Bucks Bitten at the Buzzer
We feared it might happen. It now has. After an historic start, winning their first 13 games decided by six points or less, the Milwaukee Bucks have now lost three of their last four close games. Last night they lost to the rejuvenated Oklahoma City Hornets, 94-93, in Oklahoma City. Has their luck run out?
The Bucks could have easily won. They led the game by one point with 7.4 seconds left and had C Jamaal Magliore on the free throw line for a one-and-one. Unfortunately, Magliore does not shoot free throws well. Consequently, he missed. Oklahoma City grabbed the rebound and immediately called a timeout. Following the timeout, they advanced the ball to half court. After a Hornets player inbounded the basketball to G Speedy Claxton, Claxton passed it to West. When he caught the ball, West stood parallel to the the free throw line. He immediately let fly and sank a 15 foot jump shot that just barely beat the buzzer. After the shot went through the net, 0.1 of a second remained on the game clock. By rule, the Bucks did not have enough time to attempt a shot, and they lost the game.
The Bucks should not be ashamed, though. They played hard all night long, and they nearly defeated a difficult team in a very hostile arena. Once again G Michael Redd led the team in scoring with 32 points, but the Bucks' entire starting five played admirably, especially rookie FC Andrew Bogut, who recorded 13 points and 7 rebounds despite the pressure he must have felt playing on the home court of his rookie rival, OK City PG Chris Paul.
The bench, on the other hand, played poorly. In fact, they caused the defeat. They simply did not score enough points. All of the starters scored at least 12 points or more, yet none of the reserves could muster even 3. By contrast, backup Hornet PG Speedy Claxton not only scored 19 points in his reserve role, he also handed out the game winning assist. Given the intensity of the game, and the fatigue they felt playing on back-to-back days, the starters needed the bench players to produce well, at least as well as their Hornet counterparts, and they simply did not.
After I watched last night's game, I asked myself one question: Why would the Hornets ever leave the rabid faithful of Oklahoma and return to the indifferent and faithless of New Orleans? The Hornets, after all, are not like the Saints, they have no real roots in Louisiana. The Hornets would not betray any real allegiances if they simply stayed where they are most demonstrably wanted. In fact, should the Hornets move back to the Big Easy, they would be fools, and should NBA Commissioner David Stern decide to order them to go back, he would be either a sadist or a clown.
The dust country crowds the team has attracted this season have been like college crowds: loud and energetic. You just don't find that kind of mass enthusiasm in NBA arenas. Why would you leave such a unique situation behind? And for what?If they go back to the Bayou, all they'll get are a few nice words from the national media about how they did not abandon a city in distress. After that brief halo period is over, however, they'll have to live with years of half-capacity crowds and thoughts of what they left behind. Why?
I don't know what will ultimately happen with this wayward franchise. But I can guess which way the team's leadership is leaning. I saw Hornets owner George Shinn in the crowd last night. He was wearing cowboy boots.