Mark this one down as a costly win. It wasn't pretty, but with Andrew Bogut still out and Michael Redd leaving in the third with a blown-out knee, the Bucks don't really have much room to complain about the end result of their 106-104 win over the hapless Kings on Saturday.
Midway through the game Kings' color commentator Jerry Reynolds predicted the team with the last possession might win, and for 47 minutes that seemed a safe bet. The teams went back-and-forth for most of the second half, the Bucks leading by four in the late going before a Francisco Garcia three pointer gave the Kings a 104-103 lead with 1:23 left.
And then both teams seemed to lose interest. On the ensuing possession the Bucks got a couple second chances before Ramon Sessions split a pair of free throws. Then Ridnour partially blocked Beno Udrih's short jumper, before Richard Jefferson drove, drew a foul, and split a pair on the other end with 16 ticks left. Brad Miller had a big all around night for the Kings (13 rebs, nine assists, 14 pts), but he missed a driving attempt to win it, as Mbah a Moute helped challenge the shot and also grabbed the rebound. But Mbah a Moute--like RJ and Sessions before him--could only split his freebies and Miller had a decent look from the top of the key that clanged off the back iron.
Francisco Elson. It's very possible Elson doesn't have another game like this all season, but for now let's savor the other Dutchman's 12 rebounds, five steals, two blocks, and 10 points in 35 minutes. Elson's a better face-up defender than Gadzuric, and that was particularly useful given that neither Jason Thompson nor Brad Miller are traditional post bigs. Both guys still got theirs, though I wouldn't fault Elson much for Miller's big assist night and his mobility allowed the Bucks some flexibility to play Villanueva against Miller.
More importantly, Elson helped the Bucks dominate the boards, grabbing six of the Bucks' 18 offensive rebounds. With both teams shooting 46%, those extra chances helped put the Bucks over the top. Offensively, Elson came out aggressively by drilling a turnaround from the left side the first time he touched the ball. Still, he made just 5/11 shots and may have been a little too optimistic offensively--he missed an open 20 footer with 1:45 left that you would have preferred someone else take.
- Charlie Villanueva. Is the new Charlie Villanueva here to stay? CV's streak of 23+ point games ended at three, but 18 points (7/13 fg) and 10 rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes were once again huge for the Bucks. Villanueva also had six points in the final six minutes as the Bucks struggled to find offense down the stretch.
- Luc Mbah a Moute. You could have also picked Sessions (14 pts, five rebs, three dimes) or Jefferson (20 pts and a lock down night on John Salmons), but I'll go with the rook. His minutes have taken a hit with Villanueva playing so well, but tonight it was all about efficiency--13 points (4/6 fg) and nine boards in just 18 minutes.
- 3. Ridnour has always had surprisingly high block rates for a little white guy, but I can't say I expected him to ever block three shots in a game. In case you were wondering, Bogut hasn't had more than that in a game all year.
- 18. The Bucks grabbed 18 offensive boards (to the Kings' 10) and needed every last one of them.
- 6. Kevin Martin had more turnovers (6) than field goals made (4), though he got to the line enough to score 20 points.
Back ups step up. It's not just that Bogut's blossomed into a very good player, it's that his backups have been consistently bad. Dan Gadzuric has had another disappointing season, and his play over the past few weeks have made Bogut's absence even more painful. Over the course of the season Elson hasn't been any better, but he got a shot to make an impact early and he made the most of it by putting together his best game as a Buck.
Ramon Sessions also stepped up in Redd's absence; while his defense remains inconsistent (he got beaten on a back-door move by Kevin Martin late), his ball-handling and driving ability at the two gives the Bucks a different look. They'll need a lot more of that now that Redd is out.
Aggressive RJ. Jefferson looked a little out of gas in the fourth, but that's perhaps not surprising given the 46 minutes he played. For the most part RJ seemed less content to settle for jumpers than usual, a nice change of pace given he's had a number of invisible games of late. He also held John Salmons to seven points (3/10 fg)--eight days after Salmons scored 24 on just nine shots against him in Sacramento.
- Hanging on. Mark it down: the Bucks were 22-25 and 8th in the East when Redd went down for the season. The schedule is certainly favorable from here on out, but their margin of error is essentially zero from here on out.
Dead Redd. The Bucks were 5-9 without Redd earlier this season, though it's important to note that nine of those games were on the road and 10 were against teams currently in a playoff spot. Still, the Bucks' hopes of being a dangerous team in April took a major hit that will necessarily alter their plans for the rest of the season.
- Degree of difficulty. The Bucks had no reason for complacency following their non-effort in Atlanta on Friday, but the Kings still gave them everything they could handle. The Kings are now 0-17 against the East and 3-19 on the road.
- Stumbling to victory. It's tough to win a close game while executing so poorly down the stretch, but the Bucks' defense was solid enough in the final minute to make it work. It'd be nice if the Bucks could do better than 50% free throw shooting in the final minute, too.