Monta Ellis was huge for the Bucks, netting 14 of 25 baskets including 6-11 threes, usually one of the weaker areas of his offensive attack, and chipping in four gimmes from the free throw line to score 38 points. It was all for naught in the end, however, as Milwaukee couldn’t manage to contain the Denver Nuggets’ fast break scoring attack enough to keep the game in control for a second half comeback, eventually falling 112-111.
Despite an aching Achilles tendon in his left ankle, Brandon Jennings assumed point guard duties for the Bucks’ final home game of the regular. His effectiveness was less than stellar, to say the least. Chucking up five threes and coming up empty on each one is bad; going just 1-11 from the field in 29 minutes and totaling four points is hardly better than laying an egg. Jennings is capable of facilitating and had four assists, but taking the time to find a teammate on just one of those errant threes could have swung the game in Milwaukee’s favor.
The blame does not solely belong to Jennings, though. The loss is the team’s burden to bear, as always, and Jennings limited his turnovers, committing just one as opposed to the seven possessions he gave away when the Bucks traveled to Denver on Feb. 5. Ellis, for all the spacing he created at the perimeter and the damage he threatened to continue at the right elbow (where he was 2-4), turned the ball over a team-high four times, trailed closely by Ersan Ilyasova’s three TOs.
Even with the loss extending the Bucks’ losing streak to five games, the night was not all bad. In fact, there is some promise in the minutiae. John Henson gained valuable experience playing against one of the NBA’s best teams, albeit at a lower caliber than usual. He posted a double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds), going 6-13 from the field and cleaning the offensive glass better than anyone who took the court and wasn’t named JaVale McGee. (The two tied with eight offensive boards a piece in the Battle of Lanky Centers.) Any NBA big man can have one good night scoring and wrangling rebounds in the paint, though. Henson separated himself with four blocks and three steals while committing only one foul in 31 minutes and working the other end of the court with two assists. It is a not a LARRY SANDERS! line, but Henson’s performance is more than can be expected from most rookies who have seen limited playing time in a crowded front court.
If Henson gets the game ball or ties Ellis for it, Jennings has competition for the Charlie Brown “I Got a Rock” of the night in Ish Smith’s decidedly not magnificent 0-3 shooting and zero points in 20 minutes, although his six assists, two steals and one block probably qualify him to be Pigpen and relegate Jennings to Chuck status.
Ramshackle though the Bucks’ evening may look, credit goes to the Nuggets for executing their game plan to a tee. Led by Ty Lawson, they created 21 points in transition (Milwaukee had 10) and pounded the boards, out-rebounding the Bucks 58-44. Denver had 17 turnovers, all more or less negated by the 14-rebound differential spearheaded by McGee.
There is no shame in losing to the Nuggets and there is no use exploring hypothetical alternatives, like how things would have turned out if Ellis had been the primary ball-handler tonight. Not now, at least. There is an entire offseason for that. Now is the time when the Bucks must scramble to find a way to beat a top flight opponent on unfamiliar turf in less than 48 hours as the reality of escaping a six-game losing streak heading into the playoffs hinges on beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road Wednesday night. Almost certain death (via Miami Heat) is lurking in the playoffs, but Wednesday’s result could be the difference between a despondent, lifeless postseason showing and a grudge match against a team the Bucks beat three of four times during the 2011-12 regular season.