Despite an interim head coach, an uncertain future, and a recent swoon that has seen the team lose seven of its last nine games, the Milwaukee Bucks are in no danger of losing the final playoff spot in the Eastern bracket. The team is six and a half games up on the ninth-place Philadelphia 76ers, even after falling to Philly on Wednesday night in a game that saw Bucks guard Brandon Jennings miss the entire fourth quarter.
Brandon didn’t miss it due to injury, it should be pointed out. He missed it because prior to the fourth quarter Jennings had missed all three shots from the field in an invisible performance. Interim head coach Jim Boylan decided to sit the fourth-year guard for the last 12 minutes, and things didn’t exactly work out following the decision. Here’s Jennings, as quoted by Dan Gelston of the Associated Press, following the loss:
With the Bucks in the playoff chase, Jennings was benched in the fourth quarter, and wondered why he was singled out.
''I don't see any All-Stars in this locker room,'' he said.
''I think that everyone should be held accountable,'' he said. ''There's no maxed-out players in this locker room. So don't try to put me on a pedestal and just give everyone else the freedom to do whatever they want.''
The Bucks were up 78-76 entering the fourth quarter. With Jennings on the bench and the team running a big lineup featuring a hybrid perimeter rotation with Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick, and Mike Dunleavy Jr., the team scored just 14 points in the fourth as the 76ers moved ahead for the 100-92 win. This came on the heels of a 30-point third quarter. Jennings went on to mention that this was the third time he’s taken in such a benching, all under coach Boylan.
As was the case when Boylan unsuccessfully replaced Scott Skiles as an interim head coach in Chicago five years ago, the shine has sort of faded with the current interim head man as he works in Milwaukee. Boylan is 18-20 as Bucks coach, following up on Skiles’ (who was far from beloved by his players) 16-16 record. The Bucks held tight at the trade deadline to Jennings and Samuel Dalembert and added Redick to a mix that needed some outside shooting. The team is just 8-9 following the trade deadline, though.
Jennings is a big part of that swoon. He’s hit for just five of his last 33 shots from the field over the last three games. Raw stats, though, don’t appear to be Boylan’s concern. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"At the point of attack, you need to have some intensity," Boylan said. "That was a little bit lacking tonight.
"I just felt I needed to do something to try to energize our team. We played with pretty good energy toward the end of the first half, and then we came out in the second half and we were right back to how we had started the game."
"When you play that position (point guard) there comes a lot of responsibility," Boylan said. "The offense is initiated from that position. The talent at that position in this league is outstanding.
"So you have to bring it every single night, at both ends of the floor. If that's not happening, you need to do something. I just felt I needed to do something tonight, so that's what I did."
It’s understandable, the benching. But the whole quarter? With your team going from 30 to 14 points? Boylan may not like Jennings’ body language, but he’s subscribing to the Scott Skiles’ method of either/or coaching, and games can’t work that way. Good coaches find a way to move someone back into the mix, and out of the funk.
And for the Bucks as a whole, this speaks to an uneasy understanding of just who Brandon Jennings is, four years on. You’re going to have to deal with these poor shooting nights, because he’s not all that great at scoring the basketball in ways that can put teams over the top.
The Bucks have hung on to Jennings for years, mindful that the same long two-point jumpers and inability to score efficiently can in an instant dissipate and turn Jennings into the lights-out scorer that flips games around. Sure, it’s a one in five shot – Jennings has basically played a slightly improving version of the same game for years – but this is the shot that the Bucks embraced years ago.
To give up on Jennings late in a game, with the team reeling and the playoffs approaching, just to make a point? Seems a bit off, Jim Boylan.
Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk, the guy that introduced me to Jennings’ frustrations earlier today, had a marvelous take:
Still, Jennings fell well below any reasonable standard last night. But he also limited his impact. He took just three shots and had no turnovers. Some players force the issue to protect their per-game averages, but Jennings just allowed teammates who were having better games to take over.
It’s not the 0-for-3, no-turnover nights that kill you. It’s the 3-for-14, six-turnover nights that kill you. Jennings played like he understood the difference.
The Bucks have a point guard that doesn’t shoot well and isn’t a franchise player, but wants to be treated like one. They also have a head coach they haven’t committed to beyond this season that tends to throw the point guard out with the bathwater when things aren’t going well. They’ve lost seven of nine, and will take on the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.