MILWAUKEE — Drew Gooden has stayed ready for his number to be called.
To his credit, many in his situation wouldn’t have been. Lost in the shuffle with an abundance of big men, his first minutes of the season came in Milwaukee’s 18th game and that eight-minute stretch occurred when the Bucks had victory well in hand.
Gooden has admitted it hasn’t been easy, but he’s a pro. There was going to come a time when he was needed and Wednesday night was it.
With starting bigs Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders and key reserves Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih unable to play, Gooden was Milwaukee’s first man off the bench.
Playing 22 minutes, Gooden scored seven points and grabbed 10 rebounds, providing energy to an otherwise sloppy and stagnant game.
“That felt great, the opportunity to play,” Gooden said. “It’s a bad time for our team unfortunately with a couple of guys that can’t play. To get my name called and go out there and play, that really shows how much I love this game.”
His teammates have taken notice.
“He’s been like that the whole season,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “That’s one guy you don’t have to worry about. When his number is called, he’s always going to be ready.”
Needing guys to step up and fill voids left by those who were in street clothes, Milwaukee not only had Gooden contribute, but got solid performances from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova.
Making his first start of the season, Mbah a Moute scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Ilyasova added a double-double off the bench, 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“We definitely had some bright spots,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “Drew is the type of player that can go a long time without playing and go into a game and play. He stays in shape and he likes to play. He’s got a good skill set.”
Gooden even found a way to get involved while sitting on the bench. Late in the second quarter, Tobias Harris drove to the hoop and was hit on the elbow by Kings guard Francisco Garcia. The wound caused by the hit required four stiches after the game, but no foul was called. Harris was immediately given a technical foul by official Ken Mauer.
Then Mauer hit Gooden with one.
“I basically said ‘Don’t referee personnel, referee the game,’ ” Gooden said. “He came back to me and said ‘What did you say?’
“I said ‘Don’t referee personnel.’ He came back ‘Say it again.’ I almost got into a high school argument. He baited me. I give him credit for baiting me.”
It was an igniting moment for the Bucks, who were fired up by the technical and scored the final four points of the half to take a 49-39 lead. But the Kings, who were without leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins due to a league issued suspension, as well as key reserve Marcus Thornton, who left the team to be with his ailing mother, hung around.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Bucks finally pulled away.
“It wasn’t a well-played game by either team,” Skiles said. “We aren’t sending this one to the Hall of Fame. You have to win those, sometimes in the game you have to make enough plays and we did.”
And while it marks the team’s third straight victory, all with relative ease, Skiles wasn’t too thrilled with the overall performance. He didn’t want to put a damper on a three-game winning streak, but also didn’t hold back, knowing the road gets tougher ahead.
“My mind works like this: I’m concerned about the quality,” Skiles said. “I don’t think about wins and losses, if the quality is there, most nights you are going to win. Some nights you leave the building when you don’t play very well, but you win, so you feel better than when you lost.
“If you really want to be good at this, you have to focus on the quality of every single possession, making every single possession as perfect as you can make it, knowing it’s an imperfect game. We are still searching for high quality.”