Say what you want about the talent gap between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, but rarely do their clashes lack for memories.
The Bucks gradually turned a 17-0 game-starting Celtics lead into a 91-88 victory that required some late game heroics on both ends. Milwaukee was playing without its offensive spark plugs (Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih), but the bench was just as critical a part of this win as any other before it.
Thanks to a bevy of turnovers, miscommunication, and quite possibly the worst offensive lineup Scott Skiles has ever crafted (Marquis Daniels, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson all started), the Bucks fell behind 27-11 after the first quarter. By the quarter's end, the Bucks had tallied more turnovers (7) than baskets (5 - free throws included). The general lack of offensive threats allowed Boston to shift big men to the edge of the perimeter, denying Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis easy angles to the basket and forcing them into awkward shot situations.
However, the illness that afflicted the Bucks' offense simply required a Tube Man prescription, featuring doses of Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova. Combining for 16 total points, the frontcourt duo helped spark the Bucks' transition offense in the second, aggressively taking the ball inside, drawing fouls, and forcing Boston's defense to play honest. In turn, that spread the floor up for Jennings (7 pts, 3-5 fg, 1-1 3fg), and opened the door for Milwaukee to take its first lead of the game by the 10:30 mark in the third quarter.
After Sanders extended the lead to three by hitting one of two free throws on a loose ball foul with seconds remaining, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce each had a chance to tie the game, but failed thanks to solid perimeter defense from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels.
A night after his first career triple-double, Sanders led the Bucks with a career-high 18 points (7-11 fg, 4-5 ft), 16 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Monta Ellis (17 pts, 6-20 fg, 5-5 ft, 7 asts, 4 rbs) and Jennings (13 pts, 5-12 fg, 3-5 3fg, 6 rbs, 2 asts) got their expected share of shots, and Ersan Ilyasova chipped in a much needed 15 points (5-11 fg, 1-3 3fg, 4-5 ft), 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Overall, the Bucks shot better than the Celtics (45.6% fg vs. 41.5% fg), and were more advantageous with turnovers, causing 16 and scoring 21 points off the flip in possession. Milwaukee lost the rebounding battle 43-42, and had problems converting in the paint (34 points, 17-41 fg). Still, the offense delivered when it was needed most, pushing the Bucks' record back over .500 at 8-7 and sending the team on next week's road trip with a solid win over a playoff-caliber team.
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