Larry Sanders could appreciate his final numbers on Friday night in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 95-85 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves: 10 points, 12 rebounds and a team-record 10 blocks.
Sanders’ first triple-double of his NBA career came with the unique footnote of tying the team record for blocks in a game, a record held by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But when Sanders looked at the box score following the game, which was the Bucks’ fourth loss in five games, another number stood out to the talented, but inconsistent big man.
What impressed Sanders on this night? The No. 2 under the personal fouls category for him.
“I think that’s what I’m most impressed with because I was able to stay in the game and help my team,” Sanders said.
Sanders has been trying to lay claim to big minutes among a forward group that has lacked the consistency to complement standout guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Invariably, as much as Sanders would try to contribute, he would take himself out of consideration because of foul trouble. In Wednesday’s loss to the New York Knicks, Sanders had three fouls in 13 minutes, 41 seconds of game time, adding just four rebounds, two points and one block. Two games prior, he had six fouls in 29:13 in a loss to Chicago.
Friday night, he played 32:08, third on the team only behind Ellis and Jennings. Able to stay on the floor, the final numbers added up too. He was 5 of 7 shooting, grabbed 10 defensive rebounds as part of his 12 total and was the defensive presence inside Milwaukee needed.
“It’s important,” Sanders said. “Those two fouls, trying to keep myself in the game, a lot of times I take myself out. But it’s something that mentally I’ve been working on and showed a little bit this game.”
He looked more like the valuable reserve he was at the start of the season when he scored double-digit points in the first five games, and averaged 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game while playing at least 21 minutes a game.
But as the fouls became more of a problem, his playing time and numbers decreased as the Bucks were looking for someone to step up at the forward position.
“He’s actually struggled for the last several games,” Skiles said. “Tonight he was very good. Tonight he played more like he played early in the season. So, that’s good. I was happy for him.”
Two early blocks, on consecutive shot attempts by Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic got Sanders going early. He had six blocks by halftime, and he finished off the triple-double with a lay-up with 12.2 seconds left in the game.
While his team fell again, and dropped into a tie with Chicago for the Central Division lead at 7-7, Sanders could at least draw some comfort from finally being the type of contributor he wants to be and Milwaukee needs him to be.
“Just trying to get back in a rhythm, get back in a comfortable mindset and try to help my team,” Sanders said.