Bucks respond to urgent call

Team effort ends home skid vs. Lakers

By Truman Reed

Mbah a Moute Locks Down Kobe

“This was a good victory,” forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “I think at the beginning of the game, we had really good energy and that’s something we needed, especially playing a team like the Lakers. We kept that energy the whole game.”

The 2011-12 National Basketball Association season has created a different sense of urgency than many of its players have ever experienced.

The Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t have responded to the urgent call much better than they did on the night of Jan. 28.

The Bucks, who were coming off a 107-100 loss at Chicago the night before, won the second game of a back-to-back for the second time this season with a 100-89 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.

And the Bucks did it without starting center Andrew Bogut, who will miss between 8 and 12 weeks with a fractured left ankle sustained at Houston on Jan. 25, and second-leading scorer Stephen Jackson, who drew a one-game suspension from the league for verbal abuse of a game official and failure to leave the court in a timely manner following the loss at Chicago.

In a typical season, most NBA players would quickly file away a January game and focus on the next one. But after the Bucks won game 19 of the lockout-shortened, 66-game season, several of them took a moment to acknowledge the significance of the win.

“This was a good victory,” forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “I think at the beginning of the game, we had really good energy and that’s something we needed, especially playing a team like the Lakers. We kept that energy the whole game.”

Point guard Brandon Jennings savored the win over his hometown team, too.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a confidence booster,” Jennings said. “This is not the same Lakers team they had last year.

“They’re still the Lakers, though, and it does feel good to get a win.”

Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles liked what he saw from his team early and often.

“We executed well offensively,” Skiles said. “We had some great sequences of ball movement again.

“We did as good a job on their key guys as we could. I thought we were outstanding on Kobe (Bryant), and he almost had a triple-double. In particular Luc -- he did what Luc does.”

Mbah a Moute drew the assignment of guarding Bryant in the fourth quarter after sharing those duties with Carlos Delfino and Shaun Livingston during the first three periods. Bryant scored a game-high 27 points, but went just 2 of 9 from the field in the final 12 minutes.

“We tried to make him have a tough night,:” Mbah a Moute said. “ We succeeded.

“It was a team effort. Carlos got him off his spots early in the game and I came in and tried to continue to do that.”

Bryant wasn’t the sole focus of the Bucks’ defensive effort, which held the Lakers under 90 points for the fifth time this season and helped Milwaukee snap a three-game home losing streak to the Lakers.

“It was clear shortly after the jump ball they were going to try to go inside on us,” Skiles said. “I thought we held our own.

“We were smart about our fouling. We tried to push them out of there and tried to control their length. Our big guys competed against them. Those two guys are tough to cover.”

Drew Gooden started at center for Milwaukee in place of Bogut for the second straight game and delivered team highs of 23 points and eight rebounds, hitting nine of 15 shots from the field and four of four from the line during a yeoman’s 36 minutes.

“Drew was great,” Skiles said. “As so often happens, they made a little run at us and we had to make some big shots and big plays, and tonight we made them.”

 Gooden has achieved four double-doubles when starting at center this season.

“Before the game, the question was ‘How are we going to guard Bynum and Gasol?’” Gooden said. “And I kept saying, ‘They’ve got to guard us also. We put them in as many pick-and-roll situations as possible. We made (Lakers coach) Mike Brown have to switch the coverage numerous times.

“They got a little confused out there on certain occasions and it led to open jump shots or we made a play to the open man.”

The Bucks limited Lakers power forward Pau Gasol to 12 points on 6-of-18 shooting and Bynum to 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Milwaukee forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders, playing valuable reserve roles, were instrumental in frustrating Gasol at the offensive end. Ilyasova scored 15 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot in 24 minutes, 48 seconds and Sanders collected four rebounds and three blocks in a 13:19 stint.

“That meant a lot, especially with Bogut not being here,” Mbah a Moute said. “He’s always our anchor down low. For us to go out and make it tough on a guy like Gasol, that’s big. That’s a big reason why we won the game.”

Jennings agreed.

“The fact that they had those two twin towers down there in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, I thought we did a great job on them,” he said. “Kobe Bryant is going to do what he does regardless. But I think a big key was our bigs kind of contained their bigs.”

Mbah a Moute liked the message his team sent from the get-go as it opened a 27-23 first-quarter advantage.

“We have to come out and play hard from the start like we did tonight,” Mbah a Moute said. “It says a lot for us to play the way we did tonight. With Bogut out and with ‘Jack’ (Stephen Jackson) out, our energy was really high.

“We need to play at that level every night for us to be good. We pride ourselves on playing defense and when we play hard there, it creates our offense a lot of times.”

Milwaukee reserves played the majority of the second quarter, during which the team extended its lead to 51-43. Swingman Mike Dunleavy led the charge, scoring 10 of his 15 points during a 7:37 stint, and Ilyasova, guard Beno Udrih and forwards Sanders and Jon Leuer also made key contributions off the bench.

 Jennings pinpointed that stretch of the game as a pivotal one.

“I think our second group played the biggest part in the success,” he said. “They came in and really carried us in that second quarter especially. They made that run and made some great plays for us.

“Our second group has really been helping us. Sometimes the starters, including myself, don’t start off the game the way we want to, but they’ve been coming in and picking us up. It’s been a team effort all the way around.”

Los Angeles tried to make a mount a comeback in the third quarter, but the Bucks countered what the Lakers threw at them.

“The third quarter’s been rough for us,” Mbah a Moute said. “In the games we’ve lost by a couple of points, we didn’t start off well in the third quarter. That’s been critical for us.

“Tonight in the third quarter, they made a run at us, but were were able to sustain and extend our lead in the fourth.”

Jennings said he didn’t take a lot of extra satisfaction in the fact that the victory came over his hometown team, but he did make an admission.

“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “I grew up kind of a Lakers fan and also a Kobe Bryant fan … but it does feel good to beat them.”
Mbah a Moute, who played collegiately at UCLA, said the win didn’t carry any additional value for him, either, but he did notice something different afterward.

“I just took a look at my phone,” he said. “There are a lot of text messages. A lot of my friends are Lakers fans and they watch the game.

“When we win like we did tonight, it’s always fun to see what they have to say after the game.”

Mbah a Moute looked at the big picture, too.

“This was a very good victory for us, and not just because they’re the Lakers,:” he said. “The way we started the game tonight, we felt like we had a good opportunity to win and we seized that opportunity. That’s always good for the team.”


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