Brandon Jennings raised plenty an eyebrow and made national headlines when he declared last week that the Milwaukee Bucks would take the first-round NBA playoff series over the Miami Heat in six games.
Heat players shrugged off the bold prediction at the time, refusing to bite on the locker room bait. But surely, Jennings’ comment was not forgotten based on the ferocity with which Heat defenders descended on the Bucks guard every time he touched the ball early in Game 2 on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Heat players were particularly motivated to shut down Jennings after he and backcourt mate Monta Ellis combined for 48 points against the Heat in Game 1. Even though the Heat won that game easily by 23 points, coach Erik Spoelstra and his players were not satisfied giving up that many points to the two speedy guards.
Tuesday night in Game 2, the Bucks guards ran into what appeared to be a white-hot electric fence every time they tried to maneuver near the paint. Everywhere they turned, they were met with white uniforms and waving arms.
At halftime Tuesday night, Jennings and Ellis had combined for one point — yes, one point — on 0-for-5 shooting. Through three quarters, the Bucks guards had missed 12 of their 16 shots and scored just 11 points.
When the 98-86 Heat win was over, Jennings had eight points on 3-of-15 shooting and Ellis had seven on 2-of-7 shooting.
“We tried to be aggressive [against the Milwaukee backcourt],’’ Spoelstra said. “They had some of the same looks they had the other night but missed. We put bodies in front of them. We made them pass. But the other guys got involved. We’re trying to put as much pressure on those two guys as possible. They don’t make it easy.’’
Added Heat forward Shane Battier: “They missed some shots, but we were more active on them. When you defend players as explosive as those two guys are, it takes an entire team. We had a good awareness of where they were at all times, and our help-side defense was good, but at times it came at the expense of letting [Mike] Dunleavy and [Ersan] Ilyasova get open.’’
Ilyasova, who was 1 of 7 for two points in Game 1, led the Bucks with 21 points Tuesday and made 9 of 14 shots. Dunleavy chipped in 16 points.
The Heat’s strategy, said center Chris Bosh, was to contest every one of the guards’ shots.
“We don’t want their shooters to really have open shots and let them get going, because once they get going they can really mess [up] with your defense.,’’ Bosh said. “We really wanted to get off to a good initial start and just continue to make it tough on them, give them different looks, trap them as much as possible and contest their shots.”
The plan worked. Jennings and Ellis looked extremely frustrated heading into the locker room at intermission. And though they were able to produce more points in the second half, it fell far short of their normal output. Ellis averaged 19 points per game this season and Jennings 17.5.
“We tried to put a little more pressure on them, take them out of their sweet spots,’’ Heat point guard Mario Chalmers said. “A lot of easy looks they had they missed. We contested every shot they had. They can be very dangerous, once those two get going, so we wanted to take them out early,.’’