As far as losses go, this one was actually fairly fun.
Ultimately it was a disappointing night--moral victories are for suckers, people--especially considering the Bucks led by seven with five minutes remaining and twice took leads in the final two minutes. But there's no shame in succumbing to the otherworldly talents of LeBron James, especially when Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade happen to be close to the top of their game as well. And with the way the Bucks were nearly blitzed into oblivion in the game's first 15 minutes, you would be forgiven for feeling encouraged simply by the Bucks' ability to fight back and even make a game of it.
You'd never expect the Bucks to challenge seriously in a game where they miss 24 of 29 threes and get next to nothing from Monta Ellis (9 points on 13 shots, 5 to), and what had been a very nice night for Brandon Jennings largely went off the rails in the fourth quarter and overtime. After sparking the Bucks' comeback with a terrific middle two quarters (17 points on 8/12 fg), Jennings simply ran out of gas over the course of his 49 minutes on the court and finished 9/25 from the field. Still, seven rebounds, six assists, five steals and no turnovers redeemed what was in the end a poor shooting night.
The Bucks' youngsters also offered some positive signs. Tobias Harris (11 pts, 6 rebs, 4/9 fg) looked remarkably like an adult in his matchup with LeBron James, who spent more time trying to back Harris down on the block than running him ragged on the perimeter. LeBron's evolving post skills have helped take his game to another level (was that even possible?), but my guess is that Tobias is still much happier banging on the block than having to chase and defend around the perimeter. The Bucks in general took a kitchen sink approach to James, throwing both big (Ekpe Udoh) and small (Marquis Daniels) at James but never really slowing him down. Udoh deserves particular credit--the 6'10" big man guarded James down the stretch and hung with him better than anyone might have expected, and only when the Heat began runing P&Rs in OT did they manage to run away with the game.
And then there was rookie John Henson, who stepped up following Larry Sanders' second quarter ejection (on his birthday no less) and pumped in career-highs of 17 points (7/12 fg, 3/4 ft) and 18 rebounds (8 offensive) in 27 minutes. In case you're keeping score, that's six more rebounds than Sanders has ever had in a game and the scoring total equals Sanders' career-high from earlier this season. And oh by the way, Henson's been around for five games and had played a grand total of 47 minutes coming into Wednesday's game. He couldn't stop LeBron when the Bucks were repeatedly forced to switch defensively in the late going, but then again who can?
You can expect Henson to keep stealing rotation minutes going forward--this is the fourth straight game he's made an appearance--but it's probably premature to expect double-doubles with any regularity from the Bucks' 2012 lottery pick. The Bucks' big man rotation is still extremely crowded even with Ersan Ilyasova continuing to struggle (more on that below), and Sanders won't get ejected from every game. Still, Henson is making up for the preseason time he missed with a sprained knee and reminding us that he has the most raw talent of any of the Bucks' bigs.
- JS | Ilyasova struggling
Ersan? Struggling? No way! So what's the problem, Ersan?
"It's hard to get those shots I got last year. When I start the game, in the first 5 minutes I'm finding my rhythm and trying to make a couple shots.Ersan is deep in denial if he thinks Scott Skiles taking him out of games early has anything to do with his ability to be a passable basketball player, but then again if I was in Ersan's shoes I'd probably be in denial, too. At this point Ilyasova should be thankful he still has a starting job, as he's been the Bucks' worst rotation player by a mile yet has still gotten more minutes than any other big man in Skiles' rotation. I'm not ready to pull the plug on starting Ersan just yet, but that's reality.
"The thing is as soon as I get on the bench and cool down it's really hard to produce right away. I have to adjust to that and we'll see how it's going to work for me."
There are both basketball (he's the only floor-spacing big the Bucks have) and non-basketball reasons ($32 million in guaranteed cash) for Skiles to be patient with Ilyasova, but at this point it's anybody's guess as to how long this slump might last. Ersan's value is predicated on having the unique ability to both shoot and rebound, and right now he's unfortunately doing neither. Clearly there are others who deserve to start ahead of him (any of the wacky waving inflatable flailing arm tube men would be fine), but the Bucks also desperately need Ilyasova to return to some semblance of his prior self if they're going to make legitimate noise this year. But how long is that going to take? And can he figure things out from a greatly diminished role on the bench?
- FS Wisconsin | Henson impresses in Miami
Speaking of guys who have been more impressive than Ersan, how about that Henson kid? Andrew Gruman reports:
"The question with John is not can he come into the game and have success; we already know that," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "It's just does he know what we're doing? He's getting better at it. He's just got a typical rookie learning curve that he's going through. Obviously he was really, really good tonight."Gruman also has a separate piece on the Bucks' recurring fourth quarter issues.
- Bucksketball | Consistency key for Jennings
Jeremy takes a look at the biggest issue preventing Jennings from taking the next step in his career.