On Sunday afternoon, those road-weary Milwaukee Bucks took to the court against the lowly Orlando Magic at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks trailed for most of the game; outplayed on both ends of the floor, lacking hustle, focus and intensity.
Guess who came to the rescue, again? Mr. Big Shot: Monta Ellis. He tallied a season-high 39 points to lead Milwaukee from the brink of certain defeat to a stellar comeback win; nailing five three-pointers and scoring 25 of his 39 in the fourth quarter alone.
Before the win on Sunday, the Bucks had dropped three straight, including a loss to the Miami Heat which allowed the defending champs to stretch their amazing winning streak to an historic 21 games.
On the coaching side, I liked the fact that Jim Boylan got on his guys through the media a bit after the contest against the Magic; he wasn’t happy with his team’s focus or intensity during that game, something I commented on earlier and two things which seem to consistently elude this club during important stretches of games.
Boylan said, “First of all, we are not in the playoffs…We need to turn it up and we need to be a serious team. Right now, we are not playing like a serious team.”
I like the fire from the coach, and he’s completely right. Let’s hope that he conveyed this unhappy message to his players, because if we’re being honest, we know this team is at best, a seventh seed in this year’s playoffs. Even though, during times this year, they have looked like a much better team, on the flip side, they’ve had the ability to under-achieve and play beneath themselves as well; a frustrating and confusing combination for this city and its fans.
Who is this guy, and what have you done with the other Monta Ellis?
Since the All-Star break, Monta Ellis has pretty much been, well, off the hook. The Bucks guard has averaged over 26 points per game, and has got to have management seriously considering what exactly this roster is going to look like at the beginning of next season and whether it includes Ellis. He does hold an $11 player option for next year which he will most likely exercise. I firmly believe the Bucks brass may try to sign him to a long-term deal, if he’s open to that option.
Ellis is a sometimes dynamic scorer who has shown his maturity and understanding, recently, to go for the right shot. He seems to be learning that he is by no means a classic chuck-it-up jump-shooter; he’s at his best when he goes to the rim or passes the ball; creating open looks for teammates by slashing and driving. Certainly, his three-point shot is his worst enemy, even though he hit five of them in the fourth quarter to basically, single-handedly, bring the Bucks back from defeat on Sunday. When he’s on, he’s on.
Remember that Oregon Trail video game? Yeah, I do.
Tonight the Bucks (33-32), who hold a comfortable seven and a half game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers for the final playoff spot, look to gain some positive traction against the Portland Trail Blazers (31-35) as tip-off starts at 7pm here in Milwaukee.
One thing to look forward to tonight:
The Trail Blazers are an unusually unsuccessful road team; losing 13 of their last 15 away from Portland, Oregon. But as we all well know, covering the Bucks, anything can happen when you think the usual thing, the opposite, rears its ugly head.
Bucks @ Hawks (37-30)
With Boston and Chicago both losing Monday night, the Bucks are now only one game in the loss column out of the 7th and 6th spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race, making this game against the Hawks all the more important than it already is, including tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers and every one to follow.