MILWAUKEE -- Lessons in what not to do when you have a champ on the ropes.
Do not step into the lane before the basketball has touched the rim on a free throw.
Do not miss free throws.
Do not hold out your best with everything on the line.
Do not allow champ's best two knockout chances.
Do not not score for the last 1:23.
Do not let the champ bring the refs.
To expand: The Bucks were whistled for two lane violations in regulation, leading to two extra points. They missed two free throws in the final minute of overtime. They had defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute planted on the bench when Kobe Bryant planted the game-winning shot at the buzzer. They let the aforementioned Bryant two chances from his same sweet spot, once in regulation and again in overtime. They led 106-100 with 1:23 to go and didn't score again, missing all three field goals and both free throws. And they just couldn't get a call all along.
So all you can do now is cling to the implication of all this: The Bucks had the champs on the ropes.
And oh, how they did.
Michael Redd. Vintage. For better and worse.
But focus on the better, because this was much better than what we've seen, what we reasonably could have hoped for.
Mike came off the bench and came out firing.
In an offense-for-defense substitution, he came in for Luc Mbah a Moute late in the first quarter, and didn't give Scott Skiles too many reasons to take him out thereafter.
He played 35 minutes, scoring a team-high 25 points, pulling down seven boards, dishing out four assists (with just a single turnover) and even led the Bucks with a couple steals. His shot selection was classically questionable -- among the misfires included a pair of quick threes in the final minutes of regulation as Milwaukee watched the Lakers come back to tie -- and no one takes contested shots or ones early in the shot clock like he does.
He's is the wild card on this team going forward. Without him, the Bucks have proven they can do just fine, probably find a way into the playoffs. With a vintage Redd though, they become a dangerous team, one with still enough defense and also plenty of offense.
Oh, and he dunked tonight. With two hands. And he is reportedly just swell.
Ersan Ilyasova. He lost the personal power forward rebounding battle to Pau Gasol by a 22-5 count. And he has a Bad dedicated all unto himself.
But he also went all Turk Nowitzki on the Lake Show, and that's a game-changer.
Lots of proud moments in this one, but Ersan had my play of the night: With things swinging in L.A.'s favor and the Bucks down 76-74, Ilyasova got the ball on the perimeter against Kobe. Bryant bumped into Ersan, making a noticeable bit of contact that physically moved him. With the crowd already in a bit of a frenzy due to the lack of calls, the crowd got into a bit more of a frenzy. Not Turk. He drilled a fadeaway three on Kobe to give the Bucks the lead back.
Ersan carried the offensive load among starters for Milwaukee, dropping a season high 24 points on a tidy 10-18 from the field and 3-7 from outside.
Not a night without troubles, and I'll get to that, but he was on the court for a team-high 43 minutes for many reasons.
Andrew Bogut. 'Drew won the battles of 'Drews, that much is certain, no small feat against one of the NBA's best in Bynum.
Bogut finished with 16/12 and three blocks while Bynum had 8/3, statistically perhaps his most unproductive game of his most productive season to date.
2. Milwaukee scored two points in the last 3:43 of regulation and two points in the last 1:54 of overtime. Three (as you know reading here) is a Magic Number. Not two.
3. The Bucks outscored the Lakers in three of the four quarters, winning the first 20-19, the second 27-26, and the fourth 24-21. The Lakers have assembled one of the greatest rosters of talent in NBA history. The Bucks aren't bad.
17. Different night, same story. The Lakers made 17 more free throws than the Bucks, converting 29-33 compared to 12-17.
Return of Redd. Like, the real Return of Redd.
The sample size was small, but he had just shown so very little of the old Redd in six prior games that it really made you question things, like what role does he really serve on this team?
Well tonight he played his old role of lead scorer, driving to the hoop, draining a couple threes, and hitting those absurdly high degree of difficulty shots.
"I liken it a little bit to having Ben Gordon in Chicago. If a guy can score we've got to give him free reign to take shots and make big plays. Occassionally a guy is going to take a bad one because he's feeling it," Skiles said.
He can score. That's right.
And the three that gave Milwaukee a 104-100 lead with less than two to go just brought you back to a better time, before the injuries, before the contract that he could never live up to, just before, you know -- when Redd was what made the Bradley Center move.
And move it did tonight, the place shook.
Speed. Entering tonight's game, the Bucks were 4-0 against the NBA's top ten fastest-paced teams. They beat Memphis, Golden State, Denver, and New York. And also Toronto, who came in as the 11th fastest overall.
Although Brandon Jennings is changing perception, people have tended to think the Bucks cannot or do not effectively play at a fast pace. It's like good defense and fast pace are mutually exclusive.
But they aren't.
A game after winning in overtime against a very good, very slow team, the Bucks lost in overtime against a great, fast team. This team can adjust, and they are just flat-out good at home, where coincidentally they have played all these fast-paced teams.
Bradley Center drama. Squad Six has legitimately helped transform the BC into a hoppin' place.
Of course, it's been a matter of good timing, because the Bucks have given fans quite a lot to cheer about in just a month and a half.
Despite the loss, this was one you 16,309 won't soon forget. A classic, just like the classic against Portland the game before. Like the heartbreakers against Dallas and against Orlando. Like the stunner versus Denver, the laugher against Toronto, and the perfect start against Detroit.
And that Warriors game, oh that Warriors game.
I don't know if the rest of the home slate can possibly live up to this, but I'm not missing the chance to see.
A rough road (yes, calling out the refs, even Joe Forte. No, not that Joe Forte) at home.
Before the game, the Bradley Center aisles poured with Kobe Bryant jerseys. Seas of #8's, #24's, all taking pictures of #24.
While the majority cheered for Milwaukee, there was a very visible, very purple, very yellow minority. That's always tough to deal with on your home court.
And once the game started on the floor? This one felt even more like it was in Los Angeles. But not because of the fans.
The game officials (Joe Forte, Marc Davis, Phil Robinson) didn't wear Kobe jerseys themselves, but from start to finish they favored the Lakers. They were bad enough to make some calls that went in Milwaukee's favor too, but even if the score was tied after 48 minutes, nothing really evened out tonight.
The Lakers got the 50/50 calls, sure, but they also got 60-40 calls, 100/0 calls.
Just not good. The worst at the Bradley Center this season, and I've only missed a couple.
There are myriad specific instances, like when Bogut felt the slap heard 'round press row. No call. Or when Kobe got that and-one call on Bogut to bring the Lakers within one in overtime. You remember, the one when he may have traveled, may have charged, and definitely didn't get fouled.
"I don't think it was a foul on Bogut, or whoever they called the foul on. But he's (Bryant) a great player and he's going to get the benefit of the doubt," Charlie Bell said.
Nobody thought it was a foul on Bogut, except the onlybody who matters.
To make matters worse, Los Angeles felt entitled to get calls, you could see that, and despite the foul disparity in their favor, they still griped; both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom picked up technicals for dissent, and at (at least) one point Bryant gave the official the stare-down all the way down the court.
The refs were applauded a few times tonight. Sarcastically, by the crowd.
CD. Stands for Carlos Delfino, but could be Coach's Decision after this one.
Okay, probably not, but Skiles has been known to take starters and turn them into DNP-CD's (see: Bell, Charlie) without much warning.
He of the 0-2 with zero points and five turnovers, be wary.
Ersan and free throws. They don't mix.
A really nice game in a lot of ways for Ilyasova, free throws notwithstanding.
What an epically unfortunate night on free throws though. And I'm not just talking about the two free throws he missed with the Bucks up 106-102 and less than a minute to go. Those were huge, and they ultimately kept Los Angeles in it, let Los Angeles win it.
But even more bizarre and equally damaging were Ersan's two lane violations in regulation.
Two. Lane violations.
And both times, Pau Gasol had missed the free throw, tried again, and converted.
Take away those two points in regulation and the Bucks were sitting pretty.
Now, on the second one, it looked from my view that Artest had sort of shoved or dragged Ilyasova with him, and if so, we can add that to the Ref Bad. But even one made a bit of a difference. Really frustrating.