The Los Angeles Lakers clawed their way back from an eight-point fourth quarter deficit on Wednesday, rallying behind the interior play of Carlos Boozer (eight of his season-high 28 points in the frame) and Ed Davis (eight of his career-high 20 rebounds) and the dribble penetration of Jeremy Lin (seven points, two assists) to hold a six-point lead in the final minute of their matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. But after a Brandon Knight triple chopped the lead in half and Milwaukee’s long-limbed defense helped force a Lin airball and an L.A. shot-clock violation, the Bucks had one last chance to tie. Seeking OT, they put the ball in the hands of O.J.:
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Coming out of the timeout, Bucks coach Jason Kidd — who might have had just a teensy bit of extra motivation to stick it to Lakers counterpart Byron Scott, his former head coach with the New Jersey Nets, after Scott’s rather choice pre-game comments — drew up a stack at the foul line with Knight triggering the inbounds and seven sceonds remaining. Wing Khris Middleton popped out to the left block for the inbounds pass, while Knight sprinted to the charity stripe, where he stopped and set the first of two staggered screens for Mayo, defended on the play by Lakers shooting guard Nick Young.
Knight got enough of a bump on Young to give Mayo a head start, triggering a switch on the perimeter as Boozer stepped forward to meet the curling Mayo. Middleton, who’d been pushed out off the block by defender Wayne Ellington, just turned his body and used his 6-foot-7 frame to shield off Ellington and Boozer long enough to both complete the dribble handoff to the streaking Mayo and give his shooter enough room to slide into a short-corner 3-pointer. It splashed through with 0.5 seconds still remaining on the clock, knotting the game at 94 and, after the Lakers failed to get a field-goal attempt off in their final half-second, the game headed to an extra session.
It might not have, of course, had Scott elected to instruct his players to foul a Buck before a 3-pointer could be attempted. There’s a longstanding and ongoing argument about the benefits and risks of fouling up three, and it doesn’t always work. But in this situation, the Lakers were already in the penalty and had ample opportunity with Middleton holding the ball waiting for Mayo on the curl; a trip to the line for two free throws that could have, at best, chopped your lead down to one sure seems like a more desirable outcome than allowing a game-tying attempt.
That wasn’t how Scott saw things before. He might see it differently now, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“The philosophy is not to foul. I guess I might change that,” Scott said. “You have to give him credit. He hit an incredible shot and we had two guys directly on him.” […]
Scott opted not for his players to foul on an inbounds pass with seven seconds left out of fear a Bucks player could either force three foul shots or convert on a four-point play.
“He had a hell of a shot,” said Boozer […]. “A fadeaway corner with two guys right in his face? That’s what you want them to take.”
More, from Mike Bresnahan at the Los Angeles Times: “‘I just always believe in just playing good solid defense,’ Scott said, though he added he might revisit his strategy of not fouling in future late-game situations.”
While we take a moment to consider Scott’s newfound willingness to consider adjusting his tactical approach — as well as his rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light belief that this Lakers team, without a single plus stopper on the roster and now 29th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession, can and should just defend better — let’s also praise a heck of a shot by Mayo, who bounced back from some early-fourth misses (including this woofer of a brick with 3 1/2 minutes left) to drill a gotta-have-it-shot with no margin for error. From Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
“We were looking for Juice,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “He had just made a big three to cut the lead to three. He was the hottest player for us, so we wanted to give it a different look. I thought Khris did a heck of a job of getting the ball to him with the traffic. Then Juice does the hardest part. We executed late on both ends. That just shows our growth.”
Given new life by Mayo’s game-tying triple, the Bucks stormed the Lakers in overtime, with point guard Knight exploding for 12 points (3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from 3, 4-for-4 from the line) in five minutes to seal a 113-105 overtime win, Milwaukee’s fifth straight win, the franchise’s longest string of victories in nearly three years.
Kidd’s Bucks are now a season-high five games over .500 at 27-22, sitting just 2 1/2 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the Central Division and the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re full of youth, athleticism and daring that produces fun moments like this three-man, ball-doesn’t-touch-the-floor fast-break leading to a flush by the trailing Henson:
They’re getting contributions from up and down the roster, including a landmark outing on Wednesday by Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored a career-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go with six rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 42-plus minutes:
The line of the night on Giannis, from Kidd, per Gardner: “I don’t think this will be his career high for long.”
Antetokounmpo led four Bucks with 20 or more points, the first time that’s happened in nearly six years. Knight poured in 24, shooting 4-for-7 from 3-point range and 6-for-6 from the line, with eight assists and seven rebounds. Middleton filled up the stat sheet with 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting, seven boards, seven dimes and three steals without a turnover in 45 minutes of work. And Mayo, the hero of the final second, added 21 in 33 minutes off the bench (8-for-15 from the floor, 5-for-8 from 3) to score a win in the kind of game that a good team — or, at least, a team with aspirations of being good — pulls out simply because it decides that a loss would be unacceptable.
“We were talking about it earlier, and we thought this was a win we had to have,” Knight said, according to Gardner. “Last year we never approached any game saying, ‘We’ve got to have this win; we can’t lose this game.’ You could just tell the entire attitude of our team has changed.”
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