The Bucks apparently enjoyed choking away a 17 point lead against the Knicks in New York in November, because they duplicated that feat on Saturday night at the BC, falling 99-98 (recap / video). Larry Krystkowiak made the mind-boggling decision to leave Michael Ruffin in the game with the Bucks trailing by one with 5.8 seconds left, and sure enough it was Ruffin--the Bucks' least talented offensive player--who wound up throwing a rushed five footer off the glass at the horn. The Knicks had not only lost eight straight, but lost last night in OT to the Spurs. Mo Williams missed the game with the flu.
- Charlie Villanueva. Apparently Charlie hates being a sixth man, because he turned in his third straight solid outing as a starter, scoring 21 points along with 13 rebounds and a couple blocks. He was instrumental in the Bucks' third quarter, scoring 12 points to help the Bucks extend their lead to as many as 17. In three starts he's now averaging 17.7 ppg and 12 rpg. In case you're wondering, Zach Randolph and his $15 million a year contract had 12/10, but David Lee owned CV in the fourth quarter.
- Mike Redd. Redd returned from injury to score 21 along with five assists, looking just fine after missing six games with a knee strain. Junior Bridgeman was in the house to re-dedicate his retired jersey, and he also got a chance to see Redd pass him on the all-time scoring list.
- Desmond Mason. Mason has looked lively since returning from his thumb injury, and he was particularly aggressive tonight, attacking the rim early and often while racking up 15 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. He was particularly good in the third quarter when he scored eight points in the Bucks' 23-4 run that gave them an 81-64 lead. So naturally he wasn't seen from again after he left the game with 11 minutes remaining.
- 35-17. Trailing 81-64 with just over two minutes left in the third, the Knicks woke up thanks to the play of Jamal Crawford (30 points), David (17/9) and Malik Rose (7/5 and game-high +14). They immediately went on a 10-0 run to end the third, and the trio then combined for 22 in the fourth. Lee dominated in the decisive quarter, scoring eight points while holding Villanueva scoreless.
- Six. Bogut's sixth foul sent him packing with two minutes left, and his absence cleared the way for Krystkowiak's inexplicable decision to leave Mike Ruffin in on the final possession. Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph were only bit players after some early success, but Bogut's own foul trouble kept him on the sidelines for much of the night, limiting him to 9 points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks in 27 minutes. The Knicks doubled Bogut early in the post, helping limit the Aussie to just seven shots all night.
- 77.8% Charlie Bell probably should have been listed among our "Three Bucks," so let's acknowledge his (rare) hot shooting night (7/9 fg, 17 points) and seven assists. Bell also had a huge steal and breakaway layup in the final minute that brought the Bucks within one.
- Villanueva flipping the switch. In all likelihood he's only improving his trade value, but you have to tip your hat to Charlie Villanueva's play since becoming a starter. He's now had two double-doubles in three games after racking up just one in his first 45 games. Of course it's also frustrating to watch CV play well after seeing it so rarely in the first half of the season.
- Under pressure. Yes, the Bucks again wilted under late-game pressure, but it was their pressuring defense that staked them to their 17-point lead late in the third. Villanueva, Mason, Bell, Ivey and Ruffin did most of the damage as Redd and Bogut watched from the bench. The Bucks' halfcourt style simply didn't work in the first half of the season, so expect the Bucks to use more gimmicks from here on out--playing lots of zone, pressuring in the backcourt, and trying to run off misses and turnovers.
- Junior Bridgeman. Bridgeman was in town to see his retired number re-dedicated, and the Bucks probably could have used him on the court in the fourth quarter. One of the all-time Buck greats, Junior Bridgeman has been as successful post-NBA as he was during his 12-season NBA career--which is saying a lot. He is the owner/operator of more than 200 Wendy's and Chili's restaurants and was recently named to the board of the PGA of America.
- Larry Krystkowiak. It's rather incomprehensible that Krystkowiak left Ruffin in for the final play, and looking through the JS game recaps I'm shocked more isn't being made out of this. To Ruffin's credit, he's shooting a career-high 52% from the field this year and he wouldn't have been playing if not for Bogut fouling out late in the game, but Ruffin's a defensive specialist who has no business being on the court in an offense-only situation. So given how frequently plays break down late in games, why on earth would you put a guy out there whom John Hollinger has described as "one of the least effective offensive players to ever play the game"? You'll have to ask the head coach. The Bucks had two stoppages of play--a timeout with 5.8 seconds left and a Knicks foul with 4.2 seconds left--where they could have put in any number of players who would have been better options offensively. Yi, Voskuhl and even Gadzuric represent far better choices if Krystkowiak was insistent on keeping another big on the court, yet Krystkowiak was asleep at the wheel in a crucial moment. In the end you feel bad for Ruffin, who finished the game a +10 and deserved better than to be put in a position he's clearly not suited for.
- Larry Krystkowiak. We hate to pick on Krysko, but sometimes you have to. Aside from the way the game ended, you also wonder where Desmond Mason was down the stretch. Mason was having a fantastic game but went to the bench with 11 minutes remaining as the Bucks went with a Bell/Ivey/Redd lineup for most of the fourth. The Bucks desperately need to cash in on their favorable home schedule, and losing to a team that's actually beneath them in the Eastern Conference standings isn't a great start.
- That Zach Randolph trade. Yeah, still not a fan of that proposal. Anyone paying attention would have seen clearly in the second half that the Knicks are a better team with David Lee on the court, making it no shock that the Knicks have been desperate to trade Randolph just six months after acquiring him. Randolph is a load down low, but Charlie Villanueva playing with some passion looks a lot more attractive than Randolph and his max contract.