Jim Boylan decided to change things up. Who could blame him? Nothing else has worked in Phoenix the last 24 times the Milwaukee Bucks have played there.
This time around – unlike previous years – Boylan and the team didn’t talk about the fact that Milwaukee hadn’t won in the Valley of the Sun since 1987.
Only after the clock hit zero at US Airways Center was it time to talk about the past. After the Bucks overcame a long stretch of struggles to pull out a 98-94 victory and end the streak, Boylan posted the box score from Feb. 21, 1987 in the locker room as Boylan joined Larry Costello and Don Nelson as the only coaches in Bucks history to win in Phoenix
Because the monkey was finally off the back, Milwaukee could have fun with it.
“We did not discuss it at all,” Boylan said. “The players knew about it, they were aware of it. It wasn’t like they didn’t know. In years past we’ve tried that and said ‘C’mon guys it’s been 20-some odd years since we’ve won here.’
“It’s never seemed to work so I took the opposite tact and figured I’m not going to say a word about it.”
But the current Bucks team had plenty of fun with the old box score – especially with current Bucks assistant coach Sidney Moncrief, who only scored six points that night.
Early on, Milwaukee looked like the streak was going to end in blowout fashion. The Bucks played crisp basketball on both ends and led by 10 points after the first quarter.
But then the Bucks put together two quarters of basketball that left plenty to be desired. Poor defense, turnovers, missed shots and missed free throws allowed a struggling Suns team to rally from 12 down to take control of the game.
Milwaukee trailed 78-70 with 11:12 to play, but held Phoenix to just eight points over the next 10:42. Defense fueled a 24-8 run that was capped by a Mike Dunleavy three-pointer to put Milwaukee up 94-86 in the final minute.
Leading the charge on the defensive end was Larry Sanders. Not officially credited with a blocked shot entering the fourth quarter, Sanders officially blocked two in the quarter and altered a few more.
Along with a few tough jumpers from Monta Ellis – who finished with a game-high 24 points – Sanders controlled the fourth quarter.
“Larry made some big time plays,” Bucks forward John Henson said. “You can’t account for that. He saved the game for us in a sense.”
Sanders finished with a career-high 19 points and also grabbed 15 rebounds.
“(I was) just trying to stay around that rim,” Sanders said. “My teammates did a great job of trying to find me and I was able to catch and finish. It paid off for us.”
As for Boylan’s tactic, nobody knows if it really had any impact on the victory, but the celebration in the Milwaukee locker room is something that could have a real impact going forward.
“That’s 27 years of frustration coming out right there for the Milwaukee Bucks,” Boylan said. “I’m really proud of the guys, the way they played, the way they battled.
“We had some moments in the game where we struggled, but somehow we were able to regroup and got big contributions from a lot of different people.”
Whenever the Bucks visit Phoenix next season, the storyline will be different for the first time in almost three decades.
And while many will say this was bound to happen with the Suns struggling, Henson had a theory of his own. It had to do with the record-cold temperatures that recently ran through the desert.
“I think it was because it was so cold out here, it felt like we were at home,” Henson joked. “It was a good win … It feels good.”