MILWAUKEE — Jim Boylan preached before the game how the Bucks needed to create separation between themselves and teams outside of the Eastern Conference’s playoff spots trying to catch them.
The Bucks coach also tried to warn his team of the dangers of playing the Orlando Magic. Though the Magic came in losers of eight in a row and 19 of 21 and were playing without three of their four leading scorers, the Bucks couldn’t just show up and win the game.
Milwaukee let Orlando hang around all night, but two big second-half runs were enough to overcome allowing 20 offensive rebounds in a 107-98 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“Jacque (Vaughn), for a first year head coach, is doing an unbelievable job,” Boylan said. “They’ve been losing, but you watch all of their games and for the most part they are battling right in there. I wasn’t surprised it was a tough game.”
It also was a game Milwaukee absolutely had to win. Following two straight losses and with a tough two-game swing to Denver and Utah looming, the Bucks couldn’t afford to drop a game to a team that has won just two games since Christmas.
A loss would have started conversations of teams such as Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Toronto catching the Bucks instead of Milwaukee creating separation. Playing their fourth game in five nights, the Bucks let the game have the feel that it was only a matter of time before Orlando got hot and Milwaukee was left to explain another bad loss.
Boylan chalked it all up to playing distracted and losing focus at times.
“Part of that was giving them second and third opportunities,” Boylan said. “We were making them miss and playing pretty good defense but just not finishing the plays off. To me, that’s a little bit of focus right there.”
A 21-9 spurt in the third quarter and a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter finally gave Milwaukee a little cushion, but Orlando went on a 10-0 run to make it a five-point game with 37.2 seconds left. It was too little, too late, but the Bucks couldn’t find the dagger against a team playing without Jameer Nelson, Aaron Afflalo and Glen Davis.
“They are a feisty team that plays hard and sticks around,” Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said. “Their record is not that great, but they are well coached and not an easy out. They are young but they are learning. They are a tougher team than their record indicates.”
Though obviously not pleased, Boylan was relieved his team did find a way to win, and there were positives. Monta Ellis held J.J. Redick to just 5 of 16 shooting in what Boylan called “some of the best defense you’ll see this year.”
When asked if he was pleased with the way his team was playing, Boylan said there were things he felt good about but also things that concerned him. Things like preventing offensive rebounds and playing better defense.
Those two must improve if the Bucks have any plans of creating separation or moving up in the standings.
“We want to keep an arm distance from Philly, Detroit and Toronto, and we want to climb up,” Boylan said. “Our goal is to look forward and look up and try and chase the teams in front of us and not worry so much about those behind us.”
Accomplishing that goal started Saturday by not letting a losing streak snowball against one of the league’s worst teams.
“We had to get this one, for sure,” Dunleavy said. “Now we have two tough ones out West before we come home for three before the break. We’re sitting in a decent position and hopefully we can continue to get some separation.