Welcome to the Jim Boylan era. Record: 1-0.
The Milwaukee Bucks (17-16) knocked off the Phoenix Suns (12-24) Tuesday 108-99, one day after parting ways with head coach Scott Skiles. As FS Wisconsin pointed out in the broadcast, Boylan is Milwaukee’s first head coach to win his Bucks coaching debut since Larry Krystkowiak in 2007. All that really means is Skiles — the only coach between Krystkowiak and Boylan — didn’t win his first game as Bucks head coach (they lost by 13 to the Bulls), but it had a nice ring to it.
Milwaukee came out of the gates flat and lifeless, despite the expectations of an energy boost from the coaching shuffle and a new starting five. Boylan inserted Ersan Ilyasova back into the starting lineup over Ekpe Udoh, but the Suns still jumped out to nine-point advantage in the first quarter and led for most of the half. Marcin Gortat got the best of Larry Sanders early on, converting on easy layups and putbacks en route to a 14-point, six-rebound half.
Things started clicking for the Bucks after intermission, which they entered with a six-point deficit. They held the Suns to just 33.3 percent (15-45) shooting in the second half and outscored Phoenix 58-43. Brandon Jennings paced the Bucks from start to finish, finishing with nine assists and a refreshingly efficient 29 points on 15 shots. He nailed five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc, converted all six of his free throws and only turned the ball over twice in 37 minutes. Sanders bounced back from his slow start and managed to stuff the stat sheet: 10 points, eight rebounds (four offensive), six blocks, three steals and four fouls. Rookie John Henson followed up his two impressive showings with another highly active game, notching a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds). Overall, Milwaukee featured a balanced scoring attack, with seven Bucks scoring in double figures. They shot 46.2 percent from the field and hit over half their three-points attempts (9-17).
Goran Dragic (21 points, 8-15 shooting), Jared Dudley (18, 6-14) and Gortat (16, 7-11) shouldered the offensive load for the Suns, who converted just four of their 20 three-point attempts en route to a poor shooting night from the floor (41.1 percent).
Transition defense remains a legitimate concern for Milwaukee. After the Rockets exposed the Bucks with an offensive attack resembling a layup drill, the Bucks have continued to struggle getting back on defense after turnovers, missed shots and — inexcusably — made shots. The Suns exploited this weakness early by racking up 11 of their 14 largely uncontested fast break points in the first half. The Bucks tightened up their transition defense in the second half, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.
Boylan implemented an offense-for-defense — and vice versa — substitution pattern in the final few minutes. The coach switched out Mike Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute five times in a 90-second stretch near the end of the fourth quarter. Oddly, on the one offensive possession Mbah a Moute stayed in for, he ran an impromptu isolation and scored over Jared Dudley.
Other than that scenario and the Ilyasova-Udoh swap, Boylan’s rotations weren’t all that different from Skiles’ of late. Joel Przybilla and Doron Lamb were again the two inactives, while Samuel Dalembert, Marquis Daniels, Drew Gooden and Tobias Harris didn’t play. The starters played 25 or more minutes each, and the four bench players to get in — Beno Udrih, Udoh, John Henson and Mike Dunleavy — all got about 20 minutes of burn. Even though Monta Ellis struggled all night — hitting just five of 19 shots from the field with five turnovers — he played the entire fourth quarter, while the more productive Udrih (10 points, 5-6 shooting) and Jennings split time. It’s hard to take too much out of one game, but it doesn’t appear the Bucks are in for a drastic overhaul of minute distribution under Boylan.
Boylan and co. head down to Chicago — a team the coach is quite familiar with — to face the Bulls tonight at 7:00 CT. After the Bulls fired Skiles in 2008, Boylan finished the season as the interim coach in Chicago. He led them to a 24-32 record and was not retained.
Larry Sanders is never one to hide his emotions. Although he’s yet to repeat this, fortunately, Sanders has still taken ample time this season to argue fouls, pump his fists, wave his arms and fire up the crowd — sometimes to the ire of his former coach (see: “Quote of the Night”). He took it to a whole new level Tuesday night, however. In the last few minutes of the game, Sanders offered up a series of impressive — and, for the opponent, perhaps maddening — celebrations:
1. After a Henson layup bounced off the rim with 1:30 left in the final frame, Sanders gathered the rebound and missed himself. Not to be deterred, he went up again and slammed the ball down with authority — all while Luis Scola placed his palm right on Sanders’ face. Sanders milked the moment for all its worth, hanging on the rim for a couple seconds while shaking his body every which way:
Somehow, he was not called for a technical foul.
2. Sanders then proceeded to walk past the Suns’ bench while violently waving his hand over his face:
I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean — perhaps it was inspired by WWE wrestler John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me” taunt or the Tony Yayo hand dance, in which case I still don’t know what it means. After the game, Sanders said he was just letting their bench know he was hit in the face. Right.
3. A minute or so after the dunk, Sanders emphatically swatted away a Shannon Brown jump shot. With a straight face and his hand cupped over his eyes, he went searching for the ball:
Sanders said he was legitimately looking for the disappearing ball. Right.
4. Henson got back into the act by blocking another shot of Brown’s with five ticks remaining in the game. The rookie didn’t react to it, but one teammate had his back. A jubilant Sanders, with his mouth wide open, started jumping around:
The crowd definitely fed off Sanders’ energy in the fourth quarter, and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in Milwaukee — just don’t expect any opponents to embrace such tactics.
Tweets, Courtesy of the Players’ Reaction to Skiles’ Exit:
Jennings seems to have a genuine relationship with Skiles, as seen in this post by Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The point guard also took to social media to thank his former head coach:
Hmmm, that’s a tough one for me.
— BRANDON JENNINGS (@justryod3) January 8, 2013
Coach skiles love the way he Approached the game. Believed in me since I was a rookie, gave me the rock since day one. Thanks for everything
— BRANDON JENNINGS (@justryod3) January 8, 2013
Doron Lamb, who has scarcely played since Beno Udrih returned from injury, was apparently surprised by his coach’s exit. Welcome to the NBA, rook. His one-word summary:
— Doron Lamb (@DLamb20) January 8, 2013
Sanders was in a curiously grateful mood Tuesday morning:
So thankful this morning! For my family, friends, fans, and teammates!!! I Love you all and hope you have a wonderful day! #GodBless
— Jackie Moon (@LarrySanders) January 8, 2013
This probably (and hopefully) doesn’t have anything to do with Skiles leaving, but it was Harris’ first tweet Tuesday morning:
When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive em, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25
— Tobias Harris (@tobias31) January 8, 2013
Gooden, so distraught about the recent developments, considered changing careers:
— Drew Gooden (@DrewGooden) January 8, 2013
As for Daniels — the more things change, the more they stay the same:
Top of the morning
— Marquis Daniels (@Marquis_Daniels) January 8, 2013