It's funny how a single play can be so indicative of a season. On Nov. 12, Milwaukee's Maurice Williams heaved up a 3-pointer at the buzzer and drew nothing but net, handing the Bucks a shocking 103-102 win over Indiana after the Bucks had trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter.
That game symbolized what has been a trend for both teams, though in opposite directions: the knack (or lack thereof) of winning close games. Milwaukee is a ridiculous 13-1 in games decided by five or fewer points this season, keeping the Bucks afloat in the playoff race and sending the folks at Elias scurrying toward the microfilm room. Meanwhile, Indy is only 4-8 in such contests. By contrast, the Pacers are 14-9 when the game is decided by double digits.
Ask the Bucks, and they'll tell you that confidence is the difference. "Being in those situations so many times gives you so much confidence," said the team's leading scorer, Michael Redd. "It started with our game against Philadelphia, we were in a close game and pulled it out [Bucks won 117-108 in overtime in their opener], and we kind of rode that wave through the season. The more times you do it, the more confidence you get."
Whether it's confidence or something else, it's helping the Bucks in the standings quite a bit. Through Tuesday, the Bucks are 21-19, half a game ahead of the Pacers. That might give you the impression the two teams are roughly of the same quality, perhaps even that Milwaukee is better.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth, as the Pacers amply showed in a 112-88 demolition of Milwaukee during the teams' rematch two weeks ago. Indiana, despite standing just a game over .500 at the midway point of the year, is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. And Milwaukee, despite seemingly heading toward a playoff season, is actually no better than many clubs who appear destined for the lottery.