luc Mbah a Moute carried the action in the fourth quarter. Toronto chipped away at the lead a bit, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Ayon played heavy minutes in place of Ekpe Udoh, who missed the game with an ankle injury. By making the playoffs, the Bucks should have plenty of time to let Udoh heal. Udoh’s ankle problem is severe enough that he had crutches at his locker before the game.
Ayon plays a polished game on offense, but he isn’t nearly Udoh’s equal on defense. In this game, he tried to challenge Terrence Ross on one fast break. Ross rose, kept the ball nearly a foot higher Ayon’s outstretched hand, and finished with a forceful dunk.
Sanders swatted all six of his blocks in the first half. He victimized Kyle Lowry three times, including a spectacular weak-side help block (top). On that play, Lowry was driving from the right side, while Sanders guarded his man outside the lane on the left. Sanders stayed home on his man until Lowry reached a spot between the circles. Sanders took two small steps and soared in — high and from the perfect angle — to pluck out the shot in a manner reminiscent of Bill Russell.
Monta Ellis guided the Bucks through their best stretch of the first half when he took command of the point guard spot. In a five-minute stretch with Jennings resting, Ellis hit two three-pointers and notched three assists, all for layups and dunks. While he guided the offense, a seven-point lead grew to 15.
Milwaukee remains 2.0 games behind Boston for the 7th seed in the East, so the Bucks will likely finish in the 8th spot, which would earn them the unappetizing task of playing the defending champion Heat. Miami has already clinched the top seed in the East.
Fittingly enough, Milwaukee plays next in Miami Tuesday.