MILWAUKEE -- Usually, right around this time of the year as a Bucks fan, you just want the regular season to end, please.
The weather warms up, the Bradley Center dies down, quarters feel like halves, and still you put up with it even as hope never springs eternal in Spring.
You know the time -- when you want the team to win... but you don't really want them to get carried away and lose too many of those ping-pong balls. So it gets awkward. And then they lose anyway, just to show that even your ambivalence doesn't matter.
This year? These five games in eight days hardly seem like enough. Off days really do feel off.
And the game nights just keep getting better, as seemingly the only question afterward is deciding which recent win is the best. What a dilemma. With this comeback victory complete, the Bucks have now reeled off three straight wins while not exactly playing their best ball. And the last two, against two of the class teams in The Association.
The Hawks jumped to a 7-0 lead, reminiscent of their 12-2 start in Atlanta, but also similarly the Bucks came right back, even leading by three points after one quarter. But it unraveled in the second quarter, as Andrew Bogut played 1:38 and the Hawks just kept scoring throughout all 12:00. Jamal Crawford was absolutely housin' and Mike Bibby nailed a three at the halftime buzzer for good measure to give the Hawks a nine-point advantage.
The teams mostly traded baskets in the third quarter, not good enough. But when it was time to shine in the fourth, John Salmons wasn't just good enough either, he was positively great. Luke Ridnour was first-rate as well, but this was about Salmons, who swished a three to start the quarter, sealed the game with free throws down the stretch, and turned the game by scoring seven points in less than a minute to make an 84-82 deficit an 89-86 lead with 6:52 to go.
Atlanta would tie, but they would not lead again, as Luc Mbah a Moute defended Joe Johnson into two late misses and Jamal Crawford, strange as it seems, missed badly at the buzzer.
And in a way, you do want the regular season to just end. Just for a very, very different reason than usual...
John Salmons. Typifying the team and season as a whole, just when you don't think it can get any better, it does. And Salmons did.
After burning through the west with clutch performances in Sacramento and Denver, the heaven-sent two guard came home and raised the stakes even higher, dropping 16 fourth-quarter points to deliver yet another win. That makes 14 wins in 16 games as a Buck, and yes I'm counting. He debuted here more than a month ago, and has lost twice. This is not solely his work, but certainly not coincidental.
After losing late in Atlanta, Salmons matched Hawk hero Joe Johnson this time and then some. He started the fourth quarter with a three, closed the game at the line (again), and made all sorts of jumpers and drives in between.
Tied a season-high with 32 points on 12-19 from the field, 3-6 on threes, and a spotless 5-5 at the stripe. A real showstopper this evening.
Luke Ridnour. Brandon Jennings just didn't have it tonight. Doesn't mean he is a bad player, but he was bad tonight -- not only was his shot not falling, he also wasn't setting others up.
And so here is the luxury of having two good point guards. Luke flipped back the calendar a couple pages to January and just nailed this game in every way right when the Bucks needed him to do so.
Ridnour (18 points and 8 assists on 7-9 shooting and 3-3 on threes) was the firecracker off the bench who ended up besting soon-to-be Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford (21 points and 3 assists on 9-16 shooting and 3-6 on threes).
Carlos Delfino. Very active from the tip, Carlos was happy to handle the ball on a night when the rook point guard didn't want much to do with anything basketball-related. Delfino kept the team afloat early, did all he could to inspirit the team throughout, and stayed with it late.
Active defensively, aggressive on the glass, and a ready playmaker, Delfino played more than anyone -- 43 minutes -- for good reason. Start to finish, he was ready.
Like Salmons, he made three from outside (3-9), and was perfect at the line (6-6). Overall, 23/9/5. And in these last two games, two of the biggest wins of the season, Delfino has been absolutely paramount.
22. The Bucks scored 22 points in the second quarter. Then they scored 22 points in the third quarter. And then the Bucks scored 22 points in the first five minutes and eight seconds of the fourth quarter. Like, woah.
2/3/1. Starting power forwards Marvin Williams and Luc Mbah a Moute each put up two points, three rebounds, and one assist. Williams scored 26 points last night. And while rarely the box score star, The Principal was plenty busy as usual, guarding Josh Smith in the beginning and Joe Johnson at the end.
8. Eight turnovers for each team, and while the Hawks made four more field goals (41-37), the Bucks racked up four more assists (19-15).
Call it a comeback. Atlanta came into Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back, but also on a real high: Last night, the Hawks came back from 14 points down to beat the Spurs, clinching a playoff berth in the process. It was their fifth win in six games.
So it looked bleak when good offense beat good defense as the Hawks exploded for 34 second-quarter points. Jennings benched, Bogut mostly missing, Crawford unconscionable, and down nine at half was no recipe for success.
In Atlanta a month and a half ago, the Hawks flew to a big early lead, the Bucks came back, lost it a bit at the end of regulation, went up again, and ultimately completely lost it in overtime. Tonight Milwaukee came back again, this time from 12 points down, but this time they held on and avoided overtime. A good thing, because overtime has not been their time.
On even when off. And off even when on, for Atlanta. With the ball in play, the Hawks were can't-miss (41-78, .526). Remember that Houston game at home? Not quite like that, but in the same direction, it seemed.
The Hawks were on point shooting the ball all game long, aside from the free throw line (6-13) anyway.
Jumpers, from beyond the arc (7-17, .412), it was all good. At one point in the third quarter when Joe Johnson missed a difficult fadeaway jumper, the crowd let out a real clap and cheer. Makes sense, since the game was in Milwaukee. Only it had the feel of a sarcastic cheer, like what crowds do when a referee finally gives the home team a call. It was like, thank you, Hawks, for finally not being so ridiculous, for finally missing a shot. I don't think I've ever heard that before in a situation like that.
So this wasn't like the Denver game. The Hawks didn't play their best, but they played like the Hawks. Which is to say, they played like a very good team.
Meanwhile, the Bucks suffered through off-games from not merely their starting point guard and starting center, but the two faces of the franchise.
Salmons v. Atlanta. Just like when I noted Bogut v. Boston as a Good in the win over the Celtics at the BC, I can't help but be happy to see Salmons score 32 points again versus Atlanta. Considering these are the two likely playoff possibilities, it's good to see certain stars come out to play against the Celtics and Hawks.
THREE TWO BAD
1/5. Andrew Bogut extended his block streak with a single swat, but was blocked five times, mostly by Josh Smith.
Brandon. After 13 threes in the last three games, Young Buck is forgiven for an off shooting night. But 1-8 (0-3 on threes), one assist, and zero rebounds is pushing it. Statistically, his most empty game of his young NBA career.