Posted Apr 20 2010 4:49PM
Let me guess: You thought Kevin Durant was going to be the cat that had the breakout playoff debut over the weekend, right? Me, too. My second guess was his teammate, Russell Westbrook, playing against the Lakers' phantom point guard defense. I was not exactly "expecting" Brandon Jennings to roar into the postseason -- missing Andrew Bogut, his best teammate and pick-and-roll partner -- and go 14-for-25 (including 4-of-6 from three) for 34 points. As a 20-year-old rookie, he was often the best player on the court. And, as is becoming his habit, he kinda slapped us all in the face with his play and said, "Stop sleeping on me."
Jennings is starting to make a career of both proving folks wrong and defying expectations. He shot less than 37 percent from the field in his eight games in April, continuing a string of poor-shooting months. So, a lot of us expected the same in his playoff debut. Why would a youngster that has been mired in a long shooting slump, fighting off first-time playoff jitters, swagger his long limbs into Phillips Arena and show out like he did? Don't give me the "everyone gets off against Mike Bibby" rhetoric. Jennings was just 8-for-23 against the Hawks five days prior and scored a measly two and three points in two games against the Hawks before that.
In retrospect, I should have known. Jennings just has that against-the-odds flair for the dramatic. Again, it's becoming a hallmark.
Take a quick look at his career arc. First he steps onto the national scene in the 2008 McDonald's All American game rockin' a gumby and flashing a game so entertaining and sophisticated that it was clear he was on another level than his peers. Then, instead of doing the "one and done" thing on a college campus, he goes to Italy to play pro ball for a year. Of course that brought out the judges, critics, skeptics and haters in full force. When he didn't automatically go overseas and win a starting gig and average 20 and 10, some knuckleheads were ready to call the kid a bust and his decision a fiasco. He might not even get drafted in the first round, let alone the lottery, right? Wrong. John Hammond and the Bucks scooped him up with the 10th pick. In hindsight, that was anywhere between seven to 10 picks too late.
Then we all ignored his potential to make a significant impact in his rookie season, predicted he'd struggle to even get significant minutes. So BJ came out the gate and hit us with a 22 and 6 November that included a 55-point epic against Golden State that us NBA League Pass subscribers will cherish forever.
But then came the shooting woes. Some nights, the cat couldn't throw the rock into Lake Michigan. I'm talkin' 1-for-8, 1-for-9 and 1-for-13 kind of nights.
So what did he do? He didn't act out and become a behavioral problem or go into an emotional funk you might expect from the typical fragile psyches of young players. He put his head down and focused on running the squad, ended up playing more than solid for a playoff team, while his draftmates Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans ran wild in the cellar.
Coming into this series against Atlanta, there was a thinking among many that the Hawks were going to run the Bogut-less Bucks out of the gym. And that looked to be the case at the half, with Atlanta up 22. Then Jennings dropped 12 points in the third quarter to bring the Bucks within 11 at the start the fourth. It was a game. He put the Bucks on his scrawny shoulders.
"I just feel like without having Andrew Bogut," said Jennings after the game, "I had to go back to the way the way I was early in the season being more aggressive trying to score. That's the only way we'll have a chance to win. Me, John (Salmons) and a couple of other guys are going to have to try and take the scoring load for us."
Prior to Game 1, Bucks coach Scott Skiles said he talked to Jennings "about setting a tone and staying aggressive." What's most impressive, however, is that, as a rook in his first playoff game, Jennings was, in many ways, "the most composed player in the game," according to Skiles.
Who knows what his encore will be. If we want to just ignore Jennings' penchant for proving us wrong, we can expect for him to come out and shoot horribly and help Milwaukee get bludgeoned before the head home. I mean, that could definitely happen.
But I, for one, am done underestimating the dude.
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