GREEN BAY, Wis. — This time around, the Milwaukee Bucks sealed the deal.
Running out of time to get a win before the regular season begins, the Bucks built an 18-point lead Wednesday night only to watch the New York Knicks storm back to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter.
The Bucks, who folded in this very situation just 11 days ago against Charlotte, took the punch and fought back this time, riding four veterans to a 105-95 win over the Knicks at the Resch Center.
“We didn’t give up, we didn’t hang our heads,” Bucks guard Gary Neal said. “We were able to come out and execute after the timeout from ‘LD’ and kind of stem the tide. I think that showed a lot in our growth as a team.”
Just like against the Bobcats, Drew rode a veteran lineup for all of the fourth quarter. Milwaukee played a small lineup of Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo, Neal, Caron Butler and either Larry Sanders or Zaza Pachulia down the stretch and it paid off.
Ridnour was able to create open looks for Butler, Mayo and Neal, and the veteran trio combined to hit 23 of 39 field goals and 6 of 10 3-pointers. The Bucks finished 10 of 16 from beyond the arc as a team in Larry Drew’s first win as Milwaukee’s coach.
“It feels good, but it feels even better that some of the things we talked about wanting to do, we did them tonight,” Drew said. “I would say this was very similar to the game against Charlotte where we did some really good things and then we kind of fell apart and collapsed.
“We had a breakdown tonight, but we were able to withstand it and maintain our composure. One of the things I’m most proud of is we had 26 assists tonight. We did a good job sharing and moving the basketball.”
Drew has been preparing the Bucks to play small when the season opens, as starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova may not be ready to play. Khris Middleton started for the second consecutive game, but Drew’s small lineup changed to Neal playing and Butler at the four.
“When we have a small lineup like that, the thing about it is everyone can shoot,” Ridnour, who started in place of the injured Brandon Knight, said. “That’s tough to guard. Those guys come off screens and just look to shoot. We have to be aggressive and take shots when we have them.”
Unlike in previous exhibition games, the Bucks had their go-to players step up and become closers. Butler and Mayo each scored six points, while Neal chipped in seven, and Ridnour had six points and five assists.
“You have guys who are battle tested, have been playing and kind of have a better concept of what to do,” Neal said. “You have a lot of experienced guys who don’t get rattled because they are guys who have been through it. It’s just a matter of stemming it and playing.
“We made shots today. All three of us were aggressive and looking to attack. I think that was key. We came out and set the tone being aggressive offensively.”
Between the injuries and just trying to get 11 new players on the same page with a new coaching staff, Milwaukee hasn’t had a very cohesive preseason. A couple of key players were still out and there’s plenty of work to be done, but the Bucks at least laid down a building block Wednesday night.
The ball movement and balance this team needs to be successful were there, while Mayo and Butler stepped up when Milwaukee needed them.
“I think as a team we needed to get this win,” Ridnour said. “We haven’t had a great five games and there’s only a couple left now. We have to start flipping that switch and start getting ready to go.
“We only have one more game and then it’s the real thing. We have to start building some momentum. I think the biggest thing is that we haven’t had any flow or chemistry yet with so many new guys and learning a new system. I think it’s important for guys who are going to take the majority of the shots to start taking the shots and figure out who is going to do what.”
The Bucks and Knicks will meet again in exactly one week with a whole lot more on the line. New York not only could be healthier, but its intensity will be turned up to another level for the season opener at Madison Square Garden.
“This was just a preseason game,” Drew said. “I know they were looking at some things and we were looking at some things. It will be nothing like this when we go up to Madison Square Garden. We’re prepared for that.”
Things got a little testy between the two teams Wednesday night, as Mayo and Carmelo Anthony had words after the Knicks star was called for an offensive foul. The Bucks are already expecting a physical game and a response from the Knicks.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a battle,” Ridnour said. “You can tell already that it’s going to be a dogfight. They are going to come at us for sure, and we’re not going to back down. It should be fun.”