MILWAUKEE For a short period of time, the Milwaukee Bucks looked like they finally were going to have a game break their way.
Monta Ellis fought through an intestinal bug and was in one of his fourth quarter zones, J.J. Redick was hitting three-pointers and a four-point play by Ellis gave Milwaukee the lead with 14.2 seconds left.
But again the Bucks just couldn't get a win. Ty Lawson shook Ellis for the go-ahead jumper and Redick's good look at a three-pointer was no good, giving Denver a 112-111 win and dropping the Bucks final home record to 21-20.
While the loss is Milwaukee's fifth in a row and 15th in its last 20 games, the Bucks gave an effort that can be a building block and a much more encouraging of a performance with the playoffs right around the corner.
That said, the Bucks badly wanted a win -- especially against one of the Western Conference's best teams.
"Great effort but we really needed this win tonight and we came up short," Ellis said. "Now we have to get this last one."
Ellis was sent home from the team's shootaround this morning because of how bad his illness was. But when the game rolled around, Ellis was in his usual place in the starting lineup.
Finding the fortitude to not only play through his sickness, Ellis put on a sensational fourth quarter performance, scoring 19 of his game-high 38 in the final period, almost willing the Bucks to victory.
"No matter what goes on with me, 7 o'clock or 7:30, I'm always going to be ready to play basketball," Ellis said. "I'll deal with everything afterward. We really needed a win. Right now is not the time to throw a pity party or sit out. Right now every game is crucial."
While Monday's performance certainly was a step in the right direction, Ellis' expressions after the game spoke volumes of how badly he wants to win. The way Ellis stood at his locker said enough, but he tried to put his emotions into words.
"My body has taken a beating this year," Ellis said. "People don't know it, but I've played through a lot of injuries this year. The only thing I want to do is win. I go out every night and I try and lead by example and try to do everything I can to help my team win."
Ellis' fourth three-pointer of the fourth quarter tied the game, but Nuggets rookie guard Evan Fournier hit him on the play. After a team has a shot like that goes in it usually means it's their night.
"You can't put your hand in there, especially with Monta," Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said of Fournier's foul. "He put his hand in the cookie jar, and something bit him. He definitely learned from it. He won't make that mistake again."
The Bucks needed one defensive stop to get a much-needed victory. Instead, Lawson went into Ellis and shook him, freeing himself for an open elbow jumper to put the Nuggets up 112-111.
"I just wanted the iso," Lawson said. "I passed it to Wilson (Chandler) and he passed it back. Saw the clean side, just started pushing real hard. I knew he was going to bite if I pushed it to the basket. I stepped back and had all the time in the world to make the shot. I fumbled the ball actually. I had time to gather it again, bend my knees and follow through."
After Redick misfired attempting the game-winner, Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala punched the ball into the stands because Denver had just clinched home court for the first round of the playoffs.
Against a lot of teams, the Bucks' effort would have been good enough to win. But Denver is one of the best teams in the league, despite playing without Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari. There's no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and the Bucks know that.
"Our guys battled, so I'm not hanging my head here today," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "I'm disappointed that we lost, but we can roll into Oklahoma City with some good things to talk about and some other things to work on."
With so many guys banged up or sick and nowhere to go in the standings, the Bucks ideally would use Wednesday's game against the Thunder as one to limit minutes with the playoffs looming on the weekend. But Milwaukee needs a win to prevent facing the daunting task of facing Miami in the first round on a six-game losing streak.
"We have to do more," Ellis said. We have to get better and we have to do it now."
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