Ersan Ilyasova dealt with physical play from the Pelicans’ big men all night.
*Editor’s note: Wednesday’s recap was written by Behind the Bucks staff writer Peter Myhrer. Follow Peter on Twitter @TheKingOfChub.
Ersan Ilyasova was not a man of fortune in the waning moments of Wednesday’s 102-98 heartbreaking loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
With 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bucks down 98-95, a cutting Ilyasova received a well-placed pass and headed toward the hoop. With hopes of electrifying the crowd with a momentum swinging, thunderous dunk, Ersan rose up and bricked the slam attempt. He recovered next possession, however, draining a redeeming three pointer to bring the Bucks within two again.
Thirty seconds later, the Turkish big man once again found himself with the ball in a crucial last-second possession, driving to the hoop with the game hanging in the balance. However, the Pelicans were the benefactors of a generous no-call as Greg Stiemsma hacked Ersan hard on his drive to the hoopa. The Bucks retained possession as the ball caromed out of bounds but proceeded to turn it over on the ensuing inbounds play, sealing their fate.
After Wednesday’s loss, the Bucks now sit at 9-43. A team sitting 34 games below .500 heading into the All-Star break generally does not get the benefit of the doubt on late game calls.
Aided by a particularly strong second quarter, the Milwaukee Bucks found themselves in the driver’s seat headed into the second half of action. Larry Drew found some early minutes for shooting guard Gary Neal and he rewarded Drew by playing like the offensive spark plug the Bucks envisioned when they signed the former-Spur to a multi-year deal this offseason. Scoring 18 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting, Neal turned in just the performance Bucks’ management was hoping for with the trade deadline approaching and trade speculation surrounding Neal for weeks. Unfortunately, like so many games this year (particularly recently), a promising start only produced hope that the Bucks could just not pay off.
In a third quarter that saw the Pelicans recapture the lead 83-76, the return of Anthony Davis after some early foul trouble sparked quality team play resulting in a 37-point quarter for the visitors. The Bucks did not roll over though as they managed to win the fourth quarter 22-19, despite Ersan’s aforementioned reign of terror.
The resilience the team demonstrated tonight is refreshing, as it was just less than a month ago that it seemed like the team would find itself facing 20 and 30 point deficits in the third quarter of most games. After all, it is key to search for the bright spots and cling to them in a season like this one.
Khris Middleton (11 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast) – The Brandon Jennings trade from the summer is looking better by the game with small forward Khris Middleton’s play resulting in the Bucks feeling more comfortable about parting ways with their former point guard. Providing solid defense, basketball savvy plays, and of course his silky smooth dart of a jump shot, Middleton is certainly a core piece that this young team can build around. Efficient shooters are in high demand around the league and one of them fell into the Bucks’ lap this year.
Nate Wolters (14 pts, 7 ast, 6 reb) – Coming into the league as a second-round draft pick, Wolters has taken advantage of every minute he has managed to get under his belt. Displaying terrific court vision and playmaking ability throughout the season, Nate appears to have fixed his three point shot; a shot that plagued him much of the season. Making two of his three long range shots Wednesday night, he has now made a three pointer in three straight contests. In his recent string of starts, he has also been stuffing the stat sheet with assists and rebounds. It might not be out of the question to see a triple-double in the former South Dakota State Jackrabbit’s future.
Points: Gordon (21), Knight (22)
Rebounds: Ajinca (9), Ilyasova (9)
Assists: Gordon (6), Knight (9)
Blocks: Stiemsma (2), Wolters (2)
Even with the Bucks record being what it is at 9-43, they will have a presence in New Orleans this weekend in rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis will be participating in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night as well as the Skills Challenge on Saturday evening. The Rising Stars Challenge pits the top first and second year players against each other in a friendly exhibition. Players this year were thrown into a draft pool and picked by former NBA stars Grant Hill and Chris Webber, who will serve as head coaches of their respective squads. Giannis will be competing for Webber’s team. In addition, he will also be just the second forward to participate in the Skills Challenge putting him in rare company with a young LeBron James.