Hornets leave Bucks stunned after furious finish

Milwaukee blew a 24-point lead in a 108-106 overtime loss to the Hornets in Charlotte on Wednesday. Milwaukee's first-year head coach, Jason Kidd, hopes the loss simply serves as a learning experience for his youthful squad.

Chuck Burton/AP

For 31 minutes Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks appeared on their way to an eye-opening victory over a playoff-caliber team on opening night.

But what transpired over the final 15 minutes of regulation and the entirety of overtime is why this year’s Bucks may be more entertaining to watch than previous versions but still may struggle to win games.

Kemba Walker forced overtime by hitting a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left and then gave Charlotte a two-point lead with a jumper with 5.1 seconds remaining in the extra session.

A well-designed play allowed Khris Middleton an open look at a 3-point attempt for the win, but he couldn’t bail the Bucks out from their collapse, as Milwaukee blew a 24-point lead in a 108-106 loss to the Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena.

"This is the NBA," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "No matter if you are up 24 or down 24, you have to finish it out. This is a great learning experience for everybody — the coaching staff and the players."

The good? Milwaukee outplayed a projected playoff team for nearly three quarters of the game. The Bucks built a 14-point lead in the second quarter before taking a 57-46 lead into the break.

Led by 11 second-quarter points from O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee’s second unit outplayed Charlotte’s bench to help build the halftime advantage.

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Brandon Knight capped a 13-0 spurt for the Bucks early in the second half, as Milwaukee extended its lead to 74-50 with 6:43 left in the third quarter.

The bad? It started on the final possession of the third quarter when Walker converted a 3-point play to cut the Bucks’ 18-point lead to 83-68 heading into the final period.

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An 8-2 Charlotte run to open the fourth quarter cut Milwaukee’s lead to single digits, but a jumper by Mayo put the Bucks up 95-82 with 5:02 remaining. That would turn out to be the final field goal of regulation for the Bucks, and the Hornets capitalized.

Al Jefferson pulled the Hornets to within 95-91 with 1:47 to play, but Knight answered with two free throws on the other end.

Rebounding, an issue all night for the Bucks, really came back to bite them late. Lance Stephenson missed an 11-footer but corralled the offensive rebound and dished it out to Marvin Williams for a 3-pointer to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 97-94 with 1:04 left.

After Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hit just one of two free throws with 20.4 seconds on the clock, Knight hit a pair from the foul line to put the Bucks up 99-95 with 15.9 seconds left.

Walker then went coast to coast for an easy layup in exactly seven seconds, forcing the Bucks to hit their free throws to ice the game. Middleton ended up hitting just 1 of 2, giving the Hornets life.

Without any timeouts, Walker pushed the ball up quickly. The Bucks elected not to foul, and they eventually watched Walker convert an open 3-point look when Knight got screened off and Larry Sanders didn’t come out far enough to contest the shot attempt.

"(Fouling) was a thought, but we thought we would play it out," Kidd said. "We were switching everything. You tip your hat. Kemba made a tough shot."

Inbounding the ball with 1.6 seconds left, the Bucks didn’t even get a shot off on the final possession of regulation. After scoring 83 points through three quarters, the Bucks turned the ball over seven times and scored just 17 points in the fourth quarter.

"I think the offense got a little stagnant, and that’s on me," Kidd said. "We’ll look at the video and come back and get better.

"We had an opportunity to win. We put ourselves in a great spot there in the fourth quarter to win. They made the plays in the fourth quarter when it counted down the stretch."

Milwaukee’s field-goal drought carried over into overtime, eventually broken by a Middleton jumper. In all, the Bucks went seven minutes, 51 seconds without a field goal over the end of the fourth quarter and the beginning of overtime.

Former Bucks guard Gary Neal tied the game at 106-all with a running layup with 44.6 seconds left in overtime and then grabbed the rebound after a Jabari Parker miss on the other end.

With the shot clock expiring, Walker drilled a 21-foot jumper over Knight to give the Hornets the lead with 5.1 seconds to play. The Bucks got a great look out of the timeout, but Middleton couldn’t hit the wide-open shot.

Knight led the Bucks with 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Middleton and Mayo each scored 17 points. Larry Sanders and Giannis Antetokounmpo chipped in 10 points apiece.

Walker scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, leading Charlotte’s comeback with nine points in the fourth quarter. Williams added 19 points, while Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points and eight rebounds.

"There were a lot of positives out of tonight’s game," Kidd said. "We still have a long ways to go. Being able to execute down the stretch is something we work on in practice. Khris got a great look."

"If we can continue to build on this, we are moving in the right direction."

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