Iron will perseveres, prevails
Bogut overcomes adversity to seal victory for Bucks
By Truman Reed
Bogut says, "Hard work will pay off eventually. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later."
The iron was unkind to Andrew Bogut on the night of December 4.
But the Milwaukee Bucks center overcame its cruelty with an iron will and helped his team snap a two-game losing streak with a 96-85 victory over the Orlando Magic at the Bradley Center.
Well aware that Bogut, still hampered by the injuries his right arm sustained last April, entered the game shooting .463 from the free-throw line, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy instructed his players to foul Bogut intentionally five times late in the fourth quarter.
Beginning with 3 minutes, 12 seconds to play through the 2:14 mark, Bogut missed seven consecutive foul shots before sinking three in a row with many BC spectators on their feet cheering him on.
His three makes extended the Bucks lead to 89-83 before the Magic abandoned their strategy. With under 2 minutes remaining in a game, teams cannot foul intentionally without penalty.
Bogut didn't blame Van Gundy for his ploy at all.
"As a coach, you're just trying to win the game," Bogut said. "You explore different avenues to try to do that. They tried to get in my head that I was shooting the ball badly from the free-throw line.
"They're a good 3-point shooting team, so they were trying to get three for one. It's his job to coach his team, and if you can put pressure on the other team and get your team more possessions, then why not do it?"
Van Gundy said his strategic ploy was not a difficult decision.
"Look, we were just trying to stay in the game," he said. "We went zone, and that got us back in the game a little bit. Then they started attacking that better, plus it was taking some time off the clock.
"So we tried to speed the game up. Even if he makes one occasionally, they're not coming down and taking 12, 14, 16 seconds off the clock. We're adding possessions to the game. You've got a guy who's shooting under 50 percent at the line and we needed more possessions."
Bogut conceded that his wounded arm and his inability to hone his shooting skills during the rehabilitation process probably factored into his struggles.
"Yeah, a little bit," he said. "But there's no excuse for missing that many free throws.
"I probably would have done the same thing if I was Van Gundy. He was trying to win the game. They were trying to stay in the game by giving up one for three."
The crowd agonized over Bogut's seven missed foul shots, but was cheering loudly in support as he foiled Orlando's strategy by draining his last three tries.
"Before they started cheering, I heard a couple of boos, too, but deservedly so," Bogut said. "I've got to knock them down.
"The fans were as frustrated as I was, but they kind of helped me over the line a little bit. It worked. The last three went in."
Besides trying to cope with his wounded arm, Bogut had missed Milwaukee's last five games prior to December 4 with back spasms. Having spent eight months recovering from the trauma of his April injury and the subsequent surgery, he hasn't had much time to find a comfort level with his shooting.
"It needs some work," he said. "With the injury and rehab, it was tough to work on free-throw shooting and shooting in general during the summer in the offseason. I've started working on it over the last two or three weeks.
It was frustrating tonight knowing that I let my teammates down in a sense. I could have iced the game by making five more free throws. I've been maintaining myself physically, but I have to keep getting in the gym and shooting them every night. I just have to keep practicing and hopefully get better."
Bogut was asked how it felt to be placed in such a difficult spot with the game possibly in the balance. His situation certainly didn't get easier after he missed his first couple of foul shots.
"It's tough," he said. "You try to forget about the last two and move on to the next two. I just have to keep working on them in practice. I've been coming in early and staying late to practice them and try to correct it.
"Hard work will pay off eventually. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later."
Bogut was also asked what made the difference on the three free throws he did make.
"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "I just kind of closed my eyes and threw the ball that way."
The three late free throws certainly weren't Bogut's only contributions to Milwaukee's first victory in three outings and its second in a nine-game span. He also delivered team and season highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds as the Bucks competed without Carlos Delfino and Drew Gooden.
Coach Scott Skiles appreciated that.
"We were able to get him the ball early in the game, and you could tell right away he was engaged," Skiles said. "He was able to get some easy ones and also got a couple left-handed hooks he got in there.
"Overall, for the amount of time he was out, he was very, very good."
Bogut said he was able to get back in the groove quickly.
"It felt good, obviously, just to be out there and contributing," Bogut said. "Obviously making my first shot helped. It gave me some confidence from there.
"The ball was going in for me today. I got some cheap buckets on offensive rebounds and kept involved offensively throughout the game."
Bogut said he felt no worse for the wear afterward despite taking a couple of hard charges and getting the usual jostling in the low post.
"I felt pretty good," he said. "It had the normal knocks of an NBA game. My right arm felt better as far as moving around.
"Being a big guy and spending a lot of time around the basket trying to score, when I get fouled, I've got to knock my free throws down. There's no excuse for missing free throws like that, especially late in the game. It's not a great feeling." Fortunately, when his last three shots made their way through the net, they were both therapeutic and game-changing.