Trail early, keep pace, surge late, lose anyways. Lather, wait 10 minutes, rinse, repeat as necessary, or against good teams after one or more inexplicable losses.
More than anything, it was a perfect encapsulation of everything that has delighted and frustrated Bucks fans throughout a season that can only be described as a constant pendulum swing of emotions.
Beat the Miami Heat convincingly, come back from 27 down to the Chicago Bulls, snap a 248 year road losing streak to the Phoenix Suns, hang with the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs (missing Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari), while playing without Larry Sanders? No problem.
Lose to the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic, and Minnesota Timberwolves in a critical 10 day span that sealed the Bucks' fate as one of the least qualified eighth seeds in the past 20 years? Done deal.
It's not so much that the Bucks lost to the Nuggets, which on any given day with both teams full strength, is entirely plausible and kind of expected. More so, it's the way the Bucks lost; starting with a whimper, going out with a teaser.
In the first half, Milwaukee let Denver pick their spot in the paint, sat back, and marveled at the speed of Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, and Evan Fournier. However, the Bucks cut Denver's first quarter lead down to three in the second, punctuated by a Monta Ellis running three pointer that banked in before the buzzer and kept the Nuggets to a 56-53 advantage.
The third quarter played out much the same way as the second, with the Bucks scoring inside and hitting the offensive glass hard, but proving incapable of keeping the Nuggets from countering on multiple ensuing possessions. Still, a 6-0 end of quarter run flipped a switch in Ellis and JJ Redick that made for an entertaining finish.
Both wings were nothing short of offensive savants in the game's final frame, with Ellis dropping 19 points, Redick contributing 11, and seven three pointers between them. But as much as both player's turned on the jets as time increasingly reared its ominous head, the Nuggets danced with the style that brung them, capitalizing off a handful of Bucks' miscues in the paint and pulling away with a victory on a Ty Lawson jumper with seconds to go.
"I thought offensively we executed really well down the stretch. Got good shots, got good looks, right down to the very end," coach Jim Boylan said. "Defensively, they broke us down a few times and got into the paint, that's where they live. ... Letting them get there is not a good thing for us, but our guys battled."
John Henson. Henson (14 pts, 6-13 fg, 15 rbs, 8 orebs, 4 stls, 3 blks) had his usual share of rotational lapses and hard, overly excited put-backs. But he consistently hustled, used his length really well around the basket, and mixed in some solid footwork and pump fakes. Those alone should make Bucks fans excited about the prospect of a Henson-Larry Sanders frontcourt becoming a mainstay in the not-too-distant future. Before the game, coach Jim Boylan spoke about tempering expectations for the rookie, and afterwards he had some expected praise for the 21 year old big man:
John played really well. He's starting to learn how to play a little bit. For him, you can see it, just watch the game. It's all about his awareness defensively, the speed of the game, and then the strength factor," Boylan said. "He certainly can come up with some rebounds that most guys can't get. With his ability to shoot with his left hand and his right hand, it really puts the defense in a tough spot to defend him."
Monta Ellis. Three quarters of blah, one quarter of TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF while battling a stomach ailment. So it goes with the Bucks' resident Seinfeld punchline, but whatever pony Monya rides in the fourth quarter (19 pts, 7-11 fg, 4-5 3fg) clearly has some revenue potential should the Belmont Stakes come calling. At one point in the game's final six minutes, Ellis scored eight straight, and later registered a four point play that gave Milwaukee a 111-110 lead. Of course, calling Ellis' defense "suspect" is an affront to questionable characters everywhere, but it's hard to argue with 38 points on 14-25 fg (6-11 3fg), even when his man (Ty Lawson) crossed him up for the game-winning eight foot jumper (not entirely Ellis' fault either).
"He's been a warriors for us all year. He's played hurt, he's played sick, he's done everything," Boylan said. "Some of the plays he makes, on the defensive end sometimes the steals he comes up with, there's not many guys in the league that do what he does. I can't say enough about him, he had a great season, and without him I don't know where we'd be."
JJ Redick. If Monya was Batman, Redick (20 pts, 7-14 fg, 4-9 3fg, 3 asts) was Robin. The Duke product, always faced with the arduous task of running through and around screens, Redick turned in his best performance as a Buck, scoring and impact-wise. All three of his successful treys, and his one assist to Ekpe Udoh for a dunk, either gave the Bucks the lead or tied the game. He also had a good look as time expired, and played the entire fourth quarter with confidence and a comfortability we haven't seen for a while.
37. The Bucks have 37 wins this season. The Nuggets have 37 wins at home. That shiz cray.
6. Denver scored 5.2% of their baskets from mid-range (3-12 fg). More on this below, but the morale is to never expect a win if a team consistently shoots from the best spots on the floor.
-11. Milwaukee is nothing if not a team constantly described as "up-tempo" and "dangerous in transition," lethal if given the space to run. Those labels are all fine and dandy, until teams like the Nuggets (21 fastbreak points) or Houston Rockets show up and decide to demonstrate the difference between two fleet-footed guards and a team filled with strength, athleticism, and speed.
Nuggets Threes. 16.2% of Denver's points (6-14 3fg) were three pointers.
Nuggets Free Throws. 28.6% of Denver's points (32-46 ft) were three throws.
Nuggets Points in the Paint. 50% of Denver's points (28-59 fg) were in the paint.11
The Ish Smith-Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis lineup that logged seven minutes. Because why the hell not?
In actuality, this game meant little. It was exciting towards the end, but ultimately it's more important for the Bucks to escape unharmed than it is to pretend a win that changes nothing in the standings has some sort of bigger meaning for their chances against the Heat.
Offensive rebounding. Over their past 10 games, the Bucks ranked second in the NBA in offensive rebounding, and turned 18 into 23 second chance points against Denver. Boylan addressed this as an exploitative weakness for the Miami Heat, so it'll be interesting to see how that perception unfolds once the Bucks start playing meaningful games again.