[Redd getting ready, but not needed tonight. More winning times on media row.]
MILWAUKEE - In Brandon we trust.
That's the verdict, right?
If you weren't already convinced, this game made you want to vote early and vote often.
Playing without both Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut for the first time, Brandon Jennings carried new responsibility. But the result was the same: He can play just fine without anyone or anytwo, and he play just fine with anyone or anyfour.
This was his team tonight. Game 10 as an NBA'er, and we already knew that this was his team tonight before, during, and after. True, true, true.
Eschewing his usual "wait until after halftime to go nuts" routine, Jennings spun 17 quick points in the first quarter, leaving fans incredulous (again), leaving Charlotte behind and gasping for air, and leaving no doubt whether he can carry an NBA team.
That fast start was just what the thinned-out Bucks needed. And it was quite an opening show to watch for Michael Jordan, who sat in the real, live crowd, and not in a suite.
Jennings made his presence known awfully fast, but he didn't even know MJ was looking on until after halftime.
"No, I didn't. Not before (halftime). I was wondering who everyone was clapping for, so I had to peek up there a little bit during the timeout, and there he was," Jennings said.
Hard to believe, but in Brandon I trust.
Brandon Jennings. Just twenty years old, and he's not just bringing the ball up the floor. Jennings leads his mates, each and every night. Milwaukee needed the scoring, they needed it badly considering the absence of not only Redd and Bogut but also Mbah a Moute. And the Bucks never looked back after that first quarter highlight show, which featured three triples.
The Nets pressured and trapped Jennings into a bad kind of career high last game: eight turnovers. The Bobcats attempted a similar defensive philosophy at times, but Young Buck was supercool under pressure. And wow, what pressure he was under. Tasked with scoring, creating, and distributing, Jennings committed just two turnovers while having a hand in most everything during a game-controlling 39 minutes.
He led everyone with 29 points and 7 assists. That's a lot of leading, but even more important perhaps is that Jennings is a leader on the floor. He leads through skill, but also by example: In the third quarter he missed a jumper, but then jumped in front of Raymond Felton to draw a charge. He didn't get the call, but he sure cares, and he is going to make a lot more people care in this city.
Oh, and for those worried about the return of Redd, do you trust in Brandon?
"Michael Redd should be back Wednesday, so that will give us another piece, and I'm really happy he'll back," Jennings said.
Ersan Ilyasova. Starting for the second time in a row, Ilyasova started off the game by doing just what we are hoping and beginning to expect: burying jumpers, defending, and rebounding.
He made 2-3 from outside even against a smallish Charlotte lineup that could keep up. He hit all three from the line too, and that's important stuff in a game when Milwaukee was easily outpaced at the free throw line again. Ilyasova packed 13/7 in 24 minutes.
Kurt Thomas. This honor could go to a few others, but Thomas deserves kudos for stepping up in the absence of Bogut. Thomas, who despite seeming precisely like a Scott Skiles kind of guy, entered the game with almost as many DNP-CD's (4) as games played (5).
In dire need of low-post help, Thomas delivered off the bench with 4 points and 7 rebounds (4 offensive). And don't look now (okay, do look), but he has strung together consecutive games shooting 2-2 and is 6-7 on the year. He can step and hit that side jumper. Back to those four offensive boards...
2. Without Bogut and Mbah a Moute, you might think the Bucks would have trouble protecting the glass. Not so much. The Bobcats pulled in two offensive rebounds (half as many as Kurt Thomas) on 29 missed shots tonight.
0. Charlie Bell has not turned the ball over in the last two games, 31 minutes each. Solid. He's not an offensive force, in fact he is hardly passable as a scoring threat these days, but Bell keeps the ball moving and takes care of it while doing so.
17. The Bobcats shot 26-43 from the stripe. Those 17 misses sting in a seven point loss. Still, the Bucks can't depend on teams to misfire like that from the line.
Home cooking: A nice theme with Thanksgiving less than a week away.
Typically it's a major problem when you lose your star guard before the start of your first homestand of a season; a problem compounded when you lose your star post player during your first homestand of a season.
In fact, that's a devilish recipe for counting down until draft day by December. So you would think. Instead the Bucks finished a positively rousing 13 days at the BC with a win and 5-1 record on the homestand. And the only loss was against a top-tier Mavs team at the buzzer in overtime. Pretty amazing stuff, and hopefully it is catching on: the 15,578 on hand marked the largest crowd since the home opener.
Coast to coast. Almost. Charlotte went up 3-0 to start and that was that. The Bucks ran off seven straight points and led from then on. It's okay to only be ahead for 1:11 if it's the final 1:11 of the game. But the Bobcats led for the first minute and eleven seconds and trailed for the next 46:49.
A surprisingly authoritative, clear-cut win, given the circumstances.
Bench. Hakim Warrick began his night by inbounding the ball to Raymond Felton, problematic foremost because Felton plays for the Bobcats. Shortly thereafter, Warrick was stuffed by Derrick Brown. Yeah, Derrick Brown. And with that, I was a bit worried about Warrick, who has been uneven at best the last week.
He recovered nicely though, adding 16 points and 9 rebounds in a sixth man role off the bench. Warrick was on the floor in the fourth quarter as the Bobcats were close enough that a slip-up could have cost Milwaukee the win. But Warrick didn't slip up, slotting 7 points in the final quarter. And he made 6-7 overall at the line, an amazing sum on this team.
Thomas was good, as previously mentioned. And Ridnour (8 points, 3 assists in 17 minutes) was quietly effective again. Jodie Meeks (team leading +12 differential) continues to play assertive ball, and thankfully a couple of his long-range efforts fell in tonight. For a team with seemingly little depth after injuries, 36 points off the bench is rather remarkable.
Hanging around. Yeah, it sort of feels good to be able to complain about not "thoroughly closing out" a "lesser" team in the fourth quarter, but that's just where we are. So while it's luxurious to entertain such a notion, it doesn't take away the fact that it's true, and in the end, a complaint nonetheless. The Bobcats drew to within 93-85 with just over two minutes, as Milwaukee controlled but didn't completely put away the game in the second half.
Sad Francisco. Elson struggled about as much as you can struggle in two minutes. One offensive rebound followed by some sort of seemingly uncontested floating hook shot that barely drew iron from a couple feet away preceded a fadeaway airball. With Bogut out for a while, it would be nice to get something positive from Elson, particularly when the Bucks will need his size against bigger teams.
Free. Not to belabor the point, but the Bucks can't give folks so many free shots. Luckily, the Bobcats also fit into this Bad with their inaccuracy (60.4 %) at the free throw line.