Two nights ago, the Milwaukee Bucks watched Boston take control of a close game in the fourth quarter by stepping up and making shots.
Monday night found the Bucks yet again in the fourth quarter of a close game. This time around Milwaukee clamped down defensively, which lead to easy baskets and sealed the Bucks 105-96 win over Philadelphia, their first 3-0 road start since 2001-02.
“A lot of these games, that’s what it comes down to,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “They are kind of close games and one team steps up and make big plays.”
The Sixers were rolling offensively in the second half, scoring 33 in the third quarter, including a 21-6 run to erase Milwaukee’s 16 point lead to tie the score at 83-83 heading to the fourth quarter.
After a pair of free throws by Jrue Holliday cut Milwaukee’s lead to 94-93 with 4:56 to play, the Bucks went on a 9-0 run to seize control and held the Sixers to just three points the rest of the way, forcing two turnovers and blocking three shots.
When it mattered most Monday night, the Bucks defense stepped up. As did Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, capping a sensational performance with an 11-point fourth quarter.
“Our defense was unbelievable in the fourth quarter other than those five minutes,” Jennings said. “That’s how we won the game.”
It was an impressive win, not only because it came against an Eastern Conference contender on the road, but because of how the Bucks had to earn it. Milwaukee ran out to big leads twice, only to watch Philadelphia storm back to tie the game. The Bucks took the punch each time and answered back.
“It was 42-42 and then 83-83 late in the game,” Skiles said. “Both times we had a nice lead and kind of coughed it up. We weren’t hanging our heads, we came right back out and made a basket, get back on D, get a couple of stops and get ourselves going again.”
Philadelphia was able to get back in the game because the Sixers scored 29 points off of 23 turnovers. Sixers coach Doug Collins elected to go with a small lineup, making it a totally different kind of game. The Bucks eventually adjusted to that type of play and cleaned up in the fourth quarter, committing just three turnovers. It was still the most turnovers in a Milwaukee victory since 2006.
“I’m not going to make any guarantees but almost all the time if you give up 29 points off turnovers you are going to get beat,” Skiles said. “We were able to win the game because we made some of our own plays when the time counted for them; we were able to make some big plays.”
Two nights after playing his worst game of the season, Jennings was sensational. He scored 33 points on 12 of 21 shooting while dishing out eight assists, grabbing four steals and blocking two shots.
“Man he was going tonight,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said of Jennings. “It was just his night. We kept feeding him the ball and he kept making plays for us.”
Of their three road wins, the Bucks have gotten two against teams that are expected to be near the top of the Eastern Conference.
While early, Milwaukee has shown ability of gritting out tough games on the road. The Bucks didn’t win their third game on the road until the 17th game of last season.
“We are just gelling right now,” Ellis said. “That’s going to be the key for us this year, winning on the road. We have to keep that up and get some wins at home.”