I need college basketball like Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings needed college basketball.
The NCAA championship is tonight, and here I am, watching and writing about the NBA. And happy -- even though the Bucks are probably closer to being a Top 25 team than a Final Four team.
Call it another win against an inferior opponent after another loss to a superior opponent, but call out the words "win" and "inferior" the loudest. The Wizards are all sorts of 12-41, but they were playing some real defense of late until the Bucks came to town and dropped in 112 like they would drop in 112 more if they had another 48 minutes to go. Every quarter was different -- Ellis carried the first, the bench stepped up in the second, Jennings rocked the third, and Shaun Livingston and Ekpe Udoh closed out the fourth -- but 28-27-28-29 all the same.
Jennings and Ellis found a balance between attacking and distributing, between control and improvisation, between each other. Neither of Milwaukee's starting guards had an exceptional shooting touch this evening, and that almost made their strong performances more reassuring than anything. They passed well, and they were assertive. On this team, that is what this team needs more than anything.
Because this team is just full of professional offensive players.
Brandon Jennings. Finger-rolling good. The Bucks put away the Wizards in the third quarter, and that was on Jennings, who netted 17 points in the quarter. That was enough, and so during the fourth quarter, he got to just kick it and watch Shaun Livingston crush a little and Larry Sanders make buzzer-beaters. Jennings wasn't perfect, but he distributed, outplayed John Wall, and took over the game for a quarter. That was plenty.
Ekpe Udoh. Udoh is rebounding much, much better since putting on a Bucks shirt, and that continued tonight as he collected 8 rebounds (3 offensive) in 22 minutes. But who saw these assists coming? Career-high five assists for Udoh, who generally played one of his finest games yet.
Monta Ellis. Could have gone in a few different directions here, but Ellis earns kudos for an efficient scoring night (17 points on 5-11 field goals) and sharp passing that sometimes resulted directly in assists (6) and many other times were not quantifiable
0. Brandon Jennings did not turn the ball over in the third quarter, when he scored 17 points. Also, John Wall did not make a field goal in the third quarter, when Jennings scored 17 points.
11. Monta Ellis (5-6) and Brandon Jennings (5-5) combined to make 10-11 free throws, the first time they have combined to make 10+ free throws in a game.
23. The Bucks scored 23 second-chance points, compared to 12 for the Wizards.
Balance. No one on the Bucks reached 20 points, but all eight players in the eight-man rotation (Harris, Leuer, Brockman, Sanders played the final couple minutes only) scored 8+ points. With Beno Udrih out (left hand), Shaun Livingston stepped up to spell Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in brilliant fashion, making 5-6 field goals in 23 minutes. And with Carlos Delfino (groin) still sidelined, Mike Dunleavy (17 points on 6-10 field goals and 2-5 threes) continues to provide outside shooting. And the Bucks got a versatile backup four/five in Ekpe Udoh (15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) at just the right time, with Drew Gooden understandably slowing from his once-torrid offensive pace.
No Brakes. Plenty of quick points for the Bucks (22 on fastbreak), who are not more athletic than the Wizards, but passed the ball faster than the Wizards dribbled the ball.
Gee, Wiz. The Bucks improved to 3-0 against the Wizards, following an easy 102-81 win about three months ago and a 119-118 win on an Ersan Ilyasova tip-in just over a month ago. The real good news is that the Bucks still get to play them once more -- they host the Wizards on April 18, just eight days before the end of their regular season. The Bucks are just 2.0 games behind the Knicks for the final playoff spot, and that final matchup against the Wizards figures to feel a lot more important than any of the first three.
Be-no. As noted, Beno Udrih, who has been in fine form, missed the game after injuring a bone in his left hand against Memphis on Saturday night. Per JS Online:
Udrih said he can't bend the hand adequately to dribble the ball, and it's also his shooting hand.