Beno Udrih battles for the honor of all Bucks who came before him (Christian Petersen/ Getty).
On Thursday night, the Milwaukee Bucks overcame an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat the Suns 98-94 in Phoenix behind a 10-point, perfect-shooting final period from scoring guard Monta Ellis. That fact in itself is not news. The Bucks are a solid team, seventh in the East at 20-18 and reinvigorated after replacing not particularly well-liked head coach Scott Skiles with seasoned interim coach Jim Boylan. The Suns, on the other hand, are really bad, last in the West at 13-28 and well on their way to a high draft pick.
It's a major win, though, because it ended the longest active NBA losing streak (in terms of years, not games) of one team in one city. The Bucks hadn't won in Phoenix since a 115-107 victory on Feb. 21, 1987 — a run of 24 games and more than 25 years. That means seven members of the Bucks — Tobias Harris, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Jennings, Doron Lamb, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh — hadn't even been born the last time the Bucks beat the Suns in Phoenix. It was also the Bucks' first win in US Airways Center, where the Suns started playing way back in the 1992-93 season.
Oddly enough, the Bucks didn't make a very big deal out of the victory. From Brett Pollakoff for ProBasketballTalk:
Bucks head coach Jim Boylan said he chose not to even mention the streak to his team before the game got started.
“We actually did not discuss it at all,” Boylan said. “The players knew about it. They were aware of it, so it wasn’t something they didn’t know. Everybody knew about it.
“In years past, we’ve tried that a couple times, and said ‘hey guys, it’s been 20-some-odd years since we’ve won here,’ but it’s never seemed to work,” he continued. “So I took the opposite track, and figured I’m not going to say a word about it. But I did have the box score [from that last win] and we were able to throw that up there after the game to kind of celebrate.”
That's a smart approach from Boylan for multiple reasons. For one thing, a streak of losses that extends back to before several key players were alive is only going to act as so much motivation. After all, "Win one for Dudley Bradley!" is not a particularly melodious rallying cry. Plus, shouldn't pride be enough of an inspiration against such an inferior opponent? Aren't the Bucks fighting to hold onto a playoff spot?
Then again, the Bucks went 24 games without beating the Suns in Phoenix, and it stands to reason that there were seasons in there when they were favored. Take, say, this March 1988 game, when Milwaukee were 16 1/2 games better than Phoenix heading into what became a 119-114 loss. Just imagine: if they'd won that game, the streak only would have been 23 seasons long!
By the way, it's worth noting that an even longer team-vs.-team road losing streak could fall on Friday night. The Golden State Warriors have lost 27 straight games in San Antonio over a span of nearly 16 years. Given the Warriors' recent poor performances and the Spurs' current 14-game home win streak, chances are we'll see that historic run go up to 28 games.
Or, I don't know, maybe the Warriors just have to forget they have a terrible history of losing in San Antonio. Ignorance is bliss.