As has happened so often this season, the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t push forward when on the cusp of building it.
Detroit outscored Milwaukee 33-11 in the third quarter and 62-38 in the second half to overcome an eight-point halftime deficit and cruise to a 103-87 victory Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“It was an unfortunate night for us,” Bucks forward Drew Gooden said. “To lose a home game like this after going to beat Chicago on the road, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Playing its third game in four nights, Milwaukee didn’t seem to have the energy to match the Pistons, who haven’t played since Sunday.
“It seemed like our legs got a little heavy in the third quarter,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Pretty evident by the fact we missed a lot of open, good looks that we had.
“When you are struggling offensively, it can bleed into other areas of your game. It looked like that’s what happened tonight.”
Twice Friday the Bucks missed 10 straight shots. Milwaukee missed its last nine shots of the first quarter and its first of the second. Then during Detroit’s massive third quarter, the Bucks missed 10 in a row again and the Pistons used it to fuel a 15-0 run.
The Bucks have been hampered all season by the inability to build small bursts of positive momentum into bigger winning streaks.
After starting the season 6-2, the Bucks dropped a road game to Charlotte that began a stretch that dropped them to 8-9. Later in the season, Milwaukee fought hard to pull out an overtime victory in Boston, only to come back the next night and lose by double digits to Cleveland.
Then came Dec. 29’s 19-point win over Miami. At 16-12, the Bucks were feeling good. A road loss to struggling Detroit startd a four-game losing streak and led to the departure of head coach Scott Skiles.
And now, after starting 2-0 under Boylan – including a big road win Wednesday in Chicago – the Bucks come home and fall behind by 21 in the fourth quarter before losing by 16 to the Pistons.
“An 11-point quarter is hard to get over,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “They kind of stayed with it. It was a (deficit) of a good amount and we couldn’t get over it.”
With Sanders starting the third quarter with three fouls, Detroit made a concerted effort to feed Greg Monroe the ball, trying to get another quick foul on Sanders.
Because of the foul trouble, Sanders couldn’t play his usual defense on Monroe and it showed. The third-year center out of Georgetown dominated every big man the Bucks threw at him, scoring 18 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.
“(Monroe’s) got a big, thick body,” Boylan said. “He’s left-handed, which can give guys a little bit of trouble.
“If you look at our starting front line, Larry is not at a thick guy; Ersan (Ilyasova) is not a thick guy.”
The Bucks scored just five points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter allowing Detroit to go on a 23-5 run to take control of the game. Milwaukee shot just five of 21 in the third quarter, while the Pistons were 13 of 19.
After dominating the third quarters of Tuesday and Wednesday’s wins over Phoenix and Chicago, the Bucks reverted back to how they lost control of games during the four-game losing streak – coming out of the locker room flat.
One week ago in a home loss to Houston, the Bucks blew an 18-point first half lead and were outscored 30-14 in the third quarter and 68-43 in the second half en route to a 115-101 loss.
“As a team we came out with great energy,” Monroe said. “They had an 11-point third quarter. Defensively, we knew we needed to take the lead and take control of the game.
“It was definitely one of the best third quarters of the season, by far.”
Instead of heading out on the longest road trip of the season – four games in seven nights beginning Sunday in Toronto and then heading to the west coast – on a three-game winning streak, the Bucks have lost five of their last seven games.
“We have to fight discouragement,” Sanders said. “If you start to feel discouragement and adversity you have to fight through that. It’s going to happen, it’s inevitable, and it’s something we have to get better at.”
After Sunday’s game in Toronto, Milwaukee heads to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Tuesday before the trip continues on to Phoenix and Portland. Gooden is confident that his team will find a way to come out with a successful trip.
“We must move on,” Gooden said. “I believe in this team. We always step up to the challenge. We always play well in big games. We’ll bounce back.”