LAR-RY! LAR-RY! LAR-RY!

Sanders’ fiery play stokes Milwaukee crowd

Ersan Ilyasova’s Sector 7 made its debut during the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2012-13 season opener at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday.

The raucous group of fans occupying a portion of Section 212, formerly known as Squad 6 prior to the trade of Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors last March, was in midseason form during the Bucks’ buzzer-beating, 105-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The occupants were hand-picked by Ilyasova and his panel of judges, but they didn’t reserve their enthusiasm for the Turkish forward. In fact, when Milwaukee forward/center Larry Sanders fouled out of the game during its waning seconds, Sector 7 saluted one of his career-best performances with chants of, “Lar-ry! Lar-ry! Lar-ry!”

And Sanders, before taking his seat on the bench, showed his appreciation, raising his arms to bring the chanters out of their seats, then doing the same to those sitting in the adjacent seats at that end of the court.

Maybe Sanders will have his own cheering section someday soon (the Crazy 8s?), because he has certainly developed into a Milwaukee fan favorite since the Bucks selected him with the 15th pick in the 2010 National Basketball Association Draft.

“I heard the chants,” Sanders said. “I love that. I love it anytime our crowd pumps up our team.

“It was our first home game of the season. We need to start a tradition here. We built great momentum and the crowd was a big part of that. It was something we’ve been missing a little bit.”

Sanders missed only once on what was a personal-best performance for him. He made eight of nine field-goal attempts, one of two free throws and finished with a career-high 17 points, eclipsing his previous mark of 15. He also snagged seven rebounds and blocked a game-high four shots during his 29-minute, 59-second stint off the bench.

Sanders was one of the key contributors as the Bucks’ bench outscored Cleveland’s 35-5 in the first half, hammering down two dunks and deftly hitting a hook shot.

And then, when the Bucks needed a lift down the stretch, Sanders delivered again, scoring 10 of his points in the fourth quarter with a repertoire that included another dunk, a jump hook, a jump shot and two layups.

Sanders talked afterward about pouncing his opportunities on the offensive end of the court with a variety of moves Bucks fans haven’t seen before.

“I think my teammates are trusting me out there, and I trust them,” Sanders said. “They were able to hit me and not be worried about me finishing those plays. “It feels good to get opportunities. We just have to keep working together and getting the continuity right.”

Minutes after achieving his career-best NBA point total, though, Sanders was even more impressed with another accomplishment.

“My four blocks,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job of protecting the rim – not just with the four blocks, but by holding my ground down there and not letting them get easy shots.

“Most importantly, though, I think the team just played well. Everybody buckled down, especially in the fourth quarter. That gave us a chance to win, and we did.”

Sanders’ big home debut followed up a 10-point, seven-rebound, two-block performance during a 22-minute stint in Milwaukee’s season-opening 99-88 victory at Boston the previous night. They were the byproducts of a summer filled with basketball for the 6-foot-11-inch, 235-pound Florida native.

“I was down in Florida for a couple of weeks at IMG,” Sanders said. “Then I went to Virginia and worked out with the guys back there (at Virginia Commonwealth University, his alma mater). Then I stayed here in Milwaukee and worked out with the other players and coaches.

“My main focus this summer was my pace, and making decisions where I can catch the ball around the basket … making better decisions when I do get offensive rebounds and putting my team in better positions.

“When I’m away from the basket, I have to set good screens. I have to know when to release, when to cut to the basket, things like that – timing things. I think that starts with my pace and how I play. Great players find an even pace and it works for them.”

Sanders enjoyed the freedom of a summer during which he didn’t have to be concerned about the impending lockout of 2011, the cancellation of summer league and training camp and 16 regular-season games.

“I was also able to enjoy my summer and focus on that rather than focusing on when the season is going to start, or deciding whether or not I’d have to go play overseas,” he said. “There wasn’t all the stress I had to deal with last summer. I could just focus on my game and have some guarantees to look forward to.”
Sanders came into his third pro season eager to join the team’s revamped frontcourt do its part in upgrading the Bucks’ defense, particularly on the interior, where the team struggled following Bogut’s season-ending injury last season.

“We made some great additions,” Sanders said. “Our mind-set for this year is definitely to be more sound defensively. Especially down low, when anybody comes in, we’ll be able to protect that rim.

“It’s all about position, getting to the front of that rim and not hanging around on the perimeter too much.”

Sanders says Bucks fans can expect to see a lot more of the fiery intensity that has always been a trademark of his game.

“I think emotion is good in the game,” Sanders said. “It drives you. When you’re out there competing against the best players in the world, I think there’s going to be emotion involved. There should be. You have to use that emotion to fuel you in a game.”

Sanders and his teammates were rightfully enthused over the Bucks’ 2-0 start, but he knows it will take them some time for the team’s offseason acquisitions and the holdovers to achieve chemistry and cohesiveness.

He has a request for Bucks fans, too.

“Keep watching,” he said. “Stay faithful. Nothing’s going to be completely smooth. No one’s perfect.

“But I think we’re going to have great strides in the right direction this year. I just want everyone to stay faithful.”

And keep raising the roof.

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