Jen­nings’s calm pres­ence, clutch per­for­mance boost Wizards

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY AVA WAL­LACE

Bran­don Jen­nings has been in the playoffs twice be­fore in his ca­reer, enough to know that things change quickly from game to game. That’s how the eighthyear pro earned the grav­i­tas to be a calm­ing voice among the re­serves fol­low­ing Sun­day’s Game 1 win over the At­lanta Hawks in which the bench was a dys­func­tional mess.

“Ev­ery play­off game is dif­fer­ent. I was try­ing to tell the young guys, you just got to be ready,” Jen­nings said Wed­nes­day af­ter the Wizards’ 109-101 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Con­fer­ence first-round se­ries. “Some nights it might be your night. But when your num­ber’s called, just do what you have to do for the team.”

Jen­nings’s num­ber was called with just more than two min­utes left in the third quar­ter of Game 2. Wash­ing­ton was in dire straits, down by four points and re­ly­ing on a short ro­ta­tion with four play­ers — in­clud­ing its two start­ing for­wards — in foul trou­ble. Jen­nings had played 15 min­utes in Sun­day’s Game 1 win at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter and come up with five as­sists but no points and a mi­nus10 rat­ing. But three days later, just more than a minute into the fourth quar­ter, the backup point guard hit a step-back jumper to cut the Wizards’ deficit to two. Just more than a minute af­ter that, he hit two con­sec­u­tive jump shots, got a de­fen­sive stop and dished to a cut­ting Ja­son Smith for the game-ty­ing dunk.

Jen­nings fin­ished with 10 points, the third time he has scored in dou­ble fig­ures since join­ing Wash­ing­ton at the begin­ning of March.

John Wall (32 points, nine as­sists) and Bradley Beal (31 points) drove the Wizards to the win and a 2-0 edge as the se­ries heads to At­lanta. But it was Jen­nings who

ig­nited the team in the fourth quar­ter.

“Many guys pitched in to get this win, there was no ques­tion, but he was a big part of it,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said of Jen­nings. “We were down go­ing into that stretch of the game, he came in, gave us en­ergy, made some shots. That’s how he plays. He plays with a chip on his shoul­der, he plays with an edge, and I thought those four [or] five min­utes that he was out there, he was ac­tive on the de­fen­sive end and then did a good job of get­ting him­self some shots.”

At first, Jen­nings was sim­ply pleased to see his jump shot fall again.

A 2009 first-round pick of the Mil­wau­kee Bucks, Jen­nings has be­come a pass-first player. It’s part of the rea­son Wash­ing­ton signed Jen­nings af­ter he was granted his re­lease from the New York Knicks in late Fe­bru­ary — the Wizards were look­ing for a distrib­u­tor who fit their cast. In his 23 reg­u­lar sea­son games with the Wizards, Jen­nings av­er­aged 3.5 points and 4.7 as­sists.

But Jen­nings also was brought to Wash­ing­ton to pro­vide depth for a play­off run, which Wed­nes­day re­quired him to fill in for scor­ers in foul trou­ble. That’s an­other thing Jen­nings had learned from his two pre­vi­ous play­off runs with the Bucks, in the 2009-10 and 2012-13 sea­sons: Teams need scor­ers in the post­sea­son. Head­ing into th­ese playoffs, Jen­nings had been work­ing on his jump shot daily.

He shot 27.4 per­cent from the field with the Wizards dur­ing the sea­son but con­nected on 4 of 5 at­tempts Wed­nes­day.

“Well, I been work­ing on it ev­ery day,” Jen­nings said. “I fi­nally shot the ball. That’s the thing. I was fi­nally able to take some shots and shoot with con­fi­dence, so def­i­nitely a con­fi­dence boost. ... I was just try­ing to find ways to make plays and make things hap­pen for the team.”

Jen­nings wasn’t the only re­serve who el­e­vated his play in Game 2. Af­ter strug­gling through a score­less Game 1 on Sun­day, Smith had eight points and eight re­bounds Wed­nes­day, of­ten work­ing in tan­dem with Jen­nings, who as­sisted on two of his three field goals.

“We felt like we didn’t re­ally do any­thing in Game 1, Bran­don and my­self,” said Smith, a ninth-year pro making his third play­off ap­pear­ance. “So we felt like we had to come out and have an im­pact on the game. . . . I thought Bran­don did a great job of putting pres­sure on their de­fense, at­tack­ing the bas­ket. He shot the ball pretty well today. At the same point, he was dish­ing it to ev­ery­body out there. He was making plays for ev­ery­body.

“He’s got such a unique abil­ity to find peo­ple.”

Nei­ther Smith nor Jen­nings has made it out of the first round of the playoffs. With Wash­ing­ton up 2-0 headed to At­lanta, this could be their first shot at a deep post­sea­son run.

But Jen­nings knows how quickly things can change from game to game in the playoffs. He will con­tinue to work on his jump shot and try to be even more fo­cused in prepa­ra­tion for a tougher at­mos­phere on the road. He would like to find out how games feel in May and June.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing,” Jen­nings said. “The way ev­ery­thing is today in this world, to be in the playoffs in 2017 is def­i­nitely awe­some. I mean, just for so­cial me­dia, for the hype of where the NBA is today, for ev­ery­thing. It’s a great thing.”

TASOS KATOPODIS/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Bran­don Jen­nings, driv­ing against the Hawks’ José Calderón, is an eighth-year pro with two pre­vi­ous post­sea­son ap­pear­ances.

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