LeBron James played a great first quarter. Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks topped it with a better second half.
Jennings scored 31 points, including a torrid fourth-quarter stretch where he ripped twine on a trio of three-pointers. James, on the other hand, dominated the first quarter, outscoring the entire Bucks team, 24-23, over the first 12 minutes. He finished with 40 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.
But Jennings elated the Bradley Center crowd by hitting his three consecutive treys in a span of three minutes. It was the emotional peak of a shrewdly played game for Jennings. He took most of his shots beyond the arc or in the paint, converting seven of his 14 three-point attempts. When the Heat mounted a late threat, he smartly forced the issue and drew Miami fouls to put himself on the free-throw line.
MVP: Brandon Jennings, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Dunleavy, and Luc Mbah a Moute
This five-man unit ran the table to close out the win and, without a doubt, Scott Skiles was using his best quintet of players to ensure victory.
Ilyasova grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds. He didn’t have the touch inside, but Mbah a Moute did. Luc made 6-of-7 field goals by using off-the-ball slashing to free himself from defenders.
Dunleavy’s presence greases an offense. He put up 5 assists against 0 turnovers.
Drew Gooden is Drew Gooden. It’s not always pretty, or even efficient, but if the Bucks play strong perimeter defense and don’t count on Drew to erase their mistakes, then Gooden can function as a center just as well as any other option in Skiles’ arsenal.
And, oh yeah, that Jennings fellow did alright, too. Put him in the All-Star Game, please.
LVP: Stephen Jackson
Played 9 minutes in the first quarter and earned every bit of a +/- rating of -16. His defensive intensity (specifically, the lack of it), helped ‘contain’ LeBron to 8-of-9 field goal shooting in the first quarter.
How long can Jackson coexist with Skiles, if Scott isn’t going to play him for the significant minutes he thinks he is due?
This should delight you…: Owning the Ball
LeBron scored 40 points, but had 7 turnovers. Brandon Jennings scored 31 points and didn’t turn the ball over a single time. He also dished out 8 assists. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s an assist-to-turnover ratio of ∞ (infinity).
More than that, though, the Bucks zipped the ball around magnificently. They had 30 assists on 39 baskets. In the second half, the ball never stopped moving… and it barely hit the floor. The Bucks constantly sought out the open man, working the Scott Skiles offense to perfection.
Ersan Ilyasova said it best after the game,
Basically, when we share the ball… and move the ball from one side to the other side, we always win the game. Especially against really good clubs like the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami, (we need to) share the ball and play smart offensively.
The Bucks shared it to perfection in the second half.
…And this should concern you: Guarding LeBron without Luc Mbah a Moute
In the first quarter, the Bucks defended LeBron with Carlos Defino for the first few minutes, then they switched over to Stephen Jackson. There are a lot of guys in the NBA who can’t guard LeBron. Delfino and Jackson are two of them. Delfino got beat early and then, to make matters worse, committed a clear path foul. (With the two technical free throws and subsequent possession that ended with a 3-pointer, the Heat had a 5-point trip down the court.) Jackson gave LeBron room for jumpers and when that plan failed, Stephen got closer — only to use fouls as a method of last resort to stopping LeBron.
With four minutes left in the first quarter, Stephen Jackson got an offensive rebound and flubbed a putback. Then he went for a loose ball, but lost it to LeBron. The two players ran together for a second, but by the time they got to the deer, James had upshifted and Jackson had downshifted. As a result, Dwyane Wade fed LeBron for an easy alley-oop layup.
Final verdict: A huge win.
The Bucks won a game after, at one point, trailing by 18 points.
Milwaukee now sits eighth in the Eastern Conference standings, 1.5 games ahead of the ninth spot.
The Heat come back to Milwaukee in 12 days. If we’re lucky, they’ll be here again in May, too.