Defensive adjustments save game for Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Three weeks ago, Bucks coach Scott Skiles didn’t have an answer for why his team lost to the Boston Celtics. Simply, Boston won that night because it made plays went it counted.
Saturday night, it was Celtics coach Doc Rivers doing the hat tipping. It was the Bucks who made the big plays this time around, earning a much-needed 91-88 victory.
Early on, it appeared as if the wheels had completely fallen off of a team that once was 6-2. Turnovers and bad possessions led to easy baskets for Boston and a 17-0 Celtics lead. Skiles called it the “lull them to sleep strategy.”
At that time, it looked more like the sleep-walking strategy. But Milwaukee fought back to make it a one-point game in the half.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Bucks found themselves in the exact same situation they were on Nov. 10: locked in a close game with Boston.
This time they made plays, and this time there was a new variable helping to slow Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from taking over the game as they did three weeks ago: defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
After missing the first 14 games of the season recovering from offseason knee surgery, Mbah a Moute was limited in the minutes he could play, but he certainly made an impact.
Burned badly in the last matchup and part of Saturday’s game by Terry and Pierce on the pick-and-roll, Skiles turned to Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels to shut it down. Daniels started on Pierce and Mbah a Moute on Terry, but they switched on the screen.
Late in the game, Mbah a Moute locked down Pierce and forced a tough shot and a miss, giving the Bucks the ball back down, 88-87, with 36.8 seconds left.
“We had two like-sized guys you can switch,” Skiles said. “In a game like that, you know Luc is not going to lose his man, he’s not going to turn his head and ball watch and be burned by a screen. You can’t always do it.”
Daniels, who made his first start of the season in place of Tobias Harris, praised his coach for the decision.
“That was big,” Daniels said. “That was a play that was giving them good looks at the basket on that end. Good job to him sticking Luc in there and Luc coming in his first game back and being able to play the defense he played tonight.”
That stop, which the Bucks weren’t able to get when it lost to Boston on Nov. 10, led to a beautiful offensive possession on the other end. Instead of forcing a shot, Monta Ellis drove and found Daniels in the corner. And again, instead of forcing something, Daniels kicked it to Jennings, who then nailed an open three-pointer to give the Bucks the lead with 24 seconds left.
“I thought we made a couple of real good decisions right there,” Skiles said. “We were trying to get Monta coming off the screen and expose their help a little bit, and Monta made a nice read and hit Marquis and he made another nice read and hit Brandon. We got the ball moving side to side, which is kind of what we wanted there. We wanted a good look at the basket, and we were able to get one with a good shooter.”
After that, it was time for Larry Sanders to seal up a fantastic two-day stretch. Sanders went up strong for a rebound of Terry’s missed three-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two from the line, but Pierce and Terry missed tying shots at the end.
A day after his triple-double, Sanders led the Bucks with 18 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots. And for the second straight game, he wasn’t in foul trouble.
Skiles gave Sanders a chance to start Saturday night, but he declined. He wanted to stay in his bench role and provide a spark.
“I embrace the role of coming off the bench and providing energy, whether we are up or down,” Sanders said. “Coming off the bench is the role that I plan on staying in.”
Rivers, who has a player in Terry who is similar to Sanders in his desire to come off the bench, had very complimentary things to say about the third-year pro.
“He reminds you a lot of those players who just play hard,” Rivers said. “I think a lot of high-energy players like him are also high I.Q. players. I think that just because they don’t have the ball or aren’t point guards doesn’t mean that they are not smart players. Guys like him are always going to play with that motor, with that energy. Larry is someone that you need to look out for.”
Many factors contributed to a resilient win. Instead of dogging it after falling down by 17 early, Milwaukee earned a big win to move to 8-7 and keep a share of first place in the Central Division.
However, with a two-game road trip to New Orleans and San Antonio looming, the Bucks might want to ditch the “lull them to sleep strategy.” It probably won’t work too often.
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