It feels good to win things, guys; it's nice to be recognized for a job well done. So after being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played between Feb. 25 and March 3, Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis entered Monday night's matchup with the Utah Jazz feeling ready to take on the world. His preferred method of world-on-taking, as captured by our friends at the Yahoo! Sports Minute? The "come on, really?" baseline 360 reverse spin for a fourth-quarter bucket:
I kind of like celebrating stuff with dinner and drinks at home with my wife. Monta likes celebrating by hurling his body into a giant Turkish man named Enes Kanter, twirling away from him, floating under the basket to the opposite side of the rim to avoid a shot-block and getting a layup on the glass without even looking at the rim. One's not cooler than the other; they're just different, really.
(OK, his is cooler. But during mine, I can watch episodes of "Friday Night Lights" on Netflix Instant, so I'm good with it.)
But Ellis' aerial acrobatics alone weren't enough to hold down the feisty young Jazz. After erasing a late-first-half Utah lead and taking control of the contest thanks in large part to a 16-2 mid-third-quarter run sparked by the backcourt of Ellis and Brandon Jennings, the Jazz charged back in the fourth, as young guns Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward teamed with vets Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll to take a 3-point lead into the final two minutes. That set the stage for a late-stage square-off between Ellis and Millsap, who traded buckets to knot the game at 96; after a Kanter layup and an Ellis miss, Millsap stepped to the line with a chance to give Utah a two-possession lead with 14.9 seconds left and the Bucks holding just one timeout.
Instead, Millsap missed, noted stathead darling Larry Sanders rebounded, and gave Milwaukee a shot ... which Jennings promptly took:
Bang. A Sanders block of Hayward on the other end — on which Jazz fans likely wanted a foul, while Bucks fans would argue that Sanders fell on the legal side of the go-straight-up principle — and a missed baseline jumper from Kanter meant we were headed to overtime. From there, J.J. Redick took over (eight points in the extra five minutes), Ellis drained a huge top-of-the-key jumper to put Milwaukee up three with 14.9 seconds left and Utah couldn't get a triple to tie in the closing seconds, giving the Bucks a thrilling 109-108 overtime win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which is a name that really rolls off the tongue.
Ellis led the way with a game-high 34 points on 15 for 21 shooting, four steals, four rebounds, three assists and one nifty spin-o-rama in the win. With Monta having it all offensively, Jennings again slid into a facilitating role, scoring 20 points on 8 for 14 shots and dishing 17 assists against just three turnovers in 46 1/2 minutes; as Frank Madden of Bucks blog Brew Hoop noted, this marked the second straight game in which Jennings posted more assists than field goal attempts, which was something he hadn't done at all through the season's first 56 games.
Add that to Redick providing punch, especially late, off the bench (17 points on 50 percent shooting) and Sanders doing his level best to hang in there against Utah's meat-grinder frontcourt (eight points, 16 rebounds, six blocks) and you've got the recipe for a fourth straight win, putting Milwaukee seven games up on the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final East playoff spot and drawing Jim Boylan's Bucks within a game of the idle Boston Celtics for the No. 7 seed. Spinning celebrations all around!
On the other side of the aisle, the loss drops the Jazz into the eighth seed out West, a half-game behind the No. 7 Houston Rockets, and cuts their lead over the don't-look-now-but-we're-.500-again Los Angeles Lakers for the conference's final playoff berth to just two games. It's tempting to pin the loss on Millsap missing the back-end of his two freebies to leave the door open for Jennings' trey, but given the choice between blaming the dude who up 22 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three assists in a team-high 44 minutes or casting my gaze at the three Utah starters (Marvin Williams, Randy Foye and Earl Watson) who went scoreless on 15 field-goal attempts or coach Tyrone Corbin, who continues to refuse to start Hayward, Burks or Carroll despite them seeming like clearly superior options on the wing, I think I'll go with one of the latter two.