ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — With so many NBA games decided in the final minute, how a team performs in one-possession games goes a long way toward determining its fate.
The last six games for the Milwaukee Bucks have been decided in the final possessions, with the Bucks losing three of the first four. After three straight close losses, Milwaukee flipped the script and found a way to pull off two late victories on the road in Dallas and Houston.
What’s the difference in a heartbreaking loss and a gratifying win?
“If we make one or two effort plays or we get one or two loose balls, we can win those ballgames,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “It’s just a reflection on, giving a little more and we’ll come out with a win. The last two games we fought back down five or seven points and still won. If we play hard for 48 minutes, we can win ballgames.”
J.J. Redick has seen first-hand the difference in a team that wins close games and one that can’t pull them out. The Magic, his team before the trade deadline, were sitting at 12-14 this season before a 10-game losing streak derailed their season. Six of the 10 losses were one-possession games and another came in overtime.
“Winning in the NBA is very difficult,” Redick said. “Winning one-possession games is even harder. It’s tough to pull those games out. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck like we had in Houston. Other times it comes down to getting stops like we did in Dallas. We really clamped down. They had 88 points with about 3:30 to go and they ended up with 90.”
Redick is not sold that a team can learn to pull out close games, but experiencing what it takes to win a close game is crucial.
“You need those experiences, but ultimately it comes down to the present moment,” Redick said. “How much are you willing to put into a defensive stop? Are you willing to screen for your guy? It’s often those little details.
“When Boston was so good in those late games with (Kevin Garnett), Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, a lot of it was just execution. Their willingness to screen for Ray Allen is a great example. It’s not just learning and having those past experiences but doing it in the moment.”
Injury update: Bucks forward Ekpe Udoh missed practice Friday with a sprained right ankle suffered in Wednesday’s win. He’s listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game against Toronto.
Point guard Brandon Jennings was not with the team Friday due to a death in his family. Bucks coach Jim Boylan said he expects Jennings to be back and in the starting lineup Saturday night.
Small forward Mike Dunleavy was limited in practice on Friday by an ankle injury he suffered Wednesday, but Dunleavy said he will play against the Raptors.