Bucks’ late-game execution still lacking

Larry Sanders contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds, but missed a potentially game-tying last-second 3-pointer in Wednesday's loss.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — No, Larry Drew didn’t draw up a play to get Larry Sanders an open look at a game-tying 3-pointer. But because of a poor execution, that’s exactly what Milwaukee’s hopes came down to Wednesday night.

Sanders missed with six seconds left to seal the Bucks’ seventh consecutive defeat, a 82-77 loss at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in front of a scarce announced crowd of 11,379 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Now 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in his career, Sanders was clearly not the guy the Bucks wanted shooting the ball in that situation. A lineup of Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova and Sanders was on the floor after the timeout with 11.1 seconds left, leaving multiple shooters on the bench.

"I thought he should have been in the game," Bucks coach Larry Drew said of Sanders. "It was just a poorly executed play. He was in there to do one thing and one thing only: to free up, and we didn’t execute the play.

"He’s not a 3-point shooter. He should never be in that position. Had we executed the play, we would have gotten a shot from one of the three guys that were in the game. He was not an option the last play of the game for a three."

The Bucks used a late 10-2 run to cut a 78-67 deficit with 3:47 to play down to three. Knight got bottled up near the foul line and had to fight out of a mess and head near halfcourt just to be able to dish the ball to Sanders.

Sanders caught the ball, turned and fired, later admitting he had no idea there was still six seconds left on the clock.

"It was a gate play," Sanders said. "They sat on the gate so we couldn’t close it up. Brandon got it and was kind of dislodged. They doubled him and I screened for him. He passed it back. I was wide open. We made the best out of it. It wasn’t exactly what was supposed to happen but we got an open look at the basket. I think that’s what we wanted."

Drew said there were three options on the play, presumably Knight followed by either Ilyasova or Ridnour.

"I think the ball got deflected and that made it more of a fiasco," Ridnour said. "But it’s never really the last play of the game."

Knight was clearly the focus of the Grizzlies defense, as he had 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting and five 3-pointers on Wednesday night. The Bucks would have loved to get him the tying try, but Memphis had that bottled up. Without many shooters on the court, the Grizzlies could focus on Knight.

"The play was for me to, I guess, come up and get it at the top, hopefully looking for an open 3 or something where I had an opportunity to get a shot off," Knight said. "I think they played it pretty well. They closed up the gap. I was able to come to the ball.

"I had an option for Ersan to come off to the other side that wasn’t really there. They put me in a situation where I had to get the ball out of my hands and Larry caught it with time. He shot a shot. It wasn’t what we were looking for, but they did a good job taking away our best options. If we could go back and do it over, we’d all do it differently, of course. But they did a good job of defending."

The Bucks survived droughts of 15 and 12 missed field goals in a row to be in the game, including not hitting a field goal for 10 minutes and two seconds during the first and second quarter.

Memphis capitalized on the first drought to turn an 8-1 Bucks lead into a 25-13 lead of its own. When Milwaukee missed 12 straight over the third and fourth quarters, the Grizzlies went on a 12-0 run.

"I think when we get down and have to fight back, it takes a lot out of you," Sanders said. "You get down to these situations and you can’t muster up the energy to win it full speed. You try to nip the first part in the bud and maybe we won’t have so many late-game situations."

Drew called the Bucks late-game execution this season "deficient" and that continued Wednesday. Milwaukee has had chances to improve upon its 7-31 record simply by executing in final possessions of games.

Grizzlies 82, Bucks 77

"It’s frustrating, of course," Knight said. "Everybody at this level has won at some point in their life and is accustomed to winning. It’s frustrating, but we have to keep pushing ahead and not buy into what our record is but continue to play hard."

Neal buried on bench: Veteran guard Gary Neal did not play for the fifth consecutive game Wednesday and hasn’t appeared in a game since getting into a locker-room argument with Larry Sanders in Phoenix on Jan. 4.

Neal, who signed with the Bucks as a free agent this past summer, is averaging 10.4 points while shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.

"The Phoenix incident has nothing to do with it," Drew said. "It’s just a coach’s decision. I just can’t play everybody. I’ve got to find a consistency with some of these minutes as far as guys coming off the bench. It’s just what the situation is.

"Gary has been really good every day. Just engaging with everything we’re doing. Hopefully, or if things change, I certainly want to get him in there. But then again, I can’t play everybody."

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