In the blink of an eye, the Milwaukee Bucks lost two point guards and rookie Nate Wolters was suddenly thrown to the wolves.
With backup Luke Ridnour scratched pregame due to a back injury, point guard Brandon Knight came up lame with 10:19 to play in the first quarter and left with a strained right hamstring. That meant the Bucks had to get through Wednesday’s season opener in New York with Wolters as the only point guard left.
Wolters and the Bucks fell behind 25 points at the half, but rallied to take the lead with less than five minutes to play. The Knicks finished the game on a 10-2 run to spoil Milwaukee’s comeback with a 90-83 victory at Madison Square Garden.
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“I had to kind of throw him into the fire — a rookie coming to New York and playing in the Garden,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Losing Brandon was really a big blow to us. We’ve been dealing with injury from the very first day and now we don’t know the extent of his injury is.”
Knight’s status for Friday’s game in Boston is unknown, while Ridnour will fly back to Milwaukee on Thursday to have his ailing back checked out by a doctor. It’s unknown if he’ll be able to rejoin the team for the game against the Celtics.
For the time being, the Bucks may have to roll with Wolters at point guard. Milwaukee traded to get the second-round pick on draft night, but Wolters was expected to get time to learn behind Knight and Ridnour.
Though the stats don’t show it, Wolters was better in the second half Wednesday. He shot just 1 of 7 in the third and fourth quarters, but his floor presence calmed down from a jittery first half.
“He was much more composed in the second half,” Drew said. “Again, it’s not easy for a rookie to come into this kind of situation. He went from not playing had Luke and Brandon been healthy to where he was our main guy.
“I thought he handled himself very well. Early in the game he might have been nervous, but as the game went on he started playing with more confidence.”
Ridnour has been bothered by a sore back for a couple of weeks, but he returned to practice Monday and made it through three straight days of full contact.
“He tried to go,” Drew said. “He was a little tight this morning during the shootaround and then they brought him back before the game and worked on him to see if it would loosen up. It did not loosen up so he was a scratch.”
Rough start, frantic comeback: The Bucks were all out of sorts in the first half and the second quarter in particular. New York took advantage of Milwaukee’s 16 first-half turnovers and built a 25-point lead at the break.
“The first half we allowed them to speed us up, and we played totally out of character,” Drew said. “My message at the guys at half time was that I really didn’t care about whether we won or lost the game, I cared about us playing the way we are capable of playing.
“That’s all we did in the second half. We didn’t do anything any different than we have been working on in training camp. We had a chance to win it and just didn’t make the plays in the end.”
The Bucks opened the second half on a 40-16 run, scoring 22 points off New York’s 14 turnovers. Sparked by Gary Neal and Zaza Pachulia off the bench, Milwaukee shot 52.5 percent in the second half to give itself a chance.
A John Henson free throw gave the Bucks an 81-80 lead with 3:13 left, but Milwaukee scored just two points the rest of the way. Turning up the intensity on the defensive end, New York rode Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler on the offensive end to close on a 10-2 run.
“We just had to keep our composure, man,” Anthony said. “We let our foot off the gas. They are a professional team who didn’t quit tonight. They put everything out there on the court and it came down to the end.
“At the end, it was time to work. I felt like we had to come together and pull this game out as a unit. We did a great job on the defensive end down the stretch and finished the game off.”