Brandon Jennings may not be favored to snag Rajon Rondo's now-vacant all-star roster spot, but he seems determined to make a damn good case for it.
Having already lost twice to Detroit in the last month, the Bucks did themselves no favors with yet another slow start that saw them trailing by as many as 15 in the first quarter as Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and the Pistons' brutish front line again had its way with the Bucks early. But Milwaukee's bench was once again outstanding in the second and Jennings was his now-customary untouchable in the third, scoring 20 of his 30 points in the third period to help the Bucks blow open a 10-point halftime lead.
The first half was classic Bucks: get the doors blown off early, let the opponent get complacent, then have the reserves turn the game around completely. The Bucks looked flat and small in the early going, repeatedly flubbing transition opportunities on one end while letting Drummond and company walk all over them on the other. The Pistons' 19-year-old super rookie needed a mere ten minutes to rack up a double-double, snagging six offensive rebounds en route to 12 points and 11 boards in the half.
The Bucks trailed 28-13 late in the second, but layups from Jennings, Udrih and Jennings again trimmed the lead to a manageable 28-19 after one period. The bench then went to work, Dunleavy opening the second with a four-point play and Udrih, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh providing key supporting roles as Milwaukee took advantage of an increasingly sloppy Detroit offense (12 first half turnovers). With Larry Sanders in early foul trouble and Ersan Ilyasova ineffective against the bigger Pistons, Jim Boylan also found increasing success with Sam Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh and John Henson working the boards and cleaning up Milwaukee's misses. The Bucks snagged an incredible 14 offensive boards in the half, led by Udoh's career-high-tying six to go with eight points and two blocks. Dalembert capped the Bucks' 33-14 second quarter by tipping in Sanders' free throw miss with one-tenth of a second remaining, sending the Bucks into the half with a 52-42 edge.
In stark contrast to the egg they laid in the third quarter against the Pistons two weeks ago, the Bucks started the third with a purpose thanks to Jennings. Coming off an 18-point third quarter performance on Saturday, Jennings hit a shot-clock-beating three early in the third and set up buckets by Ilyasova (twice), Mbah a Moute and Sanders to put the Bucks up 69-52.
But at that point he was just getting warmed up. After a Pistons timeout, Jennings drove for a layup with 6:01 remaining and then followed that up with two free throws. And then a three. And then another three. And another. And another.
In the span of 149 seconds, Jennings scored an incredible 16 straight points (5/5 fg, 4/4 threes, 2/2 ft) to single-handedly extend the Bucks' lead from 69-56 to 85-56. Other than a few more putbacks from Drummond, Detroit didn't seem to have anything left in the tank and in the fourth Boylan was able to rest his starters ahead of Wednesday's home clash with the Bulls. Dalembert and Henson were among the Bucks enjoying themselves in the fourth, repeatedly getting loose for dunks as Dalembert posted a 12/10 double-double, Henson added 11/6 and Beno Udrih tallied a game-high 11 assists in 26 minutes. Tobias Harris even got some rare burn, though short of an injury to Dunleavy or Luc Mbah a Moute it's difficult to see Harris working his way back into the rotation anytime soon.
The win moves the Bucks to five games over .500 for the first time this season, and despite still sitting seventh in the East, they remain just two games behind Brooklyn for the fourth seed and 2.5 games behind the Central-leading Bulls for the third seed. That the Bucks are in the thick of the hunt for home court advantage probably says more about the weakness of the East than anything else, but there's no point in complaining about golden opportunities. The next one comes Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
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