Brandon Jennings victorious, though erratic, in return to Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE — Brandon Jennings told himself Monday’s return to Milwaukee was just another game so many times he actually began to believe it.
That was until 7 p.m. drew near. Then his nerves really started going, unexpectedly to him.
“I mean, to be honest, I was a real nervous at the beginning because I’m not used to being on this side,” Jennings said. “There were a lot of emotions going on. Once the second half started I was able to settle down and just play basketball.”
Jennings’ first game back at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since the July 31 sign-and-trade sending him to Detroit for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton wasn’t his best effort stats wise, but it didn’t bother him too much.
With a salute to what was left of the Milwaukee crowd late in the fourth quarter, Jennings and the Pistons walked away with a 105-98 win to move up to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Jennings finished with 17 points and 11 assists, but turned the ball over six times and shot just 4-of-16 from the field.
“I finally got the first one out of the way,” Jennings said. “I’m sure when I come back it will be a lot easier. It wasn’t my best shooting night, but we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said before the game that he felt Jennings would get into Wednesday’s game because of the atmosphere, but wanted to get his point guard a couple of early looks to calm him down.
Jennings did get two good looks right away but missed both, including a wide open 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
“He missed a couple of shots that he normally makes,” Cheeks said. “When you are coming back to a team you left you try to get an early basket. But he stayed in the game, stayed engaged in the game and helped us win.”
Jennings was booed during introductions and each time he touched the ball. After his gesture to the crowd, some fans made sure he knew what his shooting numbers were Wednesday by chanting it back at him.
It was a reaction Jennings expected to receive.
“The boos didn’t hurt,” Jennings said. “Some people still talk to me, I still have a lot of fans here. At the end of the day, the fans supported me through the good and bad. They didn’t bother me at all.”
After the way last season ended and Milwaukee’s commitment to completely changing the franchise, the Bucks’ divorce with Jennings seemed inevitable. Jennings’ time with the Bucks began with so much promise, as he scored 55 points in just his seventh NBA game.
But he improved minimally in four years and has shown to be the same player with Detroit. After Wednesday’s game, Jennings is averaging 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game while shooting 38.2 percent from the field and 34.2 percent on 3-pointers.
His assist numbers are a career high, but his scoring and shooting numbers are his lowest since his rookie year.
“There are no regrets, I mean, everything happens for a reason,” Jennings said. “It’s the business of basketball, things happen. The Milwaukee Bucks are going in a different direction as a franchise, and they wanted to make changes. That’s what they did.”
Jennings made it a point to say he was grateful for the support Milwaukee fans gave him for four years and said he has fond memories of his time with the Bucks.
“I feel like we made a lot of noise here,” Jennings said. “My rookie year we made that run in the playoffs against Atlanta. Two years after that we were just a few games out of the playoffs and last year we made it. I’m used to being in the playoff hunt.
“Now it’s a different organization, different team. This organization really strives on winning championships every day. They aren’t just satisfied in making the playoffs and who becomes an All-Star.”
Milwaukee’s experiment of pairing Jennings and Monta Ellis together in the backcourt didn’t work out as it had hoped. Team chemistry was a mess by the end of the season and the Bucks’ two high-scoring guards just weren’t clicking together.
The Bucks made the playoffs with a losing record and were swept in four games by Miami. Jennings and Ellis going their separate ways seemed destined to happen.
Jennings was asked after Wednesday’s game if he was surprised Ellis was playing so well in Dallas, averaging 21.9 points and 5.5 assists per game, shooting 47.5 percent from the field.
“It’s the situation he’s in,” Jennings said of Ellis. “He’s on a team where they need someone to score. Dirk (Nowitzki) is not that scorer like he used to — he still can do it, don’t get me wrong. (Monta) is in a situation kind of like he was in Golden State before Stephen Curry got there. He’s the main scorer, he’s the guy.
“We’re two players that need the ball. Here I can just run the team. I’m playing with an unbelievable frontcourt. My assists are higher than they ever have been, which I’m really happy about. I’m just finding guys and learning how to control the game down the stretch and win.”
Despite the boos and the way things ended, Jennings says Milwaukee will always be a special place to him.
“This is where I started, this is where it all began,” Jennings said. “Milwaukee took a chance on me. I was the kid that went over to Italy and never played; they didn’t know much about me. Milwaukee is always going to have a place in my heart no matter what.”
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