MILWAUKEE -- Back to Milwaukee. Back to 2009-10.
With the result settled and less than a minute to go and the Bucks up by nine, Brandon Jennings shuffled a pass to a spotted-up Carlos Delfino for a three. The festive Bradley Center was already coursing with positive energy, Jennings was closing out the night as cool court general, Delfino wasn't in the mood to miss all evening, and this was the perfect cap.
And then Delfino's three clanked.
And then Luc Mbah a Moute hustled down the offensive rebound. And that -- that was actually the perfect cap.
The whole night harkened back to the fat days of last season. The "Fear the Deer" chants, the Jennings-to-Bogut magic, the John Salmons who looks like a threat with the ball in his palm, the Luc Mbah a Moute offensive boards, the Delfino threes.
The people who get entirely too worked up about a couple of losses are the same people who every year read too much into a couple losses or wins to start the season. These are the same people who every year wear big fur winter coats and gloves in October with highs in the mid-50s in Wisconsin.
So if we were right not to get too bent out of shape after two disheartening losses, then the lesson remains doubly true that one win (against an historically road-woeful team) did not cure all of the ails or erase all the nervous question marks. But now that the team is back in the state of Wisconsin, and no longer in a state of regression, maybe we can move forward with a 2010-11 season that moves past even 2009-10.
Brandon Jennings. I have never seen D.J. Augustin play so well.
But I don't watch him that much.
And I have almost never seen Brandon Jennings play any better than tonight.
And I have hardly missed a game.
Jennings pitched a near perfect offensive game, getting all Chris Paul on the Bobcats to the tune of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists on 6-8 from the field, 3-3 on threes, and 6-8 from the line.
He bursted with channeled enthusiasm for the game of basketball tonight, looking like the most excited guy in pregame introductions, and then directing an offense that owes him a thank you card signed by all. As a game manager, this was about as good as a 21 year-old can get.
Jennings called this game, not his 55-point effort, the best of his NBA career after the game.
Also had a pretty good post-game. When asked if he knew he was approaching a triple-double:
Yeah, Keyon had told me when I came out in the fourth quarter that I was one shy away from a triple-double. The main thing was I was trying to win the game. I said if it happens it happens. I remember last year at this time, I was playing and had 17-9-9, and, I forgot his name already... Um, Dan Gadzuric, he took the rebound from me and then missed the layup at the other end.
Carlos Delfino. Truly elegant play tonight from Carlitos, who sank Charlotte by making 5-11 threes and had my (aesthetic) play of the game on a real-life finger-roll in the fourth quarter. I don't get the impression he needs to solidify his starting role, but he sure is anyway.
Luc Mbah a Moute. Last night we had Michael Redd getting these honors for simply not being party to the sham of a game. Now we have Andrew Bogut not making these honors despite really excellent stuff from him on both ends of the floor.
But The Prince needs a crown on this night. So good, and coincidentally (and strangely), so good on both ends of the floor as well. The only real reason for demerit was a 1-4 showing at the line, but all in all, what a night.
The defense, we know all about that, but it just doesn't get old. A big offensive night producing a lot of points is a lot more straightforward, and is easier to understand and see. These ace defensive games from Mbah a Moute? We know his positioning, spacing, concentration, feet, and awareness make it work, but none of it is so obvious to make it routine to watch.
Also: 4-5 shooting.
3. Bobcats starting center Nazr Mohammed drew three charges last season in 58 games. Bucks backup center Jon Brockman drew three in less than six minutes by halftime of his home debut.
85.2 % Not only did the Bucks make 85.2 % of their free throws, but they got to the line enough to make said accuracy meaningful. The Bucks hit 23-27 from the line (compared to 19-23 for the Bobcats) and it wasn't just all Corey Maggette either. He did lead the way making 5-5 in just 18 minutes, but Jennings was aggressive earning trips and made 5-6, and even Bogut had the form, making both of his tries at the stripe.
6. Gerald Wallace tends to fill up the box score, reflecting otherworldly all-around talents. But tonight he had more turnovers (6) than field goals made (3), rebounds (3), or assists (1). And he didn't have a steal or block.
Three... Good. After missing 17 of 20 three point attempts in Minnesota, the Bucks started off by knocking down 4-7 threes in the first quarter compared to 1-3 from deep for the Bobcats. That early nine-point advantage (12 to 3) from outside not-so-coincidentally resulted in a nine-point advantage, 27-18, at the end of one. They didn't look back. The Bucks rained 11-22 in from deep, and that can't be expected to happen with much frequency. But the Bucks have a few shooters, and with Brandon Jennings playing like he means it when he says he wants to average 10 assists per game, everyone on the team knows that if they work to get open, they will get the ball.
Ball to Bogut. The Bucks have actually won the first quarter in all three games this season (30-29 vs. New Orleans and 28-27 vs. Minnesota), but this was the first time they played with real purpose and an obvious gameplan from the start. This was the first inspiring first quarter.
One night after shooting seven times in Minnesota, Bogut got the ball, got to the basket, and got the Bucks an early lead by shooting 4-8 from the field in the first eight minutes.
'Drew scored the first basket of the game for either team when he received the ball from Brandon Jennings near the top of the key and immediately drove right and right to the basket to put the Bucks up 2-0. You might think that Bogut was feeding off the energy of an energetic Opening Night crowd, but in fact it seemed the other way around -- the crowd really seemed to feed off of the Aussie's blazing start.
The Bucks looked for Bogut and Bogut looked for the ball, and that is the recipe for success. Even when he missed, like on a couple hooks midway through the first quarter, they were good, high-percentage shots, shots to feel good about. It's easy to say the Bucks need to establish Bogut early -- easy and correct. They do need to, and they did.
Mascot of the year: Bango. Bango was honored as 2010 Mascot of the Year at the game tonight, and this distinction provides reason enough for me to post the new ESPN commercial featuring Bango and a certain Bucks player who also makes this timely. Stuart Scott remains Stuart Scott, but that isn't the point.
Three Two Bad
Not sold on no sellout. More than one or two patches of empty seats in the upper deck tonight. Official attendance was 16,519. Granted, if the most hyped basketball team of the century struggled to sell out their home opener against their in-state rival and fellow championship contender, then, it's not so hard to imagine how Bobcats/Bucks wouldn't attract the masses on Halloween Eve.
Ers-off. Lost in the good times was Ersan Ilyasova, who registered 58 seconds of court time. Of course, you saw from Friday to Saturday how quickly an entire team can change, and you can be certain that Ilyasova can snap out of his malaise in a flash too.
After the game, Skiles said he was just giving Ilya the night off:
A lot of times people don't do it too much in our sport, but in baseball when a guy is slumping he'll get a night off. I'm hoping Ers can, and I'm positive he will work himself out of it.