MILWAUKEE -- All is well that ends well.
Destined for an anticlimactic finish to the home schedule, the Bucks appeared ready to take anticlimacticism (yes) to a new level with a dreary start that saw them trail by double-digits early in the second quarter against a team that suited up eight players. A team that started one regular starter. A team that had five road wins in more than five months. It seemed that the Bucks, who spent the season shocking us with new lows, had saved their worst for the last game at the Bradley Center: Brandon Jennings threw a shot that hit the top of the backboard for a classic 24-second violation. The PA announcer proclaimed, "Alexis Ajinca for three." Chris Douglas-Roberts fell over. Multiple Raptors flew in for the same alley-oop.
Thankfully, it was the Infamous Milwaukee Bucks who held the Raptors down for an exciting 15-0 run late in the last game at the BC this season, instead of the other, usual way around. The defense was stout, Jennings was the gamebreaker, and the fans most certainly appreciated the comeback on Fan Appreciation Night.
But after the game, there were unusual multiple-second pauses between questions asked by reporters at the final home presser with Scott Skiles. The reporters were quiet, but it was not because there were no questions. Rather, because we all knew -- Skiles, the players, the media -- there were still no new answers.
Because -- no matter this win, no matter what goes down in OKC on Wednesday -- this season?
All is not well that ends well.
Brandon Jennings. Turned the night with three straight fastbreak scores in the fourth quarter as the Bucks went from down 77-75 to up 81-77, starting with a polite lay-in and finishing with a two-handed dunk. Jerryd Bayless committed three straight turnovers right in the same stretch, and Jennings ended up winning the point guard battle after a smoking start by Bayless.
Drew Gooden. Another swell game starting at center, posting a team-high five assists after dropping 13 dimes in his last try. Also shut the door on Toronto with five straight points as the Bucks pulled away from 86-84 to 91-84 late in the fourth. He made scoring in the halfcourt in the clutch look simple, and it really sort of was against Toronto, but this late-season bloom makes you wonder if the team might try a Jennings/Salmons/Delfino/Gooden/Bogut lineup next opening night, just as they did this season -- although this season did nothing to clarify whether Bogut and Gooden possess chemistry in the frontcourt together.
John Salmons. A cruel character twist in the final pages of the season, we have reached the point where John's successes feel more like something to hold against him than anything else. This two-game 23-32 (.719) shooting run has been a sight to behold, but it also has come at home against the two very worst defensive teams in the entire NBA in Cleveland and Toronto.
22-10. The Bucks outscored the Raptors 22-10 on the fastbreak. Entering tonight, Toronto ranked second in fastbreak points while Milwaukee ranked last.
0-10. Coach Skiles played all 12 eligibles tonight, even giving Chris Douglas-Roberts eight minutes in the second quarter that calmed the game down a bit for the better. But the long bench did manage to miss all ten of its three-pointers (Ilyasova 0-3, Redd 0-3, Dooling 0-2, Douglas-Roberts 1, Maggette 0-1).
10. One game after holding Cleveland's starting frontline of Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden without a single offensive rebound, Joey Dorsey pulled in 10 offensive rebounds, and 20 total.
Victory. As ungratifying as this win is (and it is quite ungratifying), a loss would have been much worse.
Pleasant disappointments. These sparkling late-season performances by John Salmons and Drew Gooden might be nothing more than setting us up for more disappointment next season. But they did not sign one-year contracts, so there is really no point in hoping for anything except success from them -- whether the Bucks keeps them or not, they suit the team best by playing well as long as they are here.
Redd. Before the game, Coach Skiles was asked if this might be a game where he gives Michael Redd extended minutes, given that this could be his last game for Milwaukee in Milwaukee. After a couple seconds of pause, Skiles (always the sentimental type) answered:
We're going to try to win the game.
The insinuation (and that is too light of a word, because with Skiles it's all very direct) is that he would give no consideration whatsoever to playing Redd merely because it might be his last game in this uniform in this city.
And then they did win the game. And Redd played. And it was not a pretty win, and it was not a pretty Redd, but it was a win and it was Redd. And that was pretty.
Redd is the only player from the 2000 draft still with the same team, and no one from that draft class delivered a better career than the 43rd overall choice. You can idealize defense over offense, but a bunch of his much-chastised offense-only teams won more than this current defense-only outfit. Redd was a great shooter, a great scorer, and honestly, one of the greatest Bucks of all-time. After the game, Redd:
It's been a glorious 11 years. I wouldn't trade anything. I've just had a tremendous journey over these 11 years. They've seen me grow up. I've been here since I was 20 years old. It's been an amazing journey. Some ups, some downs. But through it all, the fans have been great, the organization has been great, to my family, and me also.
93-86. So the Bucks were missing their best player, but they were also pretty much completely healthy aside from that. That they required a fourth quarter comeback to eke out a win against one of the weakest, thinnest NBA rosters in recent memory was hardly the stuff inspiration is made of.
Playing the lottery. With D.J. Augustin's game-winner against New Jersey, a Milwaukee loss would have tied Bucks and Bobcats going into their respective finales on Wednesdays. Instead, the Bucks are up by a game for the pretend nine seed in the East, and down by a game for the actual nine spot in the lottery.
No more games in Milwaukee until October. Always a downer, regardless.