Bucks’ Sanders opens eyes with his defense

MILWAUKEE — Mike Dunleavy called it an old Western Conference shootout. Scott Skiles said his team’s defense was “embarrassingly bad.” But in the end, it was a defensive play that proved pivotal.

With the Bucks up 114-110 with 18 seconds left, Bucks forward Larry Sanders went up with Hornets forward Ryan Anderson and stuffed him, an incredibly tough play to make without fouling. Also an important play, because stops were at a premium.

“We needed it,” Skiles said. “In a game where our defense was so awful beyond anything reasonable we needed somebody to step up and make a defensive play for us and Larry did.”

It wasn’t a good night for Milwaukee’s defense. The Hornets guards were able to get into the paint at will and they got easy baskets off the pick and roll. New Orleans was still shooting over 60 percent deep into the third quarter.

“We just missed on assignments and it turned into a high scoring game, which we didn’t want,” Dunleavy said. “Fortunately we were able to come out on top.”

The Bucks came out on top because of their offense, mainly the play of guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Both finished with 22 points and nine assists.

Offensive rebounds and three’s also helped. Milwaukee grabbed 16 offensive boards and hit 13 shots from beyond the arc. There was a stretch where the game looked more like a track meet than a basketball game. Ellis even admitted that “his antennas” went up, meaning he knew he had to step up and score to keep pace with New Orleans.

All five Bucks starters finished in double figures and Dunleavy scored 17 off the bench, including 16 in the second quarter alone.

“We played well offensively,” Skiles said. “We moved the ball like we always do, we scored, that was not an issue. They played last night and right away had more energy than we did. We found our offensive energy, but (Hornets guard Greivis) Vasquez was in the paint all night, we just were not sharp at all.”

A lot of that energy came from Hornets rookie forward Anthony Davis. He scored 28 points to go along with 11 rebounds, making 10 of 14 field goals and eight of nine free throws. Skiles said afterwards that this was just a “glimpse” of what the top pick in last year’s draft can do.

“I think that he played hard tonight,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “He dove on the floor and finished around the basket. He’s capable of having nights like that when he goes for a double double. He makes plays, sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, but he finds a way to put the ball in the basket.”

Skiles felt that it was one of those games where whoever had the lead in the final two minutes was going to win because nobody could stop the other team. That’s why Sanders’ block was huge.

Old Larry Sanders probably wouldn’t have even been on the floor for that play. He was called for a couple of fouls, including one where he caught Jason Smith with an elbow while rebounding the ball. There was a time where he started to lose control, but his entire team came to his side to calm him.

To his credit, he did. And despite everything going on and struggles in other parts of his game, Sanders calmed himself and made a big play.

“(I) struggled a little bit this game, my teammates kept me up,” Sanders said. “They did a good job keeping my head even though I was struggling a little bit and I was able to pay them back in the end.”

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter.