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Bucks 110, Thunder 106: OKC scrubs can't hold off Milwaukee comeback

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Box Score / Recap / Coverage

In a season that will mostly be remembered for everything that went wrong, it probably makes sense that the Bucks would only get it right when it didn't matter at all.

With Charlotte dropping the Hawks for their 34th win of the season and the Bucks trailing for most of the second half in Oklahoma City, all signs pointed to the two teams tying for ninth in both the Eastern Conference playoff standings and in the overall lottery standings. Hardly the stuff you hope to be battling for on the last day of the season, but so it goes.

However, with the Thunder resigned to the fourth spot in the West and resting their starters for the fourth quarter, the Bucks did what the Bucks do, ping-pong balls and draft picks be damned. They kept working, they kept trying, and against the lesser lights of Scott Brooks' bench, that meant doing something that  the Bucks generally don't do: coming back from a late deficit to win.  

With Russell Westbrook (20 points on nine shots) and Kevin Durant (14 points on 14 shots) cracking jokes on the bench, the Bucks reeled off three consecutive three point plays (Redd, Ilyasova, Salmons) in the final two minutes to fuel a 13-4 run to send the game to OT. That's where Salmons (15 points on 10 shots, five steals, two early jumpers in OT) and Brandon Jennings (10 of his 16 points in OT plus seven assists, six rebs, five steals) closed the door on a lineup that prominently featured Royal Ivey and B.J. Mullens.

Too little, too late in a season that could no longer be saved?  Absolutely. But with a long summer ahead of us, the optimists can set aside the circumstances and take some solace in three straight wins to end the season. The Bucks are at least 12 months away from tasting playoff action again, but the process of rebuilding a winner begins now.  

Three Bucks

Brandon Jennings. Jennings struggled to finish around the hoop early on, missing five of his first six shots including four straight at the rim, but made up for it somewhat by showing active hands on the defensive end with four first half steals. He had little answer for Westbrook's combination of power and quickness off the dribble, but did a solid job spreading the ball around even with his own offense slow to come.

Westbrook's departure in the second half seemed to spark Jennings into action, as he buried a three midway through the fourth and then scored the Bucks' final ten in OT, including a pair of tidy finishes around the hoop.  A down-and-up game in an up-and-down season for Brandon.

John Salmons. Salmons was similarly quiet for much of the game before coming on late, hitting all three free throws after Ivey inexplicably fouled him on a triple with 23 seconds remaining. He then smoothly elevated and scored off the bounce on consecutive possessions to start OT, finishing 6/10 from the field, his third straight game at 60% or better.

Larry Sanders. Fact #1: every Bucks fan wanted to see Sanders prominently involved in the Bucks' meaningless last week of the season. Fact #2: Scott Skiles was not quite so enthusiastic, reminding/chiding us that Sanders had to "earn" his minutes like everyone else. Thankfully, a first half full of boneheaded Drew Gooden plays was apparently enough for Gooden to "unearn" his second half minutes, allowing Sanders to rack up 28 minutes in his longest appearance since March 1. 

Not surprisingly it was a mixed bag. My biggest complaint about Sanders all year has been his lack of rebounding instincts/strength, but he came through tonight with eight rebounds (four offensive), his usual pair of blocks, and eight big points in the fourth quarter (including a pair of late jumpers to begin the rally). He also flubbed about four passes that hit him in the hands, proving that you need more than enormous mitts to catch a basketball.  

Three Numbers

35. Twelve games under .500 (or six wins short of breakeven, however you want to look at it) was never part of the Bucks' plan, but it is now part of the history books. The Bucks capped a season of disappointment with a three-game winning streak that allowed them to sneak past their 08/09 total of 34 wins, but only just.

15. The Bucks' season-high in steals helped keep them in the game early and offset a slow shooting start--despite shooting just 39%, the Bucks led by three at halftime thanks to 13 first half turnovers from the Thunder.

24. No OKC starter played more than Serge Ibaka's 24 minutes, which--let's be honest--had everything to do with the Bucks' ability to come back from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit.

Three Good

Redd's farewell. I should probably use a question mark rather than a period, but it's felt like this would be Michael Redd's last season as a Buck for some time--that he actually played in the final month was itself something of an accomplishment. Still, as much as I've been feeling (surprisingly) nostalgic about Redd of late, it is probably time for everyone to move on. This is no longer Redd's team, this is no longer Redd's time, and few would fault Redd for looking elsewhere as he tries to reinvent himself as something other than the Michael Redd we grew accustomed to seeing for a decade in Milwaukee. 

It was convenient then that Redd put together his first solid game in over a year, scoring eight points in the second quarter and capping his 5/10 night with a transition triple that kickstarted the Bucks' late comeback. Good luck, Michael.

Balance. In a season where no one seemed to shoot well, the Bucks got solid offensive nights from most everyone, as eight players scored between 10 and 16 points. Ilyasova was excellent all night, getting his usual assortment of garbage buckets in addition to a couple big blocks that we don't typically expect from him.  Corey Maggette also did his thing, scoring 12 in 18 minutes including six quick points to start the fourth. This was supposed to be the idea coming into the season, no?

Comeback kids. Plenty of extenuating circumstances at play, which unfortunately makes the Bucks' comeback from a nine point deficit with 1:31 remaining less impressive than it might otherwise be. Still, I don't watch Bucks games to root against them, even when it might be more beneficial from a draft perspective. I'm just not wired that rationally, which made the last half hour of the game that much more enjoyable.  

Three Bad

Bittersweet. The Bucks hardly put on a clinic tonight, but the last week only further underscored what might have been: Salmons making shots, Drew Gooden triple-doublingJennings coming up with big plays late in games. Sigh. With the Pacers finishing at 37-45, the frustrating sidenote is that Milwaukee (by virtue of a tiebreaker) would have made the playoffs if they been able to win in Indiana two weeks ago.  Then again: woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Q3. Milwaukee came back in the second thanks in part to Scott Brooks' preference for getting his bench some run, and they fell behind in the third because the starters came back in. OKC scored 20 of their 31 third quarter points in the paint. 

Waiting game. I typically love the offseason: overanalyzing draft prospects, overanalyzing free agency, overreacting to what happens in Vegas, and spending abnormal amounts of time calculating cap holds and luxury tax scenarios. Which makes the likely lockout that much harder to stomach--not only could the actual season be delayed indefinitely, but so much of the summer fun could be put on ice as well.