You’ll remember that Brandon Jennings spoke with Steve Nash over the summer.
“I asked him when he got that MVP two times, he said he just made plays down the stretch,” Jennings said in mid-Jaunary. “So, that’s something I really worked on this summer, not always shooting it, just making plays for everybody, trying to get the best possible shot.”
Everyone loves to hear that. The emphasis on teamwork sounds great. Teamwork is playing a big role in Milwaukee’s recent success too. The ball movement has been crisp. The players didn’t give up on themselves or each other when they were down 17 after the first quarter to the Heat. Scott Skiles had some nice things to say about the group’s chemistry after the game. Hooray for teamwork.
Teamwork wasn’t so much what had people on their feet last night though. That was just Brandon Jennings letting his natural abilities and attitudes shine through.
Jennings attitude and swag spread through the arena like smoke from a fire by the time the fourth quarter was over, but it actually started much earlier.
As he often is, Jennings looked frustrated when the Bucks were losing. He wasn’t shooting well, the Heat were doing their fast break thing and Lebron James and Dwyane Wade were taking turns making tough shots look simple. Skiles said after the game that, given James’ mid-50s shooting percentage, there really is no such thing as a low percentage shot for him. The first quarter spoke to that, as James poured in 24 points while Jennings stewed.
With 1:52 left in the second quarter, Jennings hit a three. He was 2-10 from the field before that shot and 1-5 from three. Then he did something I’ve seen before.
He had that look on his face and made that motion with his hand that we’ve all made when we finally figured something out. It was kind of like he was a contestant on a game show and everyone else had moved on from the first step, but for whatever reason he couldn’t figure it out. Then he figured it out and it was like he had to catch up, so going forward he knew he’d have to be better than his competitors.
Jennings did the same thing early in the second half of his 55-point game. I swear it was the same exact look.
From there, Jennings acted like he was just playing a game again. He started having fun and started letting the other team know he was doing so.
Jennings hit a three early in the third and almost before the ball had finished passing through the net, he stared at Mario Chalmers for just a moment before flashing the three-point monocle in his direction. I know we all grew up hearing about how important sportsmanship is and how no one likes a braggart, but does anyone really not love it when a guy on the team you’re cheering for is openly taunting the best team in the league and playing well enough to do it?
He wouldn’t stop there. Jennings banked in a floater a minute into the fourth quarter and gave Norris Cole a staredown. Maybe he was just insulted that Norris Cole has probably received more national attention than him this season. Maybe he was just excited that these weren’t just Knicks or Warriors point guards he felt like he could torch. Because he hadn’t even gotten to the torching yet. He hadn’t even begun his real fourth quarter show just yet.
Jennings would go on to hit three more threes in the fourth quarter, each one of them a hay-maker to the suddenly woozy Heat skull. He ended up 7-14 from behind the arc on the night. The Bucks play maker in the fourth quarter over and over again this season did it again. He’s now averaging seven points and shooting 40% from three in fourth quarters this season. He certainly seems to have taken Nash’s words to heart.
And after his third three in the fourth, when the Heat called a time out to regroup, Jennings basked in the cheers from the Bucks crowd. He motioned for them to rise to their feet, but he had already put them there with his play.
After the game, Jennings talked about coming in early in the morning despite Coach Skiles canceling shootaround to get the team rest. He said it looked like it paid off in the fourth quarter. He talked about making plays for his teammates. He talked about Luc Mbah a Moute’s insane defense on all three of the Heat stars. And he talked about the Bucks needing to get back to .500 on Friday. He had toned the swag back down and was all business once again.
It’s a delicate balance, like teamwork and a star knowing he should take over.
Teamwork is cool and finding the open man is just as important in the fourth quarter as it is in the first, maybe even more so. But when everyone who was at or watched the Bucks game at home last night talks about the game this morning there is a pretty specific order they’ll recollect in:
1. Did you see the Bucks last night?
2. Dude, Jennings went insane.
3. Those guys look good, they were moving the ball so well too.
4. But damn, Jennings was crazy.