MILWAUKEE — Shortly after the game ended, J.J. Redick sent a quick text message to his dad to tell him he thinks his new team is going to win a lot of games down the stretch.
Saturday night just wasn’t going to be one of them.
The new-look Bucks played well for the majority of the game – just as they did against Brooklyn on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Yet again, Milwaukee turned a game it had full control of into a one possession game and it burned the Bucks for the third straight time.
Up seven with 3:30 to go, Milwaukee scored just two points the rest of the way and fell, 103-102, to Atlanta when Monta Ellis’ runner at the buzzer hit the back of the rim.
The Bucks have lost their last three games by a combined six points and have dropped nine of 11 to fall a season-low two games under .500 at 26-28.
“Personally I don’t think we should have been in the position to be in a one-possession game,” Redick said. “We kind of separated ourselves toward the end of the third and early in the fourth and it was 100-93 when they called timeout and we gave up eight in a row.
“You can’t rely on winning one-possession games. You have to clamp down when you are up seven with three or four minutes to go.”
It was a frustrating ending to a game that featured many positive signs. Playing a team ahead of them in the standings, the Bucks hung right with the Hawks as Atlanta hit 14 3-pointers, half coming in the second quarter alone.
The 3s kept Atlanta within striking distance if the Bucks happened to slow their offensive pace like they did Wednesday night against Brooklyn. The drought happened later this time around, but was equally painful.
Milwaukee had five empty possessions in a row after leading 100-93 with 3:30 to play and turned the ball over three times during that stretch. The Hawks capitalized and quickly turned it into a one-point game on back-to-back 3-pointers by Milwaukee native Devin Harris and Josh Smith. A lob pass from Smith to Al Horford for a dunk gave the Hawks the lead, which the Bucks eventually took back on an Ellis’ driving layup with 10.8 seconds to play.
Prior to the go-ahead layup by Ellis, Milwaukee had to burn its final timeout when Redick couldn’t get the ball inbounds. That proved costly in the end, because Horford quickly backed down Larry Sanders for a layup to give Atlanta a 103-102 lead with 5.8 seconds on the clock.
While Ellis got a good look on his final shot, Bucks coach Jim Boylan couldn’t call timeout to set something up.
“Just not a lot of great execution down the stretch for us,” Boylan said. “I thought our guys played hard. I thought we played well enough to win the game. We had a lot of individual guys play well, just a couple key plays down the stretch.”
A couple of key plays down the stretch in Milwaukee’s last three games have prevented the Bucks from gaining ground on two teams ahead of them in playoff positioning. Better execution in all three could have given the Bucks two games on fourth-seeded Brooklyn and a game on sixth-seeded Atlanta.
“I think having better plays down the stretch, that’s all I can say,” Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said of what it will take to win a game late. “We’re not executing well down the stretch.
“Execution. We’re not getting the looks that we would want. We have to clear that up.”
The end result spoiled what was a successful Bucks debut for Redick. He played 35 minutes and scored 16 points and dished out seven assists.
Boylan played the three guards together quite a bit. The Hawks are a team the Bucks can get away doing that against and not have a size mismatch.
If Milwaukee just could have shut the door, it would have sent one of its biggest crowds of the season out the door wanting to come back because the new-look team showed signs of doing some good things.
The Bucks will get better if the ball moves like it did Saturday night, but the sting of the loss overrides those thoughts in the immediate aftermath. Instead of being 1-0 after the trade, the Bucks are 2-9 in their last 11 games.
“I feel like I was brought here to help this team win and secure a good playoff position,” Redick said. “I’m a competitor and I didn’t want to start off with a loss here coming from Orlando where the last 30 games we were 3-27. I expect this team to win.”
Despite the tough loss, Redick saw positive signs that this can be turned around.
“For me, there were some groups that I felt comfortable with. There was some really good ball movement … We did some good things tonight and I enjoyed playing with this group.”
A challenge lies in preventing frustration from setting in. This is certainly an extended rough patch, and three straight one-possession losses are tough to swallow. The road doesn’t get any easier, as the Bucks head out for a back-to-back on the road against Dallas and Houston before returning home for one game and then shipping out west again.
Milwaukee has also failed to gain ground on ninth-seeded Philadelphia. The 76ers haven’t been winning much either, but still are 3.5 games behind the Bucks. Seventh-seeded Boston now is 2.5 games ahead of Milwaukee.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” Boylan said. “We’re still in the playoffs. We can’t feel sorry. We’ve got to get back at it at practice tomorrow, get ourselves ready for a tough little road trip down to Texas.
“The games keep coming, so you don’t have a chance to really feel sorry for yourself. The guys, as you would expect, they’re down right now. I thought we played well enough to win.”