Buck stops here: No Milwaukee players are getting suspended for leaving the bench with Taylor Jenkins on duty

by Eric Nehm 

Every season, stars are made in the NBA playoffs.

There are on-court performances that are spectacular, special and unique, but then there are underappreciated moments. And one of those occurred for the Bucks early in this year’s playoffs.

After some early struggles in their first road playoff game against the Pistons, the Bucks had a 26-22 lead on a floater from Pat Connaughton with just under 3 minutes left in the first quarter.

On the defensive end of the floor, Sterling Brown receives a hard screen from Pistons center Andre Drummond and Brown takes exception to it. He aggressively boxes out Drummond, who then reacts by delivering another blow to Brown.

As Brown and Drummond came face-to-face in the middle of the lane, Bucks assistant coach Taylor Jenkins explodes out of his seat on the bench, rushing to the end of the Bucks bench to restrain his players from entering the fracas.

The only problem? There weren’t any players leaving the bench area.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, sitting comfortably on the bench, appears totally unmoved. Nikola Mirotic strains his neck to see the action by peering over Jenkins who is crouching in front of him. Malcolm Brogdon and Tim Frazier don’t move at all. And yet, there is Jenkins, ready to keep any Bucks players from stepping onto the floor.

The clip went viral, displaying Jenkins’ tenacity in the face of disinterested players on his bench. Out of nowhere, a star was born.

It could have been just a memorable one-time occurrence, but it wasn’t.

Two weeks later, with the Bucks leading the Boston Celtics, 84-74, in Game 4 and 10 minutes, 20 seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Al Horford wraps up Antetokounmpo on a drive to the basket, and Jenkins once again rises to the occasion.

This time, he focuses much of his attention on Brook Lopez, who was already on his feet before the play occurs.

Lopez innocently puts up his hands when Jenkins approaches.

“It was just like, ‘What are you doing? I’m not even trying to be a part of that,’ ” Lopez said.

Ten minutes later, with the game well in hand, the Celtics’ Marcus Morris wraps up Antetokounmpo following an offensive rebound and Jenkins does his thing.

No possession is too big or too small for Jenkins to take off. He bounds down the sidelines and keeps Bucks players from stepping onto the floor, focusing on Mirotic.

“He’s fast,” Mirotic said. “He’s really fast and he’s always ready.”

Watching the action unfold, TNT color commentator and former NBA star Chris Webber compliments Jenkins’ effort and made sure to joke about just how hard he was working.

Budenholzer told The Athletic Wisconsin he was aware of the first clip in the Pistons game because his kids showed him. And he does understand why people find the entire thing humorous, but he will never back down from emphasizing the importance of Jenkins’ job, largely because few people in the NBA can speak to the importance of the duty better than him.

As written, Rule 12, Section VII, Part c of the NBA’s official rulebook states:

During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be subject to suspension, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.

The most famous (or possibly infamous, depending on your perspective) enforcement of that rule came in the 2007 Western Conference semifinals between the Suns and Spurs. Late in Game 4, Spurs forward Robert Horry hip-checks Suns MVP point guard Steve Nash into the scorer’s table. Following Horry’s foul, Suns guard Raja Bell gets in Horry’s face and a skirmish ensues.

Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw jump off the bench and briefly step onto the court, but they never make it into the fray because Suns coaches turn them away. Despite never entering the altercation, Stoudemire and Diaw are suspended for Game 5. The Spurs win the series in six games and the Suns still believe they were robbed of their best chance to win a championship by an unfair ruling by the NBA.

No Spurs were suspended for coming off the bench and Budenholzer, an assistant coach in San Antonio during that game explains why that may have happened.

“It’s something we talked a lot about as an organization in San Antonio and Pop as the head coach,” Budenholzer said. “It was really important that we keep our players off the court when there are altercations and things that happen. I would say, we knew that and talked about that from Day 1 with Pop.

“The Phoenix Suns series always stands out and the things that happened just kind or reinforced or reconfirmed how important it is that players stay off the court and that somebody on your staff is really, really vigilant about making sure that happens.”

It turns out Budenholzer was actually the one on the Spurs staff that was vigilant about it.

“Hopefully there’s no video of me, but that was my job,” Budenholzer said. “My job was also to try to keep Pop off the officials, but that was a multi-person job. And that often times didn’t work (laughs), but I was tasked with the same duty as Taylor.”

Budenholzer admits Jenkins is better at the duty than he ever was in San Antonio and describes Jenkins’ execution as “on point.” Since becoming an assistant coach for the Hawks in 2013, Jenkins has been tasked with the role on Budenholzer’s staff and takes it very seriously.

“As a coach, you’re like what can I do to help our team win ball games, whether it’s the scouting reports, player development or even a simple moment like that,” Jenkins said. “To let that slip through cracks when you’re right next to it and you could possibly prevent it, you have to show that responsibility.”

Jenkins was not on the bench with Budenholzer during the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, but he was on the Spurs staff in the basketball operations department, so the importance of the role is not lost on him.

Bucks assistant coach Taylor Jenkins’ role as the bench cop has earned him some notoriety. (Garrett Ellwood / Getty Images)

In the heat of the moment, there is no way of knowing just how players will react. As Mirotic describes, players just “want to be there for their brothers” and that may entice them to jump on the floor, even while knowing the consequences. With Jenkins, Budenholzer has created a fail-safe to prevent that.

“Just imagine one of our players being suspended for a game,” Budenholzer said. “That’s how important it is. It is incredibly important and serious. You see how seriously Taylor takes it and how important it is.”

The Bucks have tried to insulate themselves from outside noise and just focus on the day-to-day operations of being a championship contender, but Jenkins admits he is aware that the videos of his sideline work have taken on a life of their own. However, he insists no one is likely to crack more jokes about it than the guys he’s trying to keep off the court.

“I know the optics of it have taken on some humor and rightfully so, but I don’t mind it,” Jenkins said. “At the end of the day, you would hate for something to happen.

“Obviously, I’ve been criticized for my defensive slide and my length and all that. Maybe I should hold the clipboard out a little bit further to get a few extra inches. The players tell me I’m doing a pretty good job, but I don’t think there’s any technique. Keep them on the bench as much as possible.”

Jenkins insists he has received no instruction on the job from Budenholzer and relies primarily on his own instincts, but at least one Bucks player isn’t convinced.

“I don’t know if he’s been drilling in his personal time or he comes in late at night and stands on the sideline by the corner box and gives it his all, but he’s been pretty on point,” Lopez said. “Maybe Bud’s been coaching him. Maybe that’s a Bud workout.”

As the playoffs continue, hard fouls and potential altercations remain likely, so Jenkins will have to remain on his toes. His work has been so sublime thus far that his execution is not just expected, it’s highly anticipated.

“He said he’s going to be even quicker,” Mirotic said. “He’s working on that quickness, so let’s see what happens next time. We can’t wait.”