Surprising Bucks refused to fade away
MILWAUKEE Charlie Villanueva’s offensive breakout is not a surprise in this most surprising season for the Milwaukee Bucks.
But Ramon Sessions?
Now that’s a horse of a different color and with 27 games left in the 2008-’09 regular season to protect a one-game lead for the last coveted playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are suddenly not the overwhelming long shot many thought they had become after losing three starters to injuries.
The extremely solid play of Villanueva and Sessions, with help from a revitalized Richard Jefferson and Charlie Bell, is one reason this growing-on-me-daily band of overachievers remains in this year’s playoff chase.
The other, of course, is Scott Skiles.
Michael Redd won’t be, Andrew Bogut could be and Luke Ridnour most certainly will be back before the end of the season, but by that time, the Bucks’ fate should be cemented. Heading into Tuesday night’s fight in Detroit with the Pistons, the Bucks are one game ahead of the New Jersey Nets, two ahead of the Chicago Bulls, 3½ ahead of the New York Knicks and the Charlotte Bobcats and 4½ ahead of the Indiana Pacers for that final Eastern playoff position.
After losing three legitimate starters, the Bucks were expected in this space to fade into the lottery sunset.
But a funny thing happened on the way to ruination:
The band played on.
Villanueva has been leading the charge, giving power forwards fits with his outside/inside game, and Sessions has done everything to make me believe, for a minute at least, that he could be Lou Gehrig to Ridnour’s Wally Pipp (the New York Yankees’ Pipp, a first baseman, was beaned in batting practice and never could get his spot back from future Hall of Famer Gehrig).
In an eye-opening loss to Detroit a few games back, Sessions destroyed Allen Iverson (mostly), Arron Afflalo and then Tayshaun Prince on his way to a well-earned, career-high 44 points and 12 lovely assists in a grueling overtime loss that had the Bucks’ Bradley Center faithful screaming with renewed energy.
One game—a pretty darn gone one—but one game, I thought.
On the next Monday night, he rolled over Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks and the Houston Rockets for 26 points and seven assists in a 124-112 blowout victory. And two days later, Sessions was at it again, with 15 points and a game-high 17 dimes in a 122-110 victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers.
During that same three-game span, Villanueva (33 vs. Detroit; 25 vs. Houston; 17 vs. Indiana) averaged 25 points, Jefferson (16; 25; 32) averaged 24.3 points, and Bell (10; 21; 20) averaged 17 points, as the team scored more than 120 points in all three.
What this proves is that the Bucks are still capable of scoring and are still very much in tune with Skiles’ defensive philosophy, which has been a most calming influence in a season full of ups and downs due to injuries.
True enough, the Bucks’ tenuous lead for the last spot is not guaranteed to last, but the last time I checked in on the Broken Up Team That Could, it was headed for the very bottom of the standings after being staggered by injury after injury after injury.
But give the Milwaukee Bucks credit for taking that standing 8-eight count and roaring back to breathe fresh air into a season that was suffocating.
Yes, it’s a surprise that they are still in it, but if you ask Villanueva, Sessions, Bell and Skiles, it’s not. . . .
They are doing what they were paid to do at the beginning of the season:
Play ball until the final buzzer.