Larry Drew called a timeout just 26 seconds into the game. After preaching to his team the importance of following the gameplan and playing as a unit, the Bucks coach saw a defensive breakdown on the first possession of the game and wasn’t going to stand for it.
He let it be known how the Bucks were going to go about things Friday night in Washington.
“It caught their attention,” Drew said. “And that’s how we’re going to follow the protocol as far as our season is concerned. Yeah, we’re off to a slow start and everybody knows that we’re in a little bit of a hole, but we’re going to stay committed, do the right things and claw and grind our way to hopefully get out of this hole.”
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The Bucks responded to Drew’s early timeout and took the first step in getting on track with a gritty victory over a Wizards team that came in winners of seven of its last nine. Brandon Knight hit a clutch 3-pointer to send the game to overtime and hit a clutch jumper late in the extra session to give Milwaukee a 109-105 win.
Seeing his team respond to his message was big to Drew, but getting a road victory was even sweeter.
“It was very important, especially since we were playing against a very good Washington Wizards team,” Drew said. “This team is a very potent team.”
The Bucks were on the verge of wasting a 13-point halftime lead until they rallied from down five points with 1:49 left. Khris Middleton scored to cut the deficit to three with 49 seconds left and after a defensive stop, Knight came off an O.J. Mayo screen and drilled the tying 3-pointer with 15.1 seconds to play.
“We were looking for O.J.; he’s a great 3-point shooter, and I came off clean,” Knight said. “I’ve had a couple of looks in the past couple of games where I came off clean. They left me so I just shot it and it went in. It’s a shot I shoot all the time, and it was a blessing to be able to make it.”
Milwaukee still needed a defensive stop to force overtime, as Wizards guard John Wall drove and dished to Chris Singleton for a corner 3-pointer that missed.
The Bucks held the Wizards without a field goal for the final 54 seconds of regulation and the entire overtime period. Washington’s only points in overtime came from three Trevor Ariza free throws after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Mayo.
“I thought they did a really good job, particularly defensively in the overtime,” Drew said. “I think they really locked in. When we came to the bench after Brandon hit the shot, the mindset was to really lock in and get it done on the defensive end.”
After going up 106-102 early in overtime, the Bucks had four possessions to extend their lead but couldn’t. Ariza’s three free throws cut the lead to 106-105 before Knight hit a tough jumper over the helping Marcin Gortat to put the Bucks up by three with 21.1 left.
“We set a high pick-and-roll and waited for the shot clock to go down,” Knight said. “I came off again clean. It was a shot that I take and I can make. I just shot it with confidence.”
Wall and Ariza then ran into each other and turned the ball over on the ensuing possession as the Bucks switched on the pick-and-roll. Knight hit one of two free throws on the other end to secure the win.
While Knight finished with 20 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals, Middleton scored 20 of his career-high 29 points in the first half to give the Bucks a double-digit halftime lead.
“Khris can really shoot the ball,” Drew said. “He’s a very good offensive player. He’s shown the ability to make shots, he’s shown the ability to take it off the dribble. He’s a guy that when he gets his feet set, every shot he takes you think is going in.
“I thought he did a really good job not forcing the issue offensively. He just allowed the game to come to him. When he got his hands on it and got good looks, he let it go.”
John Henson battled a physical Washington frontline to score 19 points with 17 rebounds, while Mayo finished with 17 points to help the Bucks to their fourth win.
“We’ve gave away a couple of wins this season,” Knight said. “We’re hurt right now but I think our main thing is just to fight. No matter what it is, as professionals representing Milwaukee, we just want to fight each and every game and continue to get better.”