MILWAUKEE – Welcome back, Monta Ellis. Welcome back to the ranks of the NBA’s one-name-only stars.
Ellis – or should we say, Monta – returned to elite-scorer status by lighting up the Atlanta Hawks for 33 points Tuesday in his best performance by far in the two weeks since he’d been traded from Golden State to Milwaukee. And that boosts the Bucks’ chances of returning to the playoffs as they chase the New York Knicks for the East’s No. 8 spot.
A natural-born scorer, Ellis’ game had been rattled by the trade and, given the lack of practice time, by the abrupt drop into the deep end of his new team’s pool. He had missed 50 of his first 76 shots in six games with the Bucks and hadn’t topped 18 points in any of them. He arrived as a 21.9 ppg guy, then played at a 12.2 ppg level, hitting bottom with a 2-of-14 performance at Madison Square Garden Monday.
That prompted a sitdown with Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles. “He’s a little down right now because his shot isn’t going in for him,” Skiles had said before tipoff. “I told him he’s too good a player to get down.”
What the Bucks were hoping was that Ellis would ignite one of these days and stay hot long enough to carry them past the Knicks and into the postseason. Sooner being a better option than later, given the dwindling opportunities to make up ground. And that’s what Ellis did, scoring 10 points in the first quarter to spot Milwaukee to an early lead and then 17 more in the fourth to pull them from the brink of collapse.
It was room service at the Bradley Center, on a cart, with a linen tablecloth, precisely what Skiles and his crew had ordered. Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described Monta-being-Monta in the 108-101 victory thusly:
From the start, Ellis played as if there were no mental hangover from the night before. Because his jump shots had not been falling, he took it straight to the rim. And when Ellis does that, no one in recent team memory, at least as far back as Ray Allen, is as explosive to the hole.
Ellis took it right at Hawks, a much more athletic team than the Bucks. Still, the Bucks were separating the Hawks from the ball. Only Marvin Williams, whom the Bucks passed over in the 2005 draft to take Andrew Bogut, was causing damage.
The Bucks gave up Bogut so maybe Ellis could shoot them into the playoffs. Against the Hawks, Ellis did what shooters do. He shot himself, and maybe the Bucks, right out of a slump.
“It was just something about today,” Ellis said later. “I was just light on my feet. I was just moving. I went into one of my modes and it felt good. I was happy that I was in it and I just kept going … I was glad I was able to show the Bucks tonight and take this game and build off of it.”
Ellis also admitted to being buoyed by his wife Juanika’s presence in town finally, with their two kids, and at Bradley Center. He hit 15 of his 24 shots, passed for a team-high eight assists, had a key steal-and-dunk near the start of the fourth quarter, when the Hawks had their biggest lead (81-78). He and speedy backcourt mate Brandon Jennings finally clicked too – or at least didn’t chafe – combining for 51 points (their previous best was 32).
“What we had to do was get out and run,” Ellis said. “Once we get out and run, everybody else is going to run with us.”
Milwaukee had dropped three straight against East playoff teams (Boston, Indiana, New York) before outlasting Atlanta. Now, with 10 of their remaining 16 games at home, they are set up nicely for a playoff push. Ellis played in one postseason in his NBA career. It came five years ago when he was just 21, back in 2007 when the Warriors upset Dallas and then lost to Utah. Ellis averaged only 8.0 points and 21.6 minutes in 11 playoff appearances.
He likely would do better this time around. He’ll have to do better – more in line with his Tuesday breakthrough – if he and the Bucks are even going to get the chance.