When it came to charity shots, Bucks were money in the bank

1988-89 team set franchise playoff mark

Larry Krystowiak
Larry Krystkowiak was the only player to miss a free-throw on the night the Bucks sank 28 of 29 tries against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Milwaukee Bucks, when it comes to charity, have done a world of good for thousands during their 43-year existence.

Their 1988-89 contingent excelled in that category on the basketball court as well as in the community.

En route to their 10th of 12 consecutive National Basketball Association playoff appearances, the Bucks established a regular-season league record for free-throw shooting proficiency, hitting 1955 of 2382 attempts for a percentage of 82.073, overtaking the previous mark of 82.054 set by the Kansas City/Omaha Kings in 1974-75.

And on the night of April 29, 1989, the Bucks not only proved their proficiency under playoff pressure, but turned in a free-throw shooting performance that still ranks as their all-time best.

Larry Krystkowiak became a Bucks fan favorite while playing for the team from 1987 through 1992 and came back to Milwaukee to coach the team from 2007 through 2009.

Krystkowiak had contributed to the Bucks’ NBA regular-season free-throw shooting record by hitting .823 of his attempts, and he knocked down a respectable four of five charity tosses in that April 29 playoff outing.

Within the context of Milwaukee’s box score, though, Krystkowiak was the cheese standing alone.

The pride of Montana was the only Milwuakee player to miss from the foul line that night as the Bucks sank 28 of 29 tries in posting a 108-98 victory over the host Atlanta Hawks to even the teams’ opening-round playoff series at a game apiece.

Guard Ricky Pierce came off the bench to make all eight of his foul shots, but the Bucks’ uncanny display of free-throw shooting marksmanship was a balanced one.

Guards Jay Humphires and Sidney Moncrief – now a Bucks assistant coach -- and forward Terry Cummings all went 4 for 4, center Jack Sikma was 3 for 3, and Paul Mokeski hit his only freebie to trump Krystowiak’s 4-for-5 effort and make Milwaukee playoff history.

The Bucks, who shot .542 from the field in the contest, needed to be sharp at a line to get out of Atlanta with a victory because the Hawks actually made more free throws (33) than they did, thanks to the fact that they were given 44 attempts.

Two future Hall-of-Famers gave Milwaukee plenty of problems that night and throughout the series. Dominique Wilkins, “The Human Highlight Reel,” scored a game-high 32 points and went on to average 27.2 per game in the series. Moses Malone contributed 19 points in the game, and combined with Wilkins to go 19 of 23 from the charity stripe.

Former Marquette University standout and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers also contributed to Atlanta’s 32-of-44 foul shooting that night, making four shots in six tries.

In the end, though, their efforts weren’t enough as Milwaukee flew home with a series-tying victory, rebounding from a 100-92 loss in Game 1.

The teams proceeded back Milwaukee, with the Bucks taking Game 3 117-113 in overtime.

Milwaukee didn’t cool off from the free-throw line from Game 2 to Game 3, either. It went 24 of 25, led by a 7-for-7 performance by Pierce, who was brilliant with a game-high 35 points. The “cheese” this time was Fred Roberts, whose nifty 5-of-6 (.833) accuracy paled in comparison to his teammates’.

Milwaukee got 24 points from Sikma, 22 from Pierce and 18 from Krystkowiak, but made “only” 24 of 27 free throws on its way to a 113-106 Game 4 loss to the Hawks, who got 24 points apiece from Malone and Wilkins.

The Bucks, though, went back to Atlanta, hit 26 of 29 free throws and brought home a 96-92 triumph to bounce Atlanta from the playoffs and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Pierce scored a game-high 25 points while Roberts, filling in for an injured Cummings, came up with 18 points.

Milwaukee, already playing without starter Paul Pressey, who missed the playoffs with a dislocated right shoulder, competed without Cummings in the Eastern Semifinals and lost to eventual NBA champion Detroit in four consecutive games.

The Bucks must have staged some competitive free-throw shooting contests before and after practices that season.

Sikma posted the highest regular-season percentage on the team at .905. That figure ranked him second in the NBA behind Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, who shot .911

Of the players in Milwaukee’s regular rotation, Moncrief ranked second at .865. Pierce, who ranked second on the ballclub in scoring at 17.6 ppg despite starting only four games, was a close third at .859.

Also topping the .800 plateau were Krystkowiak at .823, Humphries at .816, Roberts at .808. Cummings, the team’s leading scorer at 22.9 ppg and its NBA All-Star Game representative, shot.787 and Pressey finished at .776.

Even several of the Bucks who didn’t always log a lot of minutes knocked down their free throws. Rickey Green shot .895 in 30 games with the Bucks and .909 overall, Jeff Grayer shot .850, Mark Davis .813, Mokeski .784 and Tony Brown .783.

Any or all of those Bucks who happened to see the Los Angeles Clippers’ 87-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game One must have shuddered every time the Clippers went to the line.

The Clips missed 17 of their 30 free-throw attempts – including five in a row in the last 13 seconds – yet won the game to take a 2-1 lead in the teams’ playoff series.

Made me wonder how the 1988-89 Bucks would have fared if they had been reunited to shoot 30 free throws.