"Early deficits and overtime thrillers" sounds like a marketing slogan for a pop punk tour, rather than a description of the Milwaukee Bucks' last two home victories.
Trailing by as many as nine in the first half, the Bucks overcame a litany of failures on the glass (-17 differential) and in the bonus (-15 made FT differential) Monday night, prevailing 109-108 over the Utah Jazz in Milwaukee's second straight overtime win.
Utah took control early, never trailing in the first half and racking up as many offensive rebounds in the first two quarters (13) as the Bucks allowed in their victory over the Raptors. Derrick Favors in particular (17 pts, 8-14 fg, 14 rbs, 7 orbs in first half) is currently giving Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh, and Larry Sanders night terrors.
A Brandon Jennings three ball gave Milwaukee their first lead barely two minutes into the second half. The teams traded baskets for the next four minutes, until the Bucks busted out with a 10-0 run, sparked by a Jennings trey and a Monta Ellis three point play. Predictably, Utah was held to a single offensive board in the third quarter, as the Bucks used a 30-17 advantage to enter the final frame up 75-65.
(This is the part of the movie where you see the twist coming from a mile away.)
The Jazz worked their way back into the game of course, re-hashing some of their first quarter physicality to get into the bonus with over eight minutes to play. Utah's bench (27 of 34 Q4 points) rallied back to tie the game with 4:40 remaining.
From that point on, the Jazz scored all 10 of their live-ball points in the paint, and Monta Ellis scored seven of the Bucks' 13 points, including a game-tying three pointer and a game-tying lay-up that featured incredible speed and body positioning around the hoop. But it was Jennings that truly carried the quarter, cutting back and forth beyond the arc and launching the overtime-inducing three ball with just 8.4 seconds to play.
In overtime, JJ Redick caught fire (8 pts, 3-5 fg, 2-4 3fg), and Larry Sanders had a couple LARRY SANDERS! denials that weren't relegated to his Dr. Blocktopus persona. The Jazz were forced to settle for a quick two on their final possession and without any timeouts could not recover in time to get another shot, as the Bucks extended their winning streak to four straight heading into Wednesday's trip to take on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brandon Jennings. For the second game in a row, Bra-jon Jennings embraced Karl Marx, dropping 17 assists and looking incredibly comfortable swinging passes this way and that. Registering 10 assists in the first half, it really was amazing to see Jennings settle in as a distributor, patiently reading the defense and taking what was given to him without forcing too many bad shots. I say too many because, although he drained a three to extend the game an extra five minutes, the shot itself was far more difficult than necessary. But overall, it was a great night for the Young Buck.
Monta Ellis. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week did not disappoint when the lights shone brightest. Ellis (34 pts, 15-21 fg, 3-5 ft, 4 stls, 3 asts, 4 rbs) scored 11 points in the final quarter and was fearless attacking the rim all evening (8-8 in the restricted area). He was regularly beating his defender off the dribble, and creating shots in the paint where there previously were none. Specifically, his off-ball cut-to-spin-to-up-and-under was a sight to behold.
Larry Sanders. Sanders (8 pts, 3-9 fg, 16 rbs, 6 blks) was anything but a force on offense. But when the team needed him most on the defensive end, Sanders delivered with a block on Paul Millsap that kept Utah from tying the game in overtime, and earlier, Sanders snuffed out Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks like he was pinching out a burning candle. The Burks play didn't count because of a charge call, but it was probably the biggest crowd-pleasing defensive effort of the night.
23, 27. Utah pulled down 23 offensive boards, and finished the game with 27 second-chance points. This occurred without Al Jefferson and with Millsap playing with a bum ankle. The rebounding problems continue.
16-19. On the game, the Jazz shot 24-31 on free throws, with 16-19 coming in the fourth quarter. Utah is known for its physicality (and more than a couple people took issue with Dick Bavetta's referee crew, but that's not worth dwelling on), but Milwaukee routinely played with apprehension and it gave the Jazz a green light to crash inside whenever they damn well pleased.
65%. Over his past five games, Ellis is shooting 26-40 from inside the circle. He's scoring 24 points on 19 shots, connecting at a 50.5% clip (33.3% 3fg), dropping eight assists per game, and adding four steals to boot.
Interior defense. The Utah backcourt of Earl Watson and Randy Foye threw up a combined 0 points on 0-10 shooting. As such, the Jazz turned to Derrick Favors (23 pts, 15 rbs), Millsap (22 pts, 14 rbs), and Enes Kanter (18 pts, 10 rbs) as their offensive focal points, with Corbin opting to run with Millsap and Kanter down the stretch despite Favors' monster play in the first three quarters. For the most part, it worked until the game's end. Ersan Ilyasova was completely over-matched guarding Millsap, and no Bucks player was consistently capable of helping Larry Sanders recover after a block attempt. Now the Bucks get DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Huzzah!
Things Don't Change. We've said all season that the team lives and dies with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Well, they've been fairly spectacular in consecutive games, and the Bucks still needed an extra five minutes to beat the Rudy Gay-less Toronto Raptors and Jefferson-less Jazz. At the end of the day, Milwaukee's shortcomings in the frontcourt are far more likely to factor into a final outcome than the high volume scoring from their backcourt.
A fine line. It exists, between "HUGE WIN" and "DEVASTATING LOSS." The reality is this game is no bigger than any others they've played lately; the team starts incredibly slow, gradually catches up, stalls late, and rallies just in time to salvage a victory and the day-after talking points among people paid to read far too deeply into one game of 82. The fact is thee Bucks are going to L.A. on Wednesday, and it's probably going to soberly erase the optimism from beating two hobbling teams.
Jennings assists. Over his past two games, Jennings has registered career bests of 19 and 17 assists, respectively. It looks and feels like he's seeing the court extremely well and anticipating passing angles better than he has all season. I hesitate to re-label Jennings' three and a half years of work after just two games, but it's incredibly refreshing to see him play a more traditional passing role within the offense.
Monta Ellis' spinning layup. Go find it on YouTube. It's quite breathtaking.
Clutch Redick. Redick didn't look to have his shot quite right in regulation, but two huge threes and a corkscrewing layup accounted for the Bucks' first eight points of the overtime. For the game he tallied 17 points on 14 shots, upping his Bucks' average to 15.4 ppg on sparkling .500/.370/1.000 shooting.