My twenty years as a Bucks fan have been, at least superficially, a disappointment. Far too many 50-loss seasons ending in mid-April. Disappointing draft picks and bloated contracts. Stars that don't shine as bright as every other team's stars. Coaches that talk a good game but can't seem to coach one. So if you're a recent convert or a casual fan, understand where I'm coming from. I might love the game too much to give it up, but as a fan I've got some serious baggage. Cynicism, pessimism, paranoia...it's all there lurking in the shadows.
So quite honestly I don't know how to deal with Brandon Jennings. I just watched him score 55 points in his seventh professional game, and quite honestly I'm working through some things. Like, is this really happening? Is it possible the universe is playing an awful, awful trick on us poor Bucks fans? Or is this just what it feels like to have a superstar drop into our lap? And can we just get him to sign a max contract extension now, rather than waiting another two plus years?
If you weren't able to catch the game, I'm sorry. Very, very sorry. Because not only was this an incredible performance, but it ended up being an exciting game to boot. Not that you would have known from the first 24 minutes, which had all the traits of a deflating, momentum-killing loss against a sub-.500 team.
It all started with an uncharacteristically defense-less first half that had the Bucks trailing 57-49. I know the Warriors are up-tempo and offensively gifted and all that, but the Bucks just didn't look right. Andrew Bogut had scored 13 but conceded a head-scratching 11 to Mikki Moore. Jennings had been scoreless in the first half but dropped in 10 in the second. The game was still there for the taking, but the Bucks didn't seem to be playing their game.
Call Jim Paschke a prophet, because a minute into the third quarter he saw something. "Why do I have a good feeling about this game from a Bucks' perspective?"
What it was, I'm not really sure. But shortly thereafter Jennings went to work, beginning his systematic dismantling of the Warriors' defense. Twenty-nine points in the period, 12/13 fg, 4/5 from deep, and almost all of it in the halfcourt. More on that below. The game was so bizarre that Scott Skiles even went with a zone for a short period in the third.
Give credit to the W's though--they could have quit once the momentum turned against them, but they kept making shots. Monta Ellis had his jumper working (never a good sign) and the Bucks had no answer for Corey Maggette, who was playing center down the stretch and ended up scoring 25 on 11 shots. And with 4:24 left, an Ellis triple brought the Warriors all the way back to claim a 108-107 lead.
Fortunately, this was Jennings' night. He drilled a straight-away triple to reclaim the Bucks lead with 2:14 left, then buried an excuse-me fadeaway banker from the left side moments later. The Warriors kept coming back, so he drilled another three with 34 seconds left to make the lead six. And after a sloppy final minute saw Anthony Morrow miss a potential winning three with 10 seconds left, it was who else but Jennings who came away with the rebound and a clutch pair of free throws to ice it.
Brandon Jennings. Fifty-five for the game, all in the final three quarters. Forty-five in the second half (17/21 fg). Twenty-nine in the third quarter. Simply unbelievable.
The Warriors don't defend much anyway, but everytime the Bucks gave Jennings a high screen good things happened. As we've seen from most opponents, the Warriors were content to go under screens on Jennings and dare him to make a play.
So he did. Gliding to the hoop for acrobatic layins. Dropping in that one-handed floater that's quickly becoming his signature shot. Pulling up off the screen for a clean look at a mid-range jumper. And when all that was getting boring, how about a three-pointer? Or seven of them? Once Jennings got going, it didn't matter if his feet were set. He made his first twelve shots of the third period, and when his last jumper of the period bounced off the rim the entire arena seemed confused. How did that happen?
Perhaps more amazingly, he kept going, which was fortunate considering the Warriors refusal to lay down. Every time the Bucks needed a big shot in the fourth he was there to make it happen. This was his coming out party, and he wasn't going to let it end with anything but a win. By the way, did we mention that he missed his first three shots and was benched less than five minutes into the game?
Andrew Bogut. Bogut went to town on the small Warrior frontline in the first three quarters, scoring 19 on 9/12 shooting to go with 11 boards. Nothing in the fourth quarter, but fortunately they didn't need him.
As usual, Bogut's success was tied to his ability to give the Warriors different looks. With the Warriors doubling a fair bit in the post, he faced up a number of times, including one play where he drove baseline right on the quicker Anthony Randolph and threw down a highlight reel facial on the youngster. Bogut even hit a mid-range jumper in the first half, which is the first time I can remember one of those this year. And nothing was more poetic than the two-handed alley-oop he put down from Jennings off a screen and roll in the third.
Defensively he had some problems, allowing Moore to make all six of his shots en route to 13 points. And he was a half-step slow every time the W's guards burned the Bucks' perimeter defense, allowing Ellis and company to finish time and again at the cup. That's not really on Bogut per se, but he seemed to have better luck defending the rim against Denver.
Charlie Bell. Luke Ridnour or Luc Mbah a Moute (nine pts, 12 rebs) could easily have gotten the nod as well, but we'll give the nod to Bell (14 pts, four rebs, six ast) for his clutch play in the fourth quarter and tireless defense throughout the game. Bell scored seven in the final period, including a three to reclaim the lead with 3:02 remaining and the game-clincing two free throws with 3 seconds left. He also handed out six assists as the Bucks continued to show good patience offensively.
55. Could there be any other?
15-2. We highlighted the Warriors' rebounding problems in the pregame, and they didn't disappoint. Though neither team could do much to slow down the other offensively (56% for GS, 52% for the Bucks), the Bucks predictably annihilated the Warriors on the glass, 46-31, including +13 on the offensive glass.
14. My reaction at the half? The Bucks seemed content to let the game come down to a shooting contest, which just didn't seem like an ideal gameplan. But as noted in the pregame, the Bucks have actually been more dependent on the threeball than the Warriors this season, so maybe it wasn't that bad of a strategy. Overall, Jennings' 7/8 performance helped propel the Bucks to a scorching 14/24 from deep, netting a +18 compared to the Warriors' 8/20.
BROGUT! Brandon Jennings. Andrew Bogut. They play the two most important positions in the game, and for the last couple weeks each has been playing like they're one of the league's best at those positions. Now for the love of God, both of you need to stay healthy.
Going small. With Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf hurt, the Warriors couldn't have gone big even if they wanted to, and after a sloppy defensive first half Scott Skiles had seen enough of his usual starting five. Luke Ridnour started the second half in place of Hakim Warrick, pushing Charlie Bell to SF and Luc Mbah a Moute to PF, and it worked. OK, so realistically I could have been playing PF in the third and the Bucks would have been OK, but in each of the last two games Skiles has changed up his lineup to start the third and the Bucks have two wins to show for it. Flexibility = good.
Spotlight. It's not just that the Bucks have been bad in recent years, it's that people stopped caring. National media, local fans...the Bucks simply haven't been a relevant concept for some time. But if you've been patient then you're starting to get your rewards. The crowds have been treated to some great performances at the BC thus far, and the players have gotten the love they deserve right back, especially with the Squad 6ers cheering loud and proud for 48 minutes every night. There are still way too many empty seats at the BC, but that's going to change. How can it not?
Bogut's streak. Bogut came into the game having made his last nine free throws, but apparently we shouldn't read too much into it. A 1/6 night later and Bogut looks back to his maddeningly inconsistent self from the stripe.
Soft serve. Just way too many easy buckets in the first half for the W's, who gave the Bucks' perimeter defenders problems with penetration that led to lots of easy looks both inside (when they opted to finish past slow help defense) and out (when they kicked it out for open looks). Don't expect the Bucks to be ranked #1 in defensive efficiency anymore after conceding a 123.8 pts/100 night to the Warriors, but hopefully they don't let this game get them into bad habits. On the plus side, they did a better job of closing out on shooters in the second half, and Golden State didn't do anything on the offensive boards.
Empty seats. Official attendance was just short of 15,000 tonight and it looked like a lot less. What else is going on in Milwaukee on a Saturday night?