As if winning the second leg of a back-to-back against a rested team wasn’t difficult enough, the Milwaukee Bucks had to do it without three key contributors.
With Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and J.J. Redick all out with injuries, the Bucks had reserves step up and do just enough to gut out a 115-113 in Sacramento on Sunday night.
And though he came back, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute missed time during the first half with a foot injury, leaving Milwaukee even more shorthanded.
“Unbelievable effort by a bunch of guys,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “We played a game 17 or 18 hours ago, a heck of a game up there in Golden State.
“I thought we played great. A lot of effort with not a lot of rest.”
Even after building an 11-point third quarter lead and a 16-point lead with 3:47 left in the game, the Bucks couldn’t coast to a victory. Sparked by the ejection of DeMarcus Cousins after his flagrant-2 foul on Mike Dunleavy, the Kings rallied in the third quarter to cut Milwaukee’s lead to just five heading to the fourth.
Down 106-91 with time running out, Sacramento got a spark off the bench from Jimmer Fredette and rattled off a 19-5 run to make it 111-110 with 23 seconds left.
Up three with 4.7 seconds left, Boylan elected to foul Fredette before the Kings could get off a tying three-point attempt. Fredette made the first free throw and missed the second one on purpose. The ball bounced perfectly back to him, and he dished the ball out to Tyreke Evans for a game-winning three-point attempt. He missed, saving the Bucks from a gigantic collapse.
“It was a great play by him in the end,” Boylan said. “We knew he was going to try and miss, but to be that accurate with the miss and hit the front of the rim and have it come right back to him in no time. It looked like the Globetrotter play with the fake free throw.”
Playing his first substantial minutes since coming over from Orlando in the Redick trade, Gustavo Ayon gave the Bucks a huge lift, scoring all 12 of his points and grabbing all 7 of his rebounds in the first half.
Starting in the frontcourt for Ilyasova and Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert combined for 20 points and 18 rebounds. It wasn’t just the reserve forwards providing a lift, as Marquis Daniels filled Redick’s role and scored nine points in 26 minutes.
Though he’s done it many times before, Dunleavy stepped up down the stretch, as well. He scored 13 of his 16 points after taking an elbow to the head from Cousins.
“We did a great job tonight,” Udoh said. “You’d tend to think the team would be down when you lose those types of players but everyone came in and picked up the energy.”
After losing the first game of the West Coast trip to the Clippers, Milwaukee swept the back-to-back for its second winning trip out west this season.
For a team that’s struggled mightily playing on the road against the Western Conference, the Bucks will take the win, no matter how close it got in the end.
With Chicago and Boston both losing Sunday, Milwaukee moved to within one game in the loss column of fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks have a needed day off Monday before having another back-to-back with a home game against Dallas on Tuesday and a trip to Washington on Wednesday. It’s too early to tell if any of the three that missed Sunday’s game will be back in time to play against the Mavericks.
“We’ll see,” Boylan said. “(J.J.) is a guy that probably that will be able to come back. Ersan and Larry will be day-to-day. We’ll see how things shape up for us on Tuesday.”