MILWAUKEE One hour before his Bucks faced Atlanta Tuesday night, coach Scott Skiles called it. He knew Monta Ellis was ready for a breakout game in a Milwaukee uniform -- that it would happen "at any moment" -- and he was right.
After struggling through his first six games with the Bucks, Ellis finally looked like the player who seemingly scored at will for six-plus seasons with Golden State. With Milwaukee on a two-game losing streak and its shot at the playoffs slipping away, Ellis scored 33 points on 15 of 24 shooting to give the Bucks a much-needed 108-101 home win over the Hawks.
"There was just something about today," Ellis said after the game. "I was light on my feet. I was moving. I went into one of my modes. It felt good."
Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but for the first time since being traded to the Bucks two weeks ago, Ellis' wife, Juanika, was able to make it to Milwaukee for the game.
"She really lifted me up today," Ellis said. "I really just wanted to come out and have fun tonight."
Though his kids were in Memphis with family and not in Milwaukee, Ellis was able to have an online video chat with them before the game. And his son had a message that seemed to motivate the player who has averaged between 19.0 and 25.5 points in each of the past five seasons.
"My son, he loves basketball, so he told Daddy to go out and play ball," Ellis said.
Perhaps that was the inside information that made Skiles confident things would turn around for the 26-year-old guard. In his first six games with the Bucks, Ellis averaged 12.1 points on 34.2 percent shooting. In 37 games this season with Golden State, Ellis averaged 21.9 points while hitting 43.3 percent of his shots.
His shooting woes since being dealt along with Ekpe Udoh for Andrew Bogut at the trade deadline were starting to get in Ellis' head.
"I got down on myself a little bit," Ellis said. "I'm glad I got out of that slump. It was just one of those times when I went through a spurt where my shot wasn't going down."
Entering play Tuesday, Milwaukee was in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and 2.5 games behind the No. 8 New York Knicks. To make matters worse for the Bucks, they were coming off a loss 24 hours earlier in New York despite the Knicks' playing without Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. Plus, just prior to the game, Skiles found out that starting forwards Ersan Ilyasova (back spasms) and Carlos Delfino (groin) would be unavailable against the Hawks.
But Ellis' offensive dominance changed the game and Milwaukee's outlook toward the playoffs.
"I think he figured out tonight that we want him to do that," center Drew Gooden said. "We need him to do that. With scorers, all you have to do is hit your first shot. Then if you hit your second shot, the other team's going to be in trouble. It's momentum. It's confidence.
"You're going to have stretches where you can't hit the side of a barn, but then you have stretches where you can shoot with your eyes closed and it will go in. You just have to weather the storm and keep at it."
Ellis scored just four points on 2 of 14 shooting in New York. While his shooting was much improved against Atlanta, Ellis was also distributing the ball to teammates as the Hawks began to pay extra attention to him.
"He played so well (shooting the ball), but didn't have a greedy game," Skiles said. "He just kind of took it how it came. I thought he played a very unselfish game for a plus-30-point game.
"You can't expect him to have games like (against the Knicks) very often. That's not who he's been his entire career. It was nice to see him shake it off. He needed it. He was down a little bit about how he shot the ball, and he was great. All around, obviously it was his best game for us."
Udoh was happy to see the Ellis he knew from their time together in the Bay area.
"That's Monta Ellis. What else can you say?" Udoh said. "We really saw who he was tonight. He's going to put up more games like this. He was the same player, just trying to figure it out.
"Tonight you got to see that when he hits shots he's pretty unstoppable."
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