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Bucks' start slow, end fast strategy beats Celtics

In another knock out, drag down Bucks-Celtics tilt, it was Milwaukee that stole the last laugh, overcoming an early 17 point deficit with stellar perimeter defense and timely shot selection.


The Milwaukee Bucks' 91-88 victory over the Boston Celtics was nothing short of a Flying Wallenda high-wire act to the end. It was thrilling in the way that imprints a phrase (in this case "17-0") in our sports psyche, producing caramel-thick memories without the need for elaboration.

"That was the ‘lull them to sleep' strategy," Scott Skiles said. "Obviously we didn't start the game very well. We went to the bench pretty early, and we got a pretty quick up-tick. We fought our back back into the game, gained a little momentum going into halftime. After that start, overall we played a pretty good game."

Years from now, Bucks fans will likely recall this game as one of perseverance through injury (Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih were inactive), stiff competition (even without Rajon Rondo, this is the Celtics), and a sporadically inefficacious offense.

We should remember (now, anyways) that a win is a win, but that doesn't mean the flawed play marring the previous 47 minutes should be swept aside.

You should never judge a movie by its ending. Doing so risks devaluing everything that occurred prior to the resolution. No doubt, this was a very important win for a Bucks team that continually needs to prove it can hang with good teams and overcome its own shortcomings.

However, if this roller coaster week has any parable, it's that we still know next to nothing about where the Bucks will be in February, much less April.

Three Bucks

Larry Sanders. Sanders followed up the best game of his career with the second best game of his career. He stayed vertical defending Kevin Garnett on defense (5 blocks, 16 rebounds), hit a couple jumpers and bailed the team out on the offensive glass with a few putbacks, and generally electrified the Bradley Center during the game's heaviest moments.

Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova was an integral part to the Bucks' initial catch-up surge, and appeared to be unaffected by his recent lack of playing time. Somewhere 30 minutes south of Milwaukee, someone is lighting mood candles, turning up the Luther Vandross, and prostrating in front of an idolatry depiction of the Turkish Thunder.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute finished his 2012-13 debut with 8 points on six (mostly jump) shots, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and admirably lockdown perimeter defense against the Paul Pierce/Jason Terry pick-and-roll. It's good to have him back.

Three Numbers

17-0. The Bucks' start to this game made YouTube factory farm exposes look like joyous Pixar romps. Add this to the list of stats that will immediately lead to total recall when brought up in future Bucks conversations. Not ideal, but enduring to the last.

80-61. After the first quarter, the Bucks hit over 50% of their shots, while holding the Celtics to 38.3% shooting over the game's final 36 minutes. In the second quarter, Milwaukee turned up the tempo (9 fast break points) and began with a 9-1 run that would gradually turn into an 80-61 three-quarter advantage.

4-13. Milwaukee's issues hitting shots from deep continue to plague the team in wins and losses. Without Dunleavy and Udrih, the Bucks matched their season low in shots taken beyond the arc. This is the new normal.

Three Good

Larry! Larry! These chants lasted well beyond the game's end, and Larry ate them up with high fives and sky points all the way through the tunnel. Having a fan favorite that can actually play is refreshing (no offense to Brian Scalabrine and Mark Madson).

Perimeter defense. Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels did an admirable job on Boston's best with the game on the line. Pierce and Kevin Garnett were dominant in the Bucks' last loss to the Celtics. But crunch time Saturday night was very different with Milwaukee's perimeter defense at full strength.

The extra pass. It's very easy to rag on Skiles and the Bucks' late-game strategies, so when things go right, it deserves equal recognition. I'll let Brandon Jennings' break down the possession that put the game on ice:

"The play wasn't for a three, the play was for me to come off a pick from Larry," Jennings said. "If I had an open lane, of course take it to the hole. Or we had Monta on the other end. But we just moved the ball around and were able to get an open shot."

Three Bad

Start slow, end fast. Both of the Bucks' wins this week were basketball "puke and rallies" against teams missing an All-Star point guard (Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo). Obviously not sustainable, but it was quite an interesting week, to say the least.

Perception. I'd like to say I saw this comeback coming from the start, but I didn't. The Bucks' perseverance deserves a hat tip or two, but the reality of the team's overall situation remains unchanged from where it was 24 hours ago.

One trick ponies. The 17-0 start to this game was bad on the surface, and worse underneath. Outside of Jennings and Ellis, no one on the floor was an immediate threat to score in the half-court (Daniels, Ekpe Udoh, and John Henson all started). Basically, it magnifies the perilous reliance the Bucks have on streaky shooters.