Perseverance pays dividends

End of 11-game losing streak a relief to Drew, Bucks

Bucks head coach Larry Drew

The guess here is that Larry Drew slept well on the night of Nov. 30, probably making up for a few weeks’ worthl of restless hours.

When the first-year Milwaukee Bucks head coach addressed the media following the team’s 92-85 victory over the Boston Celtics at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear.

His expression reflected relief – that of a man who had been through a wringer and emerged intact.

Over the previous 20 days, Drew’s Bucks had lost 11 consecutive games, marking only the sixth streak of 10 or more consecutive setbacks since the franchise’s inception in 1968.

Drew’s first response was to a comment, not a question: “It had to feel good to get one.”

“Yes, especially the way we did it,” Drew replied. “We found a way to get it done, as short-handed as we were. We had some guys playing out of position. That’s kind of been our story this season thus far.”

Later, Drew added, “I thought our guys really answered that challenge tonight and played at a high level.”

The injury-ridden Bucks were without forward Carlos Delfino, who has not played this season while recovering from offseason foot surgery; center Larry Sanders, still recovering from right thumb surgery;  forward Caron Butler, nursing a sore left knee; and forward Ersan Ilyasova, bothered by a sore left hamstring.

The Celtics, meanwhile, had won three of their previous four games and were fresh off a 103-86 romp over Cleveland the night before.

The game had an ominous start for Milwaukee, which fell behind 27-19 after a quarter.

But the Bucks doubled up their guests 28-14 in the second quarter and built a maximum lead of 17 points before holding off Boston down the stretch.

“We had some guys I thought really stepped up tonight,” Drew said. “John Henson had himself a great game, Brandon (Knight) was really good tonight … and O.J. (Mayo) … and Giannis (Antetokounmpo came in and really gave us a big lift in that first half.”

“We had some guys who really stepped up and really played hard. Boston is a team that is solid. They have guys who can make shots. Jeff Green is a rising star in the league. And they’re a very physical team. But I thought our guys responded to what we were up against tonight. We kind of dictated the rhythm of the game defensively and we made some shots.”

The Bucks got a huge lift from Knight, who had played in only seven of the team’s first 15 games while nursing a sore hamstring. Making just his fifth start of the season, Knight followed up a 17-point outing against Charlotte the previous night with season highs of 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 30 minutes, 57 seconds.

Knight, acquired by the Bucks along with forward Khris Middleton and forward Viacheslav Kravtsov  from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for guard Brandon Jennings on July 31 last summer, was asked afterward if this was his best game as a Buck.

“I would say so,” Knight said. “I haven’t played much this season. I’ve come off the bench in a couple of games and had to sit back down.

“As I continue to get healthy and get my feet back and adjust after having to sit down for three or four weeks, I know I’ll continue to get better and better and I know our team will continue to get better and better.”

Drew recognized what a difference-maker Knight was.

“Brandon played really well,” Drew said. “He shot the ball well and got into the paint area a few times. Defensively, he’s really aggressive.

“Having played against him the last couple of years and having watched him play, I didn’t realize he’s as good a defender as he is. He’s a good defender … really impressive.

“Overall, he had a really good game.”

Another vital component in the Bucks’ success was Antetokounmpo, the rookie forward who celebrates his 19th birthday Dec. 6. He played a season-high 27 minutes, 45 seconds and delivered 10 points, hitting 4 of 6 shots including 2 of 3 3-pointers and totaled season highs of seven rebounds and four assists.

In the process, the 6-foot-9-inch phenom brought his teammates and the Bucks fans to their feet several times.

“They turned the ball over and he went down and dunked it,” Drew said. “Then he blocked a shot and came down and dunked it on the opposite end. Those were two really athletic plays.

“He did a good job. I was going to leave him in there until he gave me the fist that he wanted to come out, because I thought when he was in the game we got into a real good rhythm and did some good things out there.”

Antetokounmpo, who did not play at all in five of the team’s first 15 games, said his success was in his preparation.

“I just stay focused,” he said. “When the coach calls me, I go in. When he doesn’t call me, I go back and practice so I can stay in shape to be ready when he calls me.

“There’s a lot of things people don’t know that I can do out there. But as the season goes on, you’re going to see them.”

Henson, who scored 13 points, snared a team-high 13 rebounds and paced Milwaukee with three blocked shots, looks forward to seeing what the Bucks’ 2013 first-round draft pick has in store.

“He gave us a spark,” Henson said. “He’s a dynamic young player. It’s going to be fun to watch him grow up before our eyes.”

Mayo scored a game-high 22 points for the Bucks, but centered his postgame commentary on the team’s performance and the bottom line.

“One of our strengths is shooting the ball,” Mayo said. “Tonight we got it going. It was great to get a win.

“We just have to go out and play hard. Every night it’s going to be a challenge all around the board. We just have to continue to play hard and find a way.”

Drew agreed.

“This is the exact type of effort that we have to have from all of our guys,” he said. “Even when we get the guys who are out now back, this is the type of effort that we have to have when we step out on the floor.

“We can’t take possessions off. We can’t do things at half-speed.

“Everything has to be done at a pace that will allow us to grow.”