Chicago — Brandon Jennings had nowhere to go, with pesky Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich draped all over him and the shot clock rapidly running down.
But when a streaky shooter is on one of his runs, not even a turnaround 18-foot jumper with one hand is a difficult task.
Neither is a banked-in triple with the shot clock running down again, as all Maurice Cheeks could do was shake his head at a Hall-of-Famer sitting five seats away from the Pistons’ bench — former Pistons’ nemesis Scottie Pippen.
A few plays before that, he had Hinrich on skates at the 3-point line, making the guard fall before unleashing one of his five triples, three of his 33 points in the Pistons’ 92-75 win over their I-94 rivals.
If you looked at the box score and saw Jennings’ numbers compared to the offensive production of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond (nine for 32, 23 points), it would appear Jennings froze out his teammates to get his own numbers, reverting back to his ball hog days in Milwaukee.
And the assumption would be dead wrong.
Jennings did what the last two point guards wearing Pistons’ blue, Brandon Knight and Jose Calderon, couldn’t. Knight could score, but couldn’t make plays for others, despite his best intentions.
While Calderon would be just as unselfish in attempting to get the three bigs involved — they were ineffective offensively due in part to the Bulls’ interior defense and in part own ineptitude — Calderon couldn’t put a team on his back offensively for nearly 48 minutes with his shooting.
Especially with their go-to-guy, Rodney Stuckey, being out with a knee injury in the first half.
“Just got it going a little bit early,” Jennings said. “Kept attacking once I found out Stuckey wouldn’t be in the game. Knew I had to be aggressive, not just scoring just making plays for everybody.”
This column space was about to focus on how Jennings is responsible for bringing this triumvirate together, how the gunner was supposed to become the glue, the coach on the floor.
And for awhile, he was the consummate playmaker … only Monroe couldn’t make layups when he felt the shadows of defenders behind him, and Smith turned in a less-than-great shooting performance, although he hit a big 3-pointer during the decisive third-quarter run.
It was nearly a last resort when Jennings gamely showed how dynamic he can be at a moments’ notice, when the streaky scorer gets on a roll.
Ideally, Jennings would work best with a player like Charlie Villanueva or Josh Harrellson, big men who can spread the floor and create room for the tricky ball handler, as evidenced by Harrellson’s crucial stint in the third that led to the easy win.
“It seemed like we have a little drought where we can’t score,” Jennings said. “We found a way tonight, hopefully we keep it going.”
Aside from playing in the open court, it doesn’t appear Jennings and the three bigs are a perfect fit, but they can work — with work.
“I didn’t really get going until I notice we couldn’t score,” Jennings said. “If I notice we can’t score, I’m going to try to get us a bucket. I hit some shots, if I shot it again, I probably wouldn’t make it. But it’s one of them nights. To be good you have to do it consistently.”
Finding the pulse
The nuance of playing point guard is so tough, especially when a player has made it so far to this level relying on his aggression and herky-jerky play throwing off his opponents.
Harnessing that with talented teammates, no matter the situation, will always be fluid and there will be days like Saturday where Jennings is unstoppable.
He has to be aggressive enough to keep himself in the flow in the instance his teammates are having off-nights, yet unselfish enough to give them virtually every opportunity to be successful.
A tightrope to walk for even the most classically trained point guards, let alone someone with shoot-first instincts.
“I think Brandon’s been very good of late, when you come in a building like this, to control tempo, to make the right calls and right plays,” Cheeks said. “It’s all still a learning process for him.”
The Jennings-Cheeks relationship will evolve as Jennings’ on-court relationship does with everyone else, as his ability to read and think through a game is revealed as the season goes on. Jennings still has to resist the urge of doing too much, of being too flashy when simple plays are necessary.
It’s not an exact science, but there’s been times where Jennings has turned loose — and it hasn’t yielded positive results. A bad shot here, a turnover there and a weary look from the sideline usually follows.
Cheeks will be tough but give Jennings enough rope to be dynamic —another delicate balance with a delicate group. It’s what allowed Jennings to hit his shot-clock beater against the Heat that settled the Pistons down several days ago — Cheeks can’t always be the control freak from the sidelines, but Jennings can’t always go rogue, either.
“You let him control it early on and I control it later,” Cheeks said. “To allow him not to look over at me every chance he gets, to run offense through what he sees, who he sees scoring.”
Saturday, nobody was scoring, so Jennings had to. Finally, his hot streak came in a runaway win, not a loss.
“I’ve been telling you guys, sense of urgency. Twenty games now,” Jennings said. “No more excuses, either we’ll get it done or fall like some of the other teams in the East.”
He was asked if he’d felt that hot as a Piston this season.
“That’s the first one…so far,” he said with a smile.