MILWAUKEE – Anderson Varejao knew exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks were going to draw up with 0.7 seconds on the clock with the game knotted at 102-all.
In fact, Bucks coach Scott Skiles was worried about it coming out of the timeout. Mike Dunleavy almost called another timeout. Both stuck with a play the Bucks have run every day in practice.
Varejao knew the ball was going to find its way into the hands of Brandon Jennings, he jumped it and came charging at the Bucks’ point guard at the top of the key. He was just too late.
“I didn’t see anybody until I shot the ball,” Jennings said. “When he put his hand up, it was already gone.”
Dunleavy tossed a perfect pass and in rhythm Jennings drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bucks a 105-102 win and their first 2-0 start since the 2005-06 season.
“With 0.7, you are not sure you’re going to get a good look,” Skiles said. “You aren’t going to get a great look, that’s for sure. The guys ran the play well, Brandon came off and he was able to just get squared up enough to get enough air under it to give it a chance and knock it down.”
The shot left the Cavs stunned and angry. Cleveland coach Byron Scott felt the clock at the BMO Harris Bradley Center started late.
“I don’t want to get fined, so I’m not going to say anything about the clock starting late on the last shot.” Scott said. “They have to figure out a way to do something about that. Bottom line is it doesn’t count or you have to take it out again. Looking at it again in the locker room a couple of times, the shot shouldn’t have counted. The clock started too late.”
A night after Jennings torched Boston point guard Rajon Rondo for 21 points, 13 assists and six steals, Cleveland’s game plan worked to perfection and frustrated the young point guard.
The Cavs put 6-foot-6 Alonzo Gee on Jennings and had Varejao follow, completely preventing any penetration into the lane.
Cleveland saw how Jennings’ penetration killed the Celtics and stopped it. Instead of letting it get the best of him, Jennings took it as a sign of respect. Though he had just 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting before the final shot, Jennings didn’t force anything, instead dishing out 13 assists.
“It was different,” Jennings said of having the tall Gee guard him. “He was real aggressive on the ball and they were really trapping me on the pick and roll so I wasn’t able to do what I really wanted to do like last night.”
After Wednesday’s deadline for a contract extension came and went, you could see it in Jennings’ eyes that he was about to start his mission. Motivated by criticism his entire career, he’s using it to take his game to the next level.
He has 13 assists in each of Milwaukee’s first two games, matching his career high. More importantly, he’s led his team to a 2-0 start for the first time in seven years. In a game where he didn’t play well, in fact, his team didn’t play well, Jennings showed maturity and poise and stepped up and bailed them out.
Friday’s impressive win in Boston would have been all for naught if the Bucks would have come home and lost their home opener to a Cleveland team that lost by 29 the night before.
“It was actually an ugly game for us,” Jennings said. “It wasn’t our best performance. If we want to get over that hump these are the games we have to win.”
Jennings wants this to be his team. He wants to prove he can lead a team to the playoffs. Even with Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy with the hotter hand, Skiles went to Jennings. And there was no argument from his teammates.
“That’s BJ,” Bucks forward Larry Sanders said. “I expect him to make that shot and he did.”
Through two games, his mission is off to a perfect start.
“Since I’ve been here we haven’t started off 2-0,” Jennings said. “It feels really good. Confidence is real high in the locker room right now. It’s a good sign that we’ve finally started 2-0. We haven’t started like that in a long time.”