John Henson chose the right time to have his breakout moment.
The third-year Milwaukee Bucks center has played a huge role off the bench in his team’s first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
The 6-foot-11 Henson was at it again in Game 5 on Monday as the Bucks staved off elimination and placed the pressure squarely on the Bulls entering Thursday night’s Game 6 in Milwaukee. The Bulls lead the series, 3-2, but the sixth-seeded Bucks have come back from a 3-0 deficit to seriously challenge third-seeded Chicago.
Henson contributed eight points, 14 rebounds and one blocked shot to the Bucks’ 94-88 victory at the United Center, but his stat line hardly did him justice.
He grabbed 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter, making sure the Bulls got only one shot as the Bucks were protecting a tenuous lead. He altered shots around the paint and discouraged others.
When Henson made an emphatic putback slam of a miss by O.J. Mayo with about 3 minutes left, it signaled the Bucks were not going to creep quietly out of these playoffs.
“I think I’m just being active,” Henson said. “Energy, effort and everything else is coming. I’m staying under the defense and finishing when I can, and trying to make the right play.”
Henson did all his damage Monday in fewer than 23 minutes of playing time, as he and starting center Zaza Pachulia combined for 17 points and 24 rebounds.
The former North Carolina player had six points, five rebounds and four blocks in the Bucks’ Game 4 victory on Saturday, and he posted 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in their double-overtime loss in Game 3.
His active, aggressive play prompted coach Jason Kidd to call him “one of our best players” in the series.
That’s high praise when Kidd’s nine-man rotation has produced different heroes each night.
According to statistics compiled by the Bulls radio crew, Chicago was 8 for 27 at the rim (29%) when it was being guarded by either Henson or 6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bulls were just 3 for 20 in the paint in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks rejected more shots (eight) in the fourth quarter than the Bulls made field goals (seven). Antetokounmpo had three blocks in the quarter, Michael Carter-Williams had two and Henson, Jared Dudley and Mayo each had one.
“I think that is a little discouraging,” Henson said of the Bucks’ shot-altering prowess. “It makes them look over their shoulder.
“They missed a couple of chip shots. I’d like to think that was because we were flying around. That’s what our defense does.”
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls have to adjust to deal with the Bucks’ length.
“They have good size,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “If they’re coming to block, move on penetration to get it to the open man. If you’re getting by one, that means another guy is picking you up. When that guy comes, hit the open man.”
Henson played well in Game 3 and Kidd rewarded him by leaving him on the floor for 39 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter and all 10 minutes in overtime. He carried over his strong play to the next two games.
He has averaged 9.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while playing 27.8 minutes per game through the first five games of the series.
“The playoffs are a new season — everybody has a lot of energy,” Henson said. “A lot of extra effort is going to be needed to beat a team like the Bulls. I’m just trying to do my part.
“(We have) nothing to lose. This is like an NCAA Tournament game. You win or go home. There’s a different type of feel, and it was good to be out there playing for your life, playing for your season. We don’t have anything to do this summer, so we’re trying to stay here as long as we can.”
The Bucks would love to be the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series. In 113 previous attempts it has not been accomplished.
“I don’t think anybody believes that we’re going to lose or anybody wants to lose; that’s the biggest thing,” Henson said.
“History is made to be changed. Our mind-set now is to get Game 6 and go from there.”