A bountiful night
Forgive John Henson if he gave thanks a few hours early, because he had a lot for which to be thankful.
The Milwaukee Bucks rookie forward recorded his first National Basketball Association double-double with 17 points and 18 rebounds in his team’s 113-106 overtime loss to the defending champion Miami Heat in Florida on the eve of Thanksgiving.
Henson, who did not play at all in five of the Bucks’ first 13 games, not only got an early call Nov. 21, but wound up playing 27 minutes, which exceeded his longest previous stint by 10 minutes.
Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles sent Henson into the contest after forward Larry Sanders was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the game in the second quarter – on his 24th birthday, no less.
Henson was grateful not only for the opportunity, but for the stage on which it came.
“My parents (Matt and Annette) were there,” Henson said. “They’re from Tampa and they drove over for the game. They were happy.
“It’s just unfortunate we didn’t get the win. But other than that, things went well.”
The game was the fifth of Henson’s NBA career, but he admitted it was a different experience competing against the defending champions and their superstar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“I wouldn’t say I was starstruck; it’s just that you’ve seen those guys play so much you kind of know what they’re going to do,” Henson said. “But you still have to go out there and play defense and try to keep them from scoring.”
All three players put up typical numbers. James and Wade scored 28 points apiece and Bosh added 24 points and 18 rebounds.
Henson, though, was able to match Bosh’s board total and established a career high in the process.
“I played hard,” Henson said. “We didn’t get the win, unfortunately, but I played hard and that’s just kind of what I do. I let everything else take care of itself.“
enson, despite going all-out, said his longest playing appearance of the season didn’t take its toll on him.
“I think I was running off adrenaline,” he said. “It wasn’t really a fast-break game at the end, though, so it wasn’t too bad.”
It would have been only natural for the extended run to come as a shock for Henson considering the limited duty he’d seen beforehand, but he kept the faith.
“When you’re playing well, he (Bucks head coach Scott Skiles) leaves you in,” Henson said. “When you’re not, he takes you out. That’s what he does.
“You just have to play as hard as you can and as well as you can for as long as you can. I’ve got to keep trying to play hard and keep building.”
Henson received his first NBA start five days after his breakthrough game and responded with 11 points, two rebounds and a blocked shot as Milwaukee rallied from a 27-point deficit with 3 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the third quarter for a 93-92 triumph over the host Chicago Bulls.
The victory was the Bucks’ first over the Bulls since April 6, 2010. The comeback win by the Bucks, who trailed by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter, marked only the third time in team history that a team faced a deficit of 17 or more points entering the final period and came back to win.
Henson, a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year during his three seasons a the University of North Carolina, was selected by the Bucks selected with the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-11-inch, 220-pound forward has performed with the same brand of enthusiasm and tenacity that earned him a first-team all-ACC berth following his junior season at UNC last year.
He entered his first pro camp with a pretty simple approach.
“I’m going to work hard, play hard and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to hopefully get out there and show what I can do. Coach did say that everybody’s going to get a chance. I’m going to try to make the most of the opportunity.”
Henson seized his opportunity to play in the Las Vegas Summer League.
“I think playing in Vegas helped me confidence-wise and showed me that I can play at this level,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly an NBA game, but it was a start. I accomplished one of my goals by playing well there, so hopefully I can take it from there.”
Henson admitted that his game has a feistiness to it.
“That’s kind of something that has just developed in me,” he said. “I get a little feisty out there. I do smile a lot, but I like to get down and go play and go hard.”
Henson has already displayed more of an offensive game than some of his skeptics anticipated when he came out of the college ranks. Through his first eight games, he was shooting .489 from the field, averaging 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game. He made seven of 12 field-goal attempts and three of four free throws in the Miami game.
“I think offensively I can do a little more than people probably expect,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get a chance to showcase that.
“But defense is my calling card, and that’s how I’ll get on the floor quicker than with my offense.”
Henson’s offensive prowess didn’t develop overnight. He just wasn’t the No. 1 option during his three years at North Carolina, and he accepted his role.
“I always knew what I could do,” he said. “It’s just something I didn’t really have to show, being that Harrison (Barnes, now a rookie with the Golden State Warriors) could score. For us to win, I had to play defense and be that guy. I gladly accepted that.”
With gratitude, no doubt.