“Generally if anybody’s guarding someone I stick with them.”
– Scott Skiles (Late 2009)
I don’t think Scott Skiles benched Brandon Jennings for the fourth quarter and overtime of the Hawks game to teach him a lesson, or because his defense was bad or for any other reason than Luke Ridnour was playing better. It’s too late in the season for Skiles to be sending messages or do anything other than try to get wins.
But Wednesday night, Brandon Jennings looked like he took something out of it.
Jennings spent much of the first two quarters playing an aggressive pressure defense that he has rarely shown off this year. Jennings is remarkably quick, his change of direction reminds me of a number of nimble insects, but that hasn’t resulted in much when he’s decided to pick up full court. Wednesday Jennings was jabbing at the ball handler the way a boxer would when feeling out an opponent. The Wizards point guards were taking them like body blows, staggering but never falling down as they committed just one turnover in the first half, despite losing their respective grips on a few occasions.
But in the third quarter, the Wizards point guards and the rest of the team for that matter, they went down. Hard. Looking tired from the hounding Jennings had been placing on them, Randy Foye, Shaun Livingston and Earl Boykins combined for six third quarter turnovers, including the ever so rare eight second call. The Wizards themselves turned the ball over 11 times in the third and saw an eight point halftime deficit turn into a 17 point mountain that they would be unable to climb.
This was not one of Jennings finer offensive performances, in fact it ranks right up there with any as his worst when you factor his six turnovers into his 2-12 shooting performance. Jennings ability to limit turnovers has been his saving grace as his shots have continued to fly towards everything but the bottom of the hoop. Jennings seemed down trodden in the locker room, even when I mentioned the rarity of a forced eight second call in the league.
“Yeah, I mean, my offense wasn’t going so I had to fall back on something else and just went to the defensive end,” said Jennings. “I didn’t have a good offensive evening and I was just trying to put pressure on the defensive end tonight.”
Skiles, who was visibly upset with his team’s performance (he referred to the game as “a step back”) stuck with Jennings in this one.
“We’re trying to win a game; that’s what we’re trying to do,” Skiles said after the game. “Obviously he hasn’t had much luck finding the basket, but he was trying to apply pressure, he had good active hands. He has his moments like that, he’s trying to find other ways to help and he did a pretty good job tonight.”
The turnovers were up for the Bucks in this one, but they were able to manage 29 assists to their 16 turnovers and saw five different players score in double figures. In the eight games since John Salmons arrival, the Bucks have had at least five players score in double figures in each game but two – and in each of those four guys reached double figures with at least one player scoring nine. This is the way teams without superstars win in the NBA; unselfish basketball, predicated on getting stops and balancing the scoring effort.
- “Turk-ish Thun-der” was the chant that came roaring from Squad Six with five and a half minutes to go in the game, this time with more purpose than usual. Ersan Ilyasova, who the rowdy group has taken to calling “Turkish Thunder” really brought some thunder on a transition dunk that fell just out of the reach of shot-blocking machine JaVale McGee. This was just one of many fine moments for Ilyasova in this one though, he finished with 19 points (7-13 FG 1-3 3 FG), 10 rebounds and a career high six assists.
- When Salmons first joined the Bucks, he was scoring points, but without great efficiency or shooting percentage. That’s changed in the last few games. Salmons shot over 50% once again, bringing him to 58.6% (27-46) over his past three games. He also found himself on the receiving end of a number of Washington turnovers and finished with three steals.
- Jerry Stackhouse had another good game. Should I still be surprised? I openly wondered how much the vet could have left when the Bucks signed him off the scrap heap and now I’ll gleefully admit how misguided my pleas to stay away were. Were Wednesday’s game being played on Sega Genisis in 1993 and not in the Bradley Center in 2010, Stackhouse would have been “On Fire” as he came in and hit his first three successive shots. The good feelings would not end there though, as he finished with 13 points (6-12 FG 1-3 3FG), his fifth consecutive game over double digits.
When making my case for Andrew Bogut as the Bucks defensive player of the year, this game might not get mention. After all, what kind of dominating defensive center can go nearly an entire game without grabbing a rebound? But Bogut was still there and still made his presence be known, swatting away five shots and taking a charge on a clumsy drive by McGee.
- McGee, by the way, reminds me a lot of Dan Gadzuric circa 2003. You know, before he got his big contract, when he was young, spry and full of excitement. Gadz used to catch lobs and block shots on a regular basis; much like McGee did all night Wednesday. McGee had both hands on the rim all night, like it were his steering wheel or something. He had four dunks and blocked three shots. Where his career goes will be interesting. Will he end up like Gadzuric or will he evolve into a Sam Dalembert type shot-blocking, rebounder?
- 21 turnovers for Washington and just 18 assists. That’s never a recipe for success and the Bucks seemed especially aggressive and suffocating on the perimeter in this one. The Wizards high shooting percentage, 45.5, may have had something to do with some of the easy buckets they got off a few Bucks gambles. Coach Skiles doesn’t approve of gambling on the defensive end, but when the Bucks are putting this much pressure on a team, it can really pay off. 24-16 advantage for Milwaukee on points off turnovers.
Wait, the Bucks won by 13 points, forced 21 turnovers, shot and made more free throws than their opponent, his 47.5% of their shots and aren’t happy with their effort?
Is this for real? What were the odds of such a scenario at the start of the season? That’s the reality the Bucks are currently living in though, and it’s delightful. Now 7-1 since the arrival of John Salmons, the Bucks are looking more and more like the fifth best team in the East. Best of all, they are instilling confidence in their fans, a trait that hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of Bucks teams of recent past. Walking into the Bradley Center not only thinking that the Bucks are going to win, but that they are more talented than the team they’re about to play is a true pleasure and one that may not seem as sweet in a year or two.
So for now, cherish the feeling.