Sometimes, you just have to marvel at the poetry ingrained within the ugliest of circumstances.
On Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks were really good, damn near perfect offensively, during the first half. Then a nine-minute collapse belied the previous 35 minutes of redemption, eventually leading to a 97-94 Brooklyn win.
Throughout the first half, Milwaukee ran Brooklyn out of the gym (19 vs. 4 fast break points), shooting a stellar 61.8% from the field (third highest in a half this season) while bottling up Brooklyn's offense (32.6% fg, 29.4% 3fg) and entering the break with a pleasing 54-42 lead.
Brandon Jennings was the main offensive catalyst (18 pts, 7-7 fg, 2-2 3fg, 7 asts), while Larry Sanders anchored a defense that collected five blocks and allowed just 10 points in the paint over the first two quarters.
Then the storm clouds began creeping over the arena, beginning with Sanders' fourth foul not two minutes into the third quarter. Over the frame's final, Larry-less 10 minutes, the Nets outworked the Bucks inside (14-6 paint scoring advantage), methodically thinning out Milwaukee's lead to eight by the start of the fourth.
And just like that, the Nets went on a 24-5 run, stretching from the last 30 seconds of the third quarter to the three-minute mark in the fourth. Without fail, a once-15 point Bucks' lead was flipped in the Nets' favor in less than two minutes. It was as vintage a collapse as we've seen from this team.
Milwaukee mustered just five points (all from Monta Ellis) over the quarter's first nine and a half minutes, fell down by 11 with 1:50 to go, and moved within three thanks to an 11-3 run spearheaded by a resurgent Jennings, only to see Ellis get fouled on a three point attempt and proceed to miss his first two free throws, handing the Nets their second win in as many nights over the Bucks.
Brandon Jennings. For a fleeting 31 and a half minutes, Jennings was mesmerizing. He hit his first nine shots (for 23 points!), including all three treys, made a few highlight reel, no-look wraparound and ally-oop passes to Sanders (seven assists in total), and generally did his best to break, if not bruise, the ankles of CJ Watson and Deron Williams. Jennings finished the game with 31 points on 12-18 field goals (4-6 3fg, 3-3 ft), along with 11 dimes.
Larry Sanders. Sanders (12 pts, 5-10 fg, 13 rbs, 3 asts, 5 blks) got into foul trouble early in the second half, but registered four blocks in the game's first six and a half minutes. In perhaps one of Sanders' finest defensive performances of his season, if not career, he completely neutralized Brook Lopez (9 points, 3-13 fg, 1 rb), who could never get comfortable enough to rise with authority. It still feels weird that a player capable of fouling out of a Summer League game is quickly becoming one of the most indispensible big men in the NBA.
Monta Ellis. Oh Monta (14 pts, 5-15 fg, 4-9 ft, 5 asts, 4 rbs, 6 TOs). It's easy to froth over Ellis' end-of-game problems at the line (his last one was an intentional miss), but that misses the point. Ellis had one more turnover than assist, couldn't finish at the rim (4-8), and took over half of his shots during the team's downfall in the fourth quarter (2-8 fg). It didn't help that Joe Johnson and Keith Bogans were pushing Ellis to the perimeter for most of the night.
78. The Bucks are now one game below .500 for the first time since December 5, 2012. That was two and a half months ago. Sadly enough, Philadelphia is still much worse.
+12, -15. Behold, the first half lead, and the second half hole. It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times.
28. The Bucks like to run, and run they did. Milwaukee finished a perfect 12-12 on fast break scoring opportunities. The team's spacing in transition opened up some deep range shot opportunities for Ersan Ilyasova (12 pts, 5-11 fg, 2-3 3fg, 12 rbs, 2 blks) in the first half, gifted us a couple PUJITs from Beno Udrih (4 pts, 2-4 fg), and often left the Nets' defense flat-footed.
Turnovers. One of the main reasons the Nets found it so easy to keep the game from really getting out of hand lied in Milwaukee's sloppiness. The Bucks committed 17 turnovers for 19 points, many of which came from a swipe at the ball inside or a predictable left-leaning drive from Jennings or right-leaning movement from Ellis.
Offensive rebounding. Brooklyn actually only collected one second-half offensive board, but made a lot more lemonade out of basketball's amnesty lemons (11 vs. 3 second chance points. The Nets finished with nine offensive rebounds, just two more than the Bucks' seven. However, it's what you do with those second lives that count.
Free throws. Honestly, I have no idea how the team shot 58.1% on free throws (18-31). Again, Ellis' last second clunkers will get the lion's share of attention, but there's plenty of blame to go around for missed freebies over the game's first 47 minutes. Let's just chalk this one up, however unlikely, to the "distractions" that inherently accompany any trade rumors.
Ballin' Young Buck. 29 ppg 53.8% fg, 56% 3fg, 94.7% ft, 7.8 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 spg. These are Jennings' averages over his last four games against the Nets. If there was a reason for anyone to hope for a Brooklyn-Milwaukee matchup in the postseason, this is it.
She's got Sanders Hands. At one point during the Bucks' feverish comeback late in the game, Jennings lasered the ball to Sanders, who finished with a reverse slam. I have no idea when Sanders learned how to properly grasp a basketball with consistency, but it's kind of perverse to think how much better Sanders can still get offensively.
Zero Hour is a few short hours away. By Thursday at 2 p.m. CST, John Hammond will have changed the course of Milwaukee Bucks history forever. Or not. Who knows.