If you’re going to talk like Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings did before this playoff series, you better not shrink from the moment.
Jennings did not at the outset Sunday night, serving up a splendid 18-point first half that made this game interesting for a while.
But ultimately, Jennings couldn’t sustain it, Milwaukee’s frontcourt didn’t do nearly enough, and the Bucks were buried in the second half of the Heat’s 110-87 victory in Game 1, offering little reason to suggest they can make this either a long or compelling series.
“We can’t get frustrated,” Jennings said. “Don’t start going our separate ways.”
Jennings reiterated his Bucks-in-six playoff prediction Saturday and tried to back up his daring dialogue for two quarters, helping Milwaukee close within two points on four occasions in the first half after the Bucks dug an early 13-point hole.
Second half? Far different story, for Jennings and his team. This became a Heat stampede, with Milwaukee utterly helpless to prevent it.
“In the third quarter, we were more lax with our defense and gave them some easy baskets,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “I thought we played well enough in stretches. We have to figure out how to sustain that.”
Jennings scored just two baskets after intermission — only one before garbage time — making 2 of 6 shots without an assist. He closed with 26 points on 8-for-20 shooting.
Monta Ellis picked up some of the scoring slack, with 11 points in the third quarter, but it was hardly enough. Besides Jennings’ 26 and Ellis’ 22, no other Bucks player scored more than six.
“We need to figure out [how] not to rely so heavily on those two guys,” Boylan said. “You need to find a couple of other guys to contribute offensively for us.”
Milwaukee was steamrolled in the second half, overwhelmed by a 23-8 run that extended the Heat’s lead to 23 by midway through the fourth quarter.
“When you have a game like [LeBron James’], what can you do? The guy is the best player in the world,” Boylan said. “When Ray Allen gets 20 and Chris Anderson comes in with hustle and tip-ins, they make things happen.”
On Sunday morning, Jennings defended his series prediction.
“What else am I supposed to say?” he mused.
Perhaps nothing. That would work, too.
Jennings scored in a variety of ways early on, including a beautiful step-back three-pointer. But his only basket in the second half — before the game was out of reach — was a four-point play on a three-pointer and a free throw off a foul by Shane Battier. He finished with just two assists, compared with three turnovers.
Ellis shot just 30 percent in four games against the Heat this season (16 for 53) but was efficient in Game 1, finishing 10 for 19 from the field.
“We did some great things,” Ellis said.
But Milwaukee, which had the league’s third-worst shooting percentage, shot only 41.5 from the field and didn’t get nearly enough from its frontcourt.
Center Larry Sanders left with his fourth foul 2:29 into the third quarter and played just 18 minutes, collecting six points and five rebounds.
“I got in foul trouble, couldn’t get myself going, couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted,” he said.
Milwaukee’s starting forwards — Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute — combined for just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Heat’s starting frontcourt outscored Milwaukee’s 44-14.
And there’s no way the Bucks can be competitive in this series if cannot beat the Heat on the boards. The Heat closed with a 46-31 rebounding advantage — this after a regular season in which the Bucks ranked fifth and the Heat 30th in rebounding.
“That shouldn’t happen,” Sanders said.
The quick hands of the Bucks guards contributed to the Heat’s 19 turnovers, but it was difficult for Milwaukee to feel especially encouraged.
“It’s a good learning experience,” Boylan said. “I like how we competed in stretches.”