Spurs regroup, send Bucks back to .500 mark
MILWAUKEE — During his pregame meeting with the media, a surprisingly chummy Gregg Popovich was asked if he needed to address his veteran-laden team after an embarrassing loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday.
"They know I hate them," Popovich said with a smile. "With every fiber in my body, I hate them all. One through 15."
While the Hall of Fame coach was only kidding, he knew not much had to be said.
San Antonio got the message loud and clear, as the defending NBA champions sent the Milwaukee Bucks further into tailspin with a relatively easy 114-103 victory Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Bucks have lost 11 of their last 15 games to fall to .500 (34-34) for the first time since Jan. 25.
"Pop is always going to have his guys ready," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "They are the world champs. I don’t think anybody was surprised they played well tonight."
For Milwaukee, San Antonio’s worst loss of the season came at a poor time. The Spurs were motivated Wednesday, which meant trouble for a reeling Bucks team. Had San Antonio taken care of business against the lowly Knicks, Popovich may have opted to rest Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in the second game of a back-to-back.
Instead, the future Hall of Famers combined for 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting.
"We tried to replay the game last night and it was just weird," Parker said. "We do the same stuff every time. It’s the same plays. I don’t know.
"Sometimes, basketball is weird. Tonight we shot the ball better and that helps."
San Antonio withstood Milwaukee’s quick start to pull to within one at the end of the first quarter. Led by a combined 17 points from Danny Green and Boris Diaw, the Spurs outscored the Bucks, 36-26, in the second quarter to lead 63-54 at the break.
A 13-3 run by the Spurs to start the second half left the Bucks in a 76-57 hole with 8:56 left in the third quarter.
"You look at that second quarter, I think we gave up 30-something points," Kidd said. "They took control of the game at that point. We were fighting uphill. They knocked down a lot a 3s tonight. Our communication on defense wasn’t at its best tonight and they took advantage of it."
With the Bucks down eight late in the third, Jerryd Bayless had a 3-point attempt rattle in and out. Off an offensive rebound, Marco Belinelli sunk a triple on the other end for what was a six-point swing at the end of the quarter.
Milwaukee was within 10 points with 8:56 to play with a chance to cut further into the deficit when rookie Tyler Ennis settled for a jump shot in transition. On the ensuing Spurs possession, Bayless committed a flagrant-1 foul on Belinelli while he was attempting a 3-point shot.
Belinelli hit all three free throws, which all but ended any chance the Bucks had at a comeback.
"These are the world champs," Kidd said. "They move the ball as well as anyone. They shot the 3 extremely well. They’ve seen everything.
"We got some stops and got it to 10 with the ball. We could have cut it to eight or seven and we took a jump shot. We have to understand that when we get stops the ball is drive-able. We have to work the clock. Tyler (Ennis) came down, it isn’t just his fault, but he came down and took a rookie shot."
Milwaukee’s stronghold on a playoff spot is suddenly slipping away with 14 games to play. Miami pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Bucks for the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference with a victory over Portland on Wednesday.
Boston and Indiana lost Wednesday, leaving the two teams tied for the final playoff spot, 3 1/2 games back of Milwaukee.
"Obviously when you’re on this kind of streak it can get tricky," Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. "You have to stick together even more. That’s why you say a team is a team. When you go through a (streak) like this it’s always important to stay together. It’s easy to give up.
"We kind of went through it last year. We lost a couple of games in a row and everyone was kind of going different directions. Now more than ever we have to listen to each other more, listen to coaches and hopefully try to bend away from our losing streak."
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