Drew Gooden made sure Dwight Howard wasn’t Superman Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Jason Richardson was more than happy to don the cape when it mattered most.
Richardson scored a season-high 31 points, 28 in the second half. He hit 9 of 11 threes for the game, with four of them coming in the final five minutes during a 21-6 Orlandoflurry that resulted in a come-from-ahead 99-94 defeat for Milwaukee.
The Bucks (12-15) dropped their third straight home game. They are now 7-5 at the Bradley Center this season. The setback was certainly disappointing for Milwaukee, coming as it did after a 13-0 run gave them an 88-78 lead with 5:43 to play.
Little did anyone know Richardson was about to do his best Michael Jordan impression. Ironically, Richardson’s outburst was largely fueled by a first-half comment from a fan who yelled that the veteran guard was “washed up.” Such trivial remarks were notorious motivators for Jordan throughout his career.
But whatever the cause, the finish left a bad taste in Milwaukee’s mouth. Several fine individual efforts were wasted. Gooden had 21 points and eight rebounds while limiting Howard to a very quiet 11 points and 14 boards. Ersan Ilyasova scored 17 and was a demon on the glass. The Turk drew effusive, warranted praise on the television broadcast for his collecting of 16 tough rebounds, some of which he outworked Howard for. Mike Dunleavy tallied 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting off the bench.
With the Bucks’ bench outscoring Orlando’s reserves 45-23 and Howard being held mostly in check, things seemed headed for a Milwaukee victory. Instead, Richardson left the home team ruing its perimeter defense.
“You’ve got to be tight to him and obviously we didn’t do a very good job of that,” coach Scott Skiles said.
The Bucks have Sunday off before they will try to complete an improbable season sweep of the visiting Miami Heat on Monday. To accomplish that, Brandon Jennings will have to bring his “A” game, something that, with the arguable exception of Friday’s win in Cleveland, has not been seen since the Bucks last played the Heat on February 1.
Jennings was just 3 of 14 from the field against the Magic. He knows seven points won’t get it done against good competition and vowed to work on the team’s off day. For now, I’m willing to call his current stretch a slump, and he’s certainly professional enough to fight through it.
The third-year point guard perceives himself an All-Star and proclaimed there was a giant chip on his shoulder after he was left off the team. He then engaged in premature, unnecessary speculation about his future. The team that currently pays him simply needs him to play like he has something to prove. If Jennings can do that consistently, the Bucks can make the playoffs in this ragged and highly imperfect season. And we all know what star performances in the playoffs do to earnings.
Jennings’ future will take care of itself if he backs up his words with his play. Perhaps I’m being too hard on him, but hey, even small chips on the shoulder can pay big dividends.
Just ask Jason Richardson.