Fans attending Friday’s early season game in Boston had every reasonable expectation that they would see a team that often wears green play with poise, energy and precision.
The narrative came true, sort of.
It was as if the teams had switched uniforms in a post-Halloween prank, but the young Bucks, with nine players 27 players or younger on the roster, played like veterans and ran past the Celtics in stunningly dominating fashion. Milwaukee notched its first opening night win in six years, while Boston (0-2) came out flat in its home opener.
“I thought right from the jump ball we were just highly competitive,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We had a lot of energy and guys were doing their jobs out there. “We were in the right place defensively most of the night, challenged some shots at the rim. When they started to come back in the third (quarter), we were able to turn them over a couple times and we made a couple easy baskets when we needed it.”
Floor leader Brandon Jennings typified the Bucks’ energy all evening, scoring 21 points and matching a career-high with 13 assists. He added six steals and displayed no signs of the intimidation he has shown against elite point guards in the past.
Instead, he treated the matchup against Boston’s Rajon Rondo as a personal challenge. On this night, it was Rondo who looked passive, stifled and frustrated. Jennings must play this way consistently if the Bucks are to reach their potential this season. The best part is, the fourth-year pro understands that.
“I know I have to be more aggressive. We missed the playoffs two years in a row. It started from tonight,” he said.
The good performances certainly didn’t stop with Jennings. Monta Ellis struggled with his shot (6-of-20) but blended seamlessly with his backcourt mate and played solid defense while being undoubtedly thankful that playing the Celtics no longer means having to chase Ray Allen.
Second-year forward Tobias Harris outplayed future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, who looked every bit 35. If Harris plays like this with regularity, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will become an expensive reserve in a hurry.
And my oh my, the third season premiere of The Larry Sanders Show sure was a hit. Sanders was actually first off the bench, replacing starting center Samuel Dalembert halfway through the first quarter. Sanders finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. He was active at both ends of the floor and kept his composure. His production made Drew Gooden an assistant coach the entire game.
In so many ways, Skiles must wish he could bottle this effort. Yes, 19 turnovers will be too many to win on many nights. There were some foul problems. But the team’s depth was on display to help overcome them. Skiles deftly juggled his big men all game and at the outset of the fourth quarter deployed a lineup of Beno Udrih, Ellis, Harris, Mike Dunleavy and Epke Udoh clearly designed to exploit Milwaukee’s quickness advantage.
The combination was a subtle reminder of all the options the coach has at his disposal. The Bucks imposed their desired pace so effectively that it looked like they, not the reloaded Celtics, were the ones with legitimate championship aspirations this season.
I’m not suggesting Milwaukee will hoist the trophy this season. This was indeed only one game in a long grind. But as an opening act, it provided plenty of reasons for optimism.