The Milwaukee Bucks have not won a road game in Phoenix since February 21, 1987. Let's explore the dubious streak by focusing on the last road win against the Suns.
Did you know that we are in the thick of a 9,462-day drought in Arizona? The Milwaukee Bucks have lost 24 consecutive road games against the Phoenix Suns, and prior to the 24th such loss last season I posted a retro recap of Milwaukee's last road win in Phoenix -- a 115-107 victory on Feb. 21, 1987. Hopefully the Bucks can take care of business at the US Airways Arena on Thursday night (8 p.m. CT) and put an end to my new annual tradition.
I did some digging in the box scores and on Internet archives last year, and here is my the retro recap of Milwaukee's last win in Phoenix from 1987 (republished from last year).
Holy Fast Basketball, Batman! The first thing that jumped off the page when looking at the Basketball-Reference box score for this game was the pace at which the contest was played. The estimate of 105 possessions signals a speed we have not seen in the NBA for quite a while. Just for some perspective, only one team in the last fifteen years has even cracked the century mark for average pace ('09-10 Golden State Warriors at 100.4), according to Basketball-Reference.
For anyone who wishes that the current game featured more up-and-down action, this is the bygone era you would have loved. In the 1986-87 season alone, 16 teams had an average pace above 100. Think about that for a second. Oh, by the way, while you were thinking, a team from the 86-87 season would have already used their possession and given up a bucket on the other end.
Oldies But Goodies. The Bucks were once a proud franchise with a strong winning tradition. It might be difficult for younger fans to appreciate -- and since I had yet to celebrate my second birthday when the Bucks last won in the state of Arizona I suppose I am included -- but Milwaukee fans once expected the team to win on most nights. The 115-107 win over the Suns pushed the '86-87 squad's record to 35-21 on the way to a 50-32 finish and an appearance in the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they lost in seven games to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.
What Happened In The Game. Ten-year veteran guard John Lucas and fourth-year swingman Ricky Pierce had big nights for the Bucks, but the team did get off to a slow start that would seem familiar to fans of the current team. The Bucks only scored 4 points in the first four minutes of action (note the pace factoids from above to get a sense of this ineptitude) and fell behind 39-33 at the end of the first quarter. The Bucks had a hard time stopping Larry Nance (21 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 67.7% TS), and they let Walter Davis do some volume scoring (27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 turnovers, 54.5% TS).
They still rallied behind Lucas (24 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 62.1% TS) and Pierce (22 points, 8 rebounds, 66.6% TS) to take a late 109-95 lead with only 87 seconds left in the game. Ricky Pierce had flu-like symptoms entering the game, and did not mince his words when asked how he felt after the game: "I feel like [bleep]."
Even so, the event had some residual bits of intrigue. The Suns manufactured a quick run behind a steal and layup by Kenny Gattison and a three-pointer by Jeff Hornacek to close the gap to 109-104 with 55 seconds still remaining.
Head coach Don Nelson called a timeout to let the Bucks regroup, but the scoreboard incorrectly displayed a 109-103 margin. The score did get corrected during the break, but nobody felt the need to inform the Bucks about the change before the timeout ended. Don Nelson called BS on the whole situation, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel archives have preserved Nelson's quotes for our enjoyment:
We came out of the huddle and our six-point lead was down to five. I wasn't told about it until it was too late. They mentioned it in passing. 'Oh, by the way, you're only ahead by five.' We came into the huddle with a six-point lead and went out with a five-point lead. That's a good trick. We should try that a few times in Milwaukee. But we're too damn honest in Milwaukee.
That last sentence feels like a great tag line for Brew Hoop, so maybe I can work it in somewhere in the future. Good old Don Nelson, gotta love him. Anyways, the Bucks managed to close the game out despite the scoring error (shenanigans?), and they actually won a road game in Phoenix. It is possible, people. It can be done. Right?
Note: Bucks forward Jerry Reynolds spent much of the week prior to the game in Don Nelson's doghouse, due to a little white lie he got caught in after the all-star break. Turns out Reynolds told the team he was still too sick to make the trip with the team to New York on Feb. 11, but he was spotted in a local night club the same night of the game. Oops. He played only three minutes against the Suns after averaging nearly 18 minutes per game before the incident.