MILWAUKEE — Due to inconsistent play and injuries, Ersan Ilyasova has been a forgotten man for the Milwaukee Bucks this season.
But it appears as if the streaky Turkish forward is healthy and hitting one of his offensive grooves at just the right time.
Ilyasova continued a stretch of solid play by scoring a career-high 34 points to lead the Bucks to a 111-107 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The win puts Milwaukee five games ahead of ninth-place Indiana, Boston and Charlotte and 2 1/2 games in front of seventh-place Miami with 10 games to play.
"Sometimes you have days like this," Ilyasova said. "We shared the ball really well and found open guys."
Ilyasova outscored the Pacers himself in the first quarter, as he had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting to help Milwaukee build a 34-11 lead with 1:01 left in the opening period.
With Ilyasova on the bench, Indiana pulled within single digits midway through the second quarter. Ilyasova quickly checked back into the game and picked up where he left off, scoring five straight points to increase Milwaukee’s lead to 50-34.
"He was cookin,’" Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "He was aggressive. He took open shots. He just didn’t settle. He also put the ball on the floor. Everything he shot pretty much went in."
The second half of Thursday’s game was almost unwatchable, as 43 fouls and 58 free-throw attempts after halftime eliminated any kind of rhythm the Bucks had. It was exactly the style of game Indiana wanted to play.
By getting into the bonus early in the third and fourth quarter, the Pacers were able to get back into the game.
With the Bucks leading 102-99 with 3:42 left, Ilyasova drove and was fouled by Pacers center Roy Hibbert. He hit both free throws to start a 6-2 run that put Milwaukee up seven.
"It’s tough to guard him, especially at the position that he plays," Pacers guard C.J. Miles said. "He’s a four who moves really well. He could probably play some three if they wanted him to because he moves that well. He was slipping out of screens and putting big guys in positions that they’re not in every night.
"After he made a couple his pump fake had us all over the place. Once he made a couple, it really opened the game up for him. He does a good job rolling to the basket, too. I don’t think a lot of people give him credit for screening and rolling."
Ilyasova is averaging 15.8 points over his last 17 games and 16.2 points per game in March. He’s always been a slow starter, but multiple injuries have prevented Ilyasova from getting into any kind of rhythm until now.
"He’s moving as well as I’ve seen him since I’ve been here," Kidd said. "I think being healthy has helped, but you can tell he’s moving on both ends, offensively and defensively, as well as he has in some time. Maybe some injuries have slowed him down, but he’s moving well. He’s also looking for his shot, and his teammates are looking for him.
"Everybody has been looking for Khris (Middleton). Now they have another guy that has joined trying to help Khris."
The presence of Ilyasova as a scoring option would certainly give the Bucks a lift as they chase the playoffs.
"At the beginning of the season it was new team, new coaches," Ilyasova said. "I was going through some injuries. Now I feel 100 percent healthy. We are building chemistry right now and we know each other better. We’re headed in the right direction."
Milwaukee has rebounded from a six-game losing streak with two crucial home victories this week. By following up Tuesday’s buzzer-beating win over Miami with a grind-it-out type effort against Indiana, the Bucks suddenly are back in the drivers’ seat when it comes to playoff positioning.
"I don’t think we ever thought we were in a race," Kidd said. "We’re in the sixth spot. We will be in the sixth spot until someone overtakes us. Then you have to be concerned. I think the guys have worked extremely hard, understanding these last two games were big."