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Bucks 88, Celtics 87: Tobias Harris, John Henson And Larry Sanders Aim To Please

Sanders could stand to focus more on this.
Sanders could stand to focus more on this.

Box Score

It was sluggish. Then it was chippy. Then it was energetic. And in the end it came down to the game's final possession, all while prominently featuring the Bucks' four roster players currently in Vegas. So all in all pretty entertaining stuff as far as summer league goes.

And while Tobias Harris' two free throws with six seconds remaining helped the Bucks win the scoreboard, they more importantly saw continued signs of progress from John Henson and Tobias Harris and signs of life from Larry Sanders.

After sitting out Thursday night's game, Sanders was both energetic and under control against the Celtics, rebounding exceptionally well (15 rebounds) and adding 11 points on nine shots to complement the now-customary 22 points apiece from both Harris and Henson. Doron Lamb was more subdued in his return to action with just 8 points on 2/8 shooting, but the length of Sanders and Harris frustrated Jared Sullinger (3/13 fg, 10/12 ft, 16 pts, 10 rebs) and Fab Melo (1/2 fg, 2 rebs in 23 min), while the trigger-happy Celtics hit just 8/27 from three on the evening.

More thoughts and notes after the jump.

Tobias Harris
38 min, 9/17 fg, 2/2 threes, 2/4 ft, 22 pts, 6 reb, 1 ast, 3 to

Harris had his worst half of the season in the opening two periods, but bounced back with a big third to maintain his string of quality performances in Vegas. Offensively, his decision-making on the perimeter remains a work in progress; while he's exceptionally crafty in his ability to get to the paint and finish with floaters or off the glass, his recognition of help defenders has been sketchy and there have been plenty of moments where we're reminded that he was a power forward in college. He's still liable to dribble into a double team or get up in the air without knowing where he's passing it, which leads to easy buckets the other way.

But the positives of this week still clearly outweigh the negatives. The new wrinkle we saw from Harris tonight was on the perimeter, stroking a pair of corner threes on his way to 14 points in the third. We saw a few of those last year and tonight's pair hardly qualify as a trend, but it's probably the most important thing he can add to his offensive game. Other than that, Harris once again showed off his savvy in the post and transition, where his strength and body control make him exceptionally dangerous as a shot-creator and finisher. He also flashed his explosion on a catch, drive and dunk play in the third, taking advantage of a poor close-out to get all the way to the cup for a big two-handed slam. I wouldn't characterize Harris as explosive per se--especially in terms of his quick hops--but with a head of steam he can definitely get up and pack it down.

Defensively he wasn't tested too much, but you can tell he's still adjusting to being a perimeter defender. He had a couple plays where he was caught going the wrong direction, but the Celtics didn't test him much laterally, the area where he'll probably struggle the most.

John Henson
37 min, 9/18 fg, 1/2 threes, 3/4 ft, 22 pts, 9 reb, 1 blk

Another solid performance from Henson, who once again did his damage with a mixture of spot-up jumpers, soft lefty hooks and cleaning up broken plays around the hoop. Henson hasn't been exceptionally efficient this week and it's unclear if he ever will be; he's shot plenty of jumpers and his general aversity to drawing contact on offense (similar to Andrew Bogut in that regard) will always be a limiting factor in that regard. Still, the toolkit is at least there for Henson to be an effective offensive player even if he's never going to be a primary option. He also made a number of nice passes, hitting cutters from the post in collecting four assists. And while his 9/10 free throw shooting this week is an infinitesimally small sample, I'm still trying to figure out how a guy with solid mechanics and nice touch was a 50% free throw shooter in college. Oh well.

Defensively, Henson used his length to bother shots and continues to move well in P&R, but he also took one facial (I believe from Craig Brackins?) and has only shown brief flashes of the high-level shot-blocking reputation that he earned at UNC. Despite both being long shot blockers, Henson is in many ways the anti-Sanders: he has rarely fouled this week, but he also hasn't shown the kind of closing speed Sanders has often flashed in coming out of nowhere to reject a shot. Henson defended Sullinger only a handful or times but seemed to have suprisingly good leverage against the beefy Sullinger, who struggled once again with his finishing (3/13 fg) but made up for much of it by drawing fouls left and right..

Larry Sanders
29 min, 4/9 fg, 3/4 ft, 11 pts, 15 reb, 7 pf, 4 to, 1 blk

Sanders looked completely out of sorts in the Bucks' first two games, biting on seemingly every ball-fake and looking rushed in virtually everything he did. Not what the Bucks had hoped for from their 2010 first round pick, who will be entering his third training camp this fall at a crossroads in his professional career.

Thankfully, a day off on Thursday seemed to do Sanders plenty of good. Make no mistake, there were still a number of (bad) Larry Sanders moments on Saturday: he still felt compelled to actually dribble the ball on the perimeter a few times and even with a newfound restraint he managed to rack up seven fouls.

But for the first time this week he managed to channel his energy into productivity, most notably on the boards where he hauled in five offensive boards and another ten on the defensive end. Sullinger ended up having a decent line based on his work at the free throw line alone, but Sanders otherwise used his length to disrupt the Celtics' offensive flow and made two key plays in the final minute to force Celtics misses, first by rolling to help and challenge a shot (which was very close to another foul) and then by forcing Sullinger into a wild shot at the buzzer.

Doron Lamb
30 min, 2/8 fg, 0/2 threes, 4/5 ft, 8 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast, 4 to

A forgettable night for the Bucks' second round pick, who returned to the lineup but didn't make much of an impact. Strangely, Lamb has yet to hit a three all week (0/5), instead relying mostly on screens, pull-ups and runners. On the one hand it's good to see that Lamb was effective in the first two games without being just a spot-up shooter, but realistically that's the skill he'll have to lean on most to be a productive NBA player. Lamb's collegiate shooting record speaks for itself, so let's hope it's just a matter of small sample sizes and not an issue with extending his range to the longer NBA line.