Scott Skiles wanted to insert Larry Sanders into the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting lineup for Saturday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. The coach relented when the high-energy forward said he preferred a reserve role.
It sure looks as if Sanders knows what’s best for him.
He had a career-high 18 points and 16 rebounds to go along with five blocked shots, and the Bucks rallied for a 91-88 victory after the Celtics scored the first 17 points of the game.
”I embrace that role, coming off the bench and trying to provide energy, whether we are down or whether we are up. That’s where I plan on staying,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ performance impressed his coach.
”He was doing everything he does when he plays well,” Skiles said. ”He was blocking shots, he was running the floor, he was on the boards and got some baskets around the goal. He played really well.”
Boston coach Doc Rivers also took notice.
”He was terrific. I thought he changed the game in a lot of ways with his effort,” he said. ”He blocked a lot of shots and he made a lot of shots, too.”
Boston played without point guard Rajon Rondo, who served the second of his two-game suspension for his role in a scuffle during a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Courtney Lee, who started in Rondo’s place, had 13 points, and Jason Terry finished with 15 points and 11 assists.
Monta Ellis had 17 points and seven assists for the Bucks, while Ersan Ilyasova added 15 points and five rebounds. Brandon Jennings made a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
”The play wasn’t for a 3,” Jennings said. ”The play was for me to come off a pick with Larry (Sanders). If I had an open lane, of course take it to the hole. But we just moved the ball around and we were able to get an open shot.”
Jennings also had praise for Sanders, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in a loss to Minnesota on Friday.
”Larry Sanders is on his way to being player of the week if he keeps this up. I’m really excited for him,” Jennings said.
Paul Pierce paced the Celtics with 19 points, and Kevin Garnett added 17 points and seven rebounds.
”I thought both teams were going back and forth,” Garnett said. ”They made some shots and we made some shots. I thought Brandon Jennings’ shot was possibly the biggest shot of the night.”
Jeff Green and Pierce hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Celtics an 88-85 lead with 1:44 left. Sanders then had a dunk and Jennings drained the crucial 3 to get the lead back for Milwaukee.
Another missed shot and a foul by Boston put Sanders at the line. He hit one of two free throws to make it 91-88 lead with 11 seconds remaining. Pierce and Terry missed 3-point attempts in the waning seconds as the Bucks held on for the win.
Boston was 6 for 19 from beyond the arc for the game, including a 2-for-9 performance by Terry, who shouldered the blame for leaving Jennings open for the late 3.
”Being a 14-year veteran, I can’t make that crucial mistake on leaving Brandon Jennings,” Terry said. ”I told everyone that I’ll put that one on my shoulders. That’s the most frustrating thing about this loss. It hurts to be in that position and to not even make a shot or the defensive play, that’s on me.”
The Celtics opened the game with a 17-0 run. Milwaukee missed its first six shots from the field. The drought ended when Ilyasova sank a jump shot with about 6:30 remaining in the quarter. The Bucks’ problems in the opening minutes included an air ball at the line by rookie forward John Henson.
”Our rhythm was great and then we started subbing and our rhythm gets upset,” Rivers said. ”We weren’t going to keep the shutout. As some point you knew they were going to make a run and they did. At 17-0 they could have easily thrown in the towel. They made some big shots and we missed some.”
Sanders stressed the importance of the victory for Milwaukee, which had lost five of six games.
”We’ve been kind of in a slump and searching,” Sanders said. ”Today, everyone fought and I’m glad we came out with this win.”
Boston led 27-11 after one, but the Bucks rallied in the second quarter and trailed 48-47 at halftime. The teams were tied at 69 after three.
Skiles juggled his starting lineup, inserting Marquis Daniels and Ekpe Udoh. The Bucks also played without key reserves Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy, both of whom sustained injuries in Friday night’s loss to Minnesota. Udrih is expected to miss one to two weeks with an ankle injury, and Dunleavy attempted to play against the Celtics but couldn’t due to lingering knee soreness, according to Skiles.
NOTES: Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute appeared in his first game of the season after rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery. He finished with eight points and six rebounds in 14 minutes. … Jennings jumped over the scorers’ table chasing a loose ball and nearly landed in the lap of former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who was sitting courtside.