MIAMI — When Brandon Jennings made that upset prediction involving his Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat, he did so with Larry Sanders factored into the equation.
The Bucks’ rim protector and Defensive Player of the Year nominee has to play more than the 18 minutes and 41 seconds he played in that Game 1 loss. He was in foul trouble early and never got into a rhythm. He sat out the final four games of the regular season after a hard fall during an April 10 loss to Orlando, so Sunday night’s game was his first real game action in almost two weeks.
It showed. Sanders barely made a ripple in the first playoff action of his career, scoring six points, piling up as many fouls (five) as he did rebounds and not registering a single block.
Credit the Heat for going after him early and often and doing it in all sorts of ways. LeBron James and Udonis Haslem challenged him at the rim on three first-quarter possessions and Chris Bosh made sure to follow through on the game plan by stepping outside for jump shots in an effort to drag Sanders away from the basket.
If the Bucks are going to avoid a repeat performance in Game 2 on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, they’ll need to make the proper adjustments and make sure Sanders leaves a much bigger footprint on the action. (On NBA TV, pregame 7 p.m. ET)
“I’m going to keep myself in the game and play better,” Sander said. “Every time we were aggressive on defense, we got good things out of it. When they came out and they were aggressive, we couldn’t really match their intensity.”
The Bucks couldn’t match the Heat’s balance or energy either, especially when it mattered most. Jennings and Monta Ellis were plenty aggressive on both ends, combining for 28 points and five of the Bucks’ 12 steals.
They didn’t do a great job of involving Sanders or anyone else, though, an adjustment that Ellis and Bucks coach Jim Boylan said must change for Game 2.
“A lot of guys that usually help us out on the offensive end didn’t have a good shooting night,” Ellis said. “You’re going to have nights like that. We just have to stay together as a team, keep trusting each other … we have to play a perfect game, everybody has to be engaged.”
Sanders in particular. It’s difficult to scheme against players like Jennings and Ellis, guys who are every bit as craft and athletic as the Heat defenders assigned to stop them. Designing an attack for Sanders is much more deliberate. And when it is executed properly, the way it was in Game 1, can make a guy who averages nearly three block night a non-factor.
“I had to be a little less aggressive with the fouls I picked up,” Sanders said. “I wanted to be more aggressive in the fourth (quarter) but I went into the fourth with four fouls. But they were really aggressive in how they attacked the basket for rebounds, they attacked us in pick and rolls. They were really aggressive. And that was so smart on their part, to use Bosh the way they did. Definitely, in Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, or however many games we play, you’ll see me more aggressive if I’m not in foul trouble.”