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He flew out at the Celtics best player, his arm extended far as it could go. Another night full of blocked shots, his arms must have looked like stop signs to the Celtics. Every time they ventured into the lane he awaited, ready to throw one of his big, red, horizontal shaped hands at them with the same message warning them to cease.
But he could not get to this one. The crafty Celtic veteran Paul Pierce faded just far enough back to launch his shot just out of the reach of the Bucks defensive anchor, who’d roamed out to challenge the Celtics tying attempt. The ball sailed through the air; surely many in the Bradley Center were having Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant flashbacks as if Tuesday’s game were nothing more than a bad horror movie. We’d seen this killer before in his other shapes, would he do it again?
And then the final shot rimmed out. Andrew Bogut could breathe a sigh of relief. Another Herculean effort of his would not go to waste and the Bucks would not bow out at the buzzer yet again.
Bogut finished Tuesday with 25 points (10-18 FG 5-5 FT), 17 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead the Bucks over the Celtics 86-84 in a game that gave the home crowd and, more importantly, the home team a little taste of the playoffs in early March. From scoring the Bucks first four points, to helping to deny the Celtics of their possible last two, Bogut did it all for the Bucks. The typically strong defender Kendrick Perkins did his best to muscle Bogut out of the lane and challenge his shots, only to see the Aussie drop in one running hook and spin after the next. Especially pleasing for Bucks fans were the moments when Bogut was truly aggressive.
I love seeing Bogut drop in hooks as much as the next person, but it can leave him out of position for rebounds and keep him from getting to the line. That’s why it was so delightful to see Bogut grab a rebound for a put back dunk or cram in a top ten nominee on Glen Davis. Defensively Bogut is the total package and offensively he has as good a finesse game around the hoop as any big man in the league. At times I’ve thought he lacked killer instinct, nasty demeanor and a midrange game. Tonight? Well, he missed a 15-footer that would have put it away with a minute to go, but I can live with that — especially if I keep seeing the instinct and the nasty that was on display Tuesday.
Bogut was the focal point, but he wasn’t doing it all alone. To be honest, there were moments that the Bucks looked on the verge of letting this one get totally away from them.
Down seven heading into half can sound demoralizing, especially for a team shooting nearly 50%. Well that’s where the Bucks were heading, until Carlos Delfino drilled a three with just over a minute to go in the half. Suddenly the Bucks are down four and can feel a little better. The Bucks spent the first four minutes of overtime trying as hard as they could to avoid tying the game or taking the lead. Until Delfino hit another three to tie it up at the 6:54 mark. The flu-stricken Delfino finished with 19 points (7-15 FG 5-8 3FG) and eight rebounds in 41 minutes.
- Brandon Jennings isn’t going to get punked and fortunately for Bucks fans, that means the Bucks aren’t either. Asked about his encounter with Glen Davis, Jennings had this to say, “They’re known for punking people, but you know, they wasn’t going to come in here and punk me. Hard foul, I looked at him, made sure he was all right, I was all right. I just stood over him let him know, ‘I’m all right, I got right back up.’ No, Jennings isn’t making any friends around the league with his banter and penchant for chirping at stars like LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, but he’s putting his team first. Jennings finished with just 13 points Tuesday, but he was judicious with his shots (5-10 FG 1-3 3FG) and made the right decisions down the stretch.
- A special kudos for what may have been my favorite play of the game. The Bucks were up two after a John Salmons three finally put them over the hump in the fourth and they threw it down to Bogut. Feeling a double team, Bogut quickly tossed it to Ersan Ilyasova on the other block for what seemed to be a layup. But Garnett was there, because he’s everywhere. Ilyasova, ever the pump-faker, tossed up a quick fake that got Garnett flying off the ground and simply allowed Garnett’s weight to carry him back down and jumped underneath Garnett, finished the layup and got the “and-one”. Easier said than done, but prettier done than said. Bucks up five, Jeremy feeling giddy.
As the games mean more defense gets amplified. Those who recognize its importance will thrive and those who ignore it won’t. Sometimes, it’s just that simple. These two teams, they know a thing or two about it. The Bucks and Celtics came in 3rd and 1st respectively in defensive rating and it showed in this one. The Celtics laid out some hard fouls and forced the Bucks into some uncharacteristic turnovers early. But it was Milwaukee that had the last laugh, holding the C’s to 36.8% shooting in the fourth quarter and allowing just five points in the final 4:43.
- Rajon Rondo posed a problem for the Bucks. His quickness and finishing skills often give opponents fits and the Bucks were no different. Rondo scored 20 points (6-10 FG 8-9 FT) and did it by weaving in and out of the Bucks interior as he pleased. “We’ve got to do a much better job of cutting off his angles,” said Coach Skiles. ”He does it against most teams, he penetrates along the baseline and finds people. We definitely need to do a better job against him.”
Whether you’re a college hoops fan or into the NBA game, games like Tuesday night’s scrum are what fans live for. Two very talented teams doing everything they could to win a game. For once, it wasn’t about the refs or tanking or anything else. It was just about getting a win. The crowd was into the game and Bucks players, specifically Jennings, were putting their emotions out on display. Call him brash, call him cocky, but one thing Brandon Jennings doesn’t want you to call him, is a loser.
“A lot of people doubted us at the beginning of the season, had us almost last in the finish,” Jennings said. “We’re here too, we’re fighting for the playoffs too, so don’t forget about us. They’re a team that don’t take no mess and we don’t either.”