Joe Johnson, Big Buck Hunter.
It took two buzzer-beating jumpers from Brooklyn's highly-paid shooting guard, but the Nets finally put an end to Milwaukee's 13-game winning streak versus the Nets franchise. Johnson finished with 24 points on 10-18 shooting while adding 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The Nets also got 19 points from Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Milwaukee was led by Jennings' game-high 34 points (13-26 FG, 3-8 3PT). Ersan Ilyasova (21 pts, 9-16 FG, 9 rebs) continued his strong play against the Nets, while Monta Ellis contributed across the board (18 pts, 8 rebs, 8 ast, 7-18 FG) but struggled in overtime, missing all 3 of his shots in the extra period.
After a pair of free-throws by Andray Blatche gave Brooklyn a 1-point lead with 20 seconds left, the Bucks were left with an apparent score-or-lose situation. Refreshingly, the response was not a contested Monta Ellis jumper, but an aggressive drive to the rim by Brandon Jennings. The shot went awry (perhaps due to some questionable defense?), but his attack drew the Nets defenders away from the rim, giving Larry Sanders an easy tip-in that recaptured the lead with 10 seconds remaining (Ersan Ilyasova was also in position for the putback). Deron Williams clipped Monta Ellis with an elbow and got whistled for an offensive foul (undoubtedly thanks in part to some embellishment by Ellis), and a pair of Jennings free-throws gave Milwaukee a 3-point lead with 6 seconds left.
The smart play may have been a foul on Joe Johnson when he got the ball off the inbounds pass, but Milwaukee allowed Joe Johnson to take a fadeaway three from deep, which of course sailed straight through the net to send the game into overtime.
The Bucks held a 3-point lead after 2 minutes of extra time, but failed to score over the final 3. Monta Ellis was particularly rough in OT, missing all three of his shots, including 2 long jumpers that seemed to kill Milwaukee's offensive flow. Ellis made a lot of positive plays in regulation, but he looked every bit the impulsive chucker down the stretch.
An unlucky bounce after a Larry Sanders (14 pts, 8 rebs, 6 blks) block gave Keith Bogans an open 3 from the corner, setting the stage for more Joe Johnson heroics. Luc Mbah a Moute played him tight (though might have gotten a little anxious with the reaching), but Johnson rose up and knocked down the game winner as the buzzer sounded. It was a tough ending to an otherwise great game (spectator-wise), and Milwaukee now has less than 24 hours to recover before doing it again in the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
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Brandon Jennings. Swag mode made a triumphant return in it's most common form: an explosive 3rd-quarter scoring outburst. The Nets seemed more than willing to let him drive left over and over. Combined with a stepback jumper that was falling most of the night, Jennings racked up points with relative ease, especially considering we're still smack in the middle of February. He added 5 rebounds and 6 assists, but did commit a crucial turnover in the final minute of regulation. His inability to handle the Nets' trapping (and his teammates' unwillingness to help him) cost the Bucks a few offensive chances late in the game.
Ersan Ilyasova. He got burned on defense a few times by a Nets frontcourt that confounded the Bucks with shot fakes all night, but scored efficiently and handled his own on the boards. His 44 minutes were a new season high (39 regulation minutes tied his season high). I suggested during the game that keeping him beyond the trade deadline might be a smart bet, as his value continues to rise. One obvious negative: on Joe Johnson's game-tying 3, Ilyasova showed a quizzical determination to defend the paint, failing to even step out on Johnson after Mbah a Moute got hung up on a screen.
Larry Sanders. Struggled with foul trouble early in large part due to cleaning up other guys' mistakes, but came back with a vengeance late in the game. Brook Lopez curiously sat out most of the 4th quarter, but when he came back Larry essentially shut him down. It was an impressive in-game adjustment by Sanders, who continues to show more than pure physical improvement. His tip-in late in regulation was easy (and might've been more accurately credited to Ilysaova), but just being in position was worth something. He scored Milwaukee's final two field goals in the 4th quarter.
54. Milwaukee's 54 points in the paint were well above their season average of 42.8.
1-5. Monta Ellis' 20% shooting from behind the arc actually improved his 3-point shooting percentage in 2013, which currently sits at 19.4%. He's just above 23% on the year. Please stop shooting threes, Monta, there's a reason you're so open out there.
2-5. Conversely, Ersan Ilyasova's 40% shooting from deep lowered his 2013 3-point shooting. Please feel free to shoot more threes, Ersan, you've earned it.
Strong Starters. Whatever success the Bucks have had this year has often being due to excellent bench play, especially against other playoff-bound teams. So it was refreshing to see the starting unit play well for an entire game against a tough opponent. And make no mistake, they did play pretty well, multiple buzzer-beating jumpers notwithstanding.
February Shmebuary. Brandon Jennings hasn't enjoyed February this season...or any season, which makes this monster game all the more surprising. It was obvious things were going his way when he sank a swagtastic three-pointer over Deron Williams after shaking him with a double crossover.
Opportunity Knocking. Despite the loss, the Bucks get another go at the Nets on their own court with a chance to earn a 3-1 series victory. Should the Nets falter or the Bucks take off, a series win could earn the Bucks a better playoff seed at season's end.
Foul Strategy. There have been enough crazy finishes in all of basketball this year to once again raise the question of late-game foul strategy, but hindsight would seem to suggest the Bucks should've sent the Nets to the line down 3 with 6 seconds left. Joe Johnson probably makes that tying 3 less than 20% of the time, but with so little time remaining, a foul-fest probably could've provided even better odds.
Lose Your...Guy. Jennings shot the Bucks back into this game in the 3rd quarter, but he seemed to lose his man on defense multiple times on the night giving the Nets open jumpers, often from 3-point range.
Blatchelism. Andray Blatche's post game is generally underrated, but it looks downright masterful when defenders jump at every single pump fake he throws out there. Larry Sanders got burned multiple times before getting things under control late, but Blatche and Lopez used those moves to rack up 12 free-throw attempts.