Check out the reaction by the Bucks bench. Priceless.

If it hadn’t been done before, and it’s probably foolish that it wasn’t, the word “can’t” was officially removed from the dictionary on the Milwaukee Bucks 2009-10 season. It’s uses were once prevalent. Milwaukee can’t get to the line. They can’t score inside without Andrew Bogut. Brandon Jennings can’t finish. The Bucks can’t hang with the Hawks in the playoffs.

Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t. These Bucks seem to know not of this word. Every time the rest of the world decides they aren’t capable of doing something, they go on and do it anyway. Milwaukee shot 32 free throws Monday night. They outscored the Hawks in the paint 44-26. Jennings was 9-16 from the field and didn’t hit a 3-pointer.

And the Bucks tied up their first round series with the Hawks at two.

In front of a raucous crowd with only a few pockets of empty seats in a sold out Bradley Center, the Bucks squeezed every last drop of effort out of 10 different players and played as close to flawless a game as they have without Bogut. The Bucks, a team once known for their selfishness on the court and corrosive chemistry off of it, relied on the formula that’s been working for them all season: above average ball movement and a sense of togetherness I haven’t seen in Milwaukee.

Asked about this being one of those games the old Bucks used to lose, Jerry Stackhouse had a very appropriate answer after the game:

I don’t know any of them old Bucks teams.

Can’t? Not these Bucks, not yet.

Offense

That 44-26 edge in points in the paint I mentioned earlier was no joke, and it all started with Jennings. For the very first time in his NBA career, Jennings shot over 50% in a game in which he failed to connect on a 3-point basket. Time and time again his failures inside have been documented, but Jennings forgot all about those on Monday. He repeatedly got in the lane against the Hawks Monday night and converted. Coach Skiles had been harping that Bucks guards needed to do a better job attacking the Hawks bigger defenders on switches, and Jennings did just that all night. Not only was he converting his own shots, but he found Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a few open layups inside with some sweet interior passing. 23 points (9-16 FG 0-3 3FG), six assists and one turnover for the “rookie”.

  • Jennings was huge again, but Carlos Delfino stole the show early. Through three games, the chorus was the same, “if Delfino gets it going, the Bucks might be tough to beat.” Well, he got it going in a big way. Delfino had 13 in the first and never looked back. Carlos finished with 22 points (8-14 FG 6-8 3FG), one big dunk, four rebonds, three assists and a fresh batch of confidence. Delfino’s first three rattled around and hit virtually every part of the rim before nestling in the bottom of the net. His thoughts on it:

I’ll take it. For me personally, the ball falls through the net, I don’t know how, but I’ll take it.

  • 55.1% shooting? Milwaukee hit 7-18 on 3-point attempts, not as sparkling as Atlanta’s 10-19 effort from deep, but won this one inside. When I say inside, I don’t mean Milwaukee was tossing it to Kurt Thomas or Dan Gadzuric on the block, though. Milwaukee was penetrating like they rarely had this year. John Salmons was consistent as ever in this field (22 points 6-9 FG 10-10 FT), but it was Jennings and Delfino and company who really took this part of their game to another level Monday night. When asked if a win without relying on 3-point attempts was a revelation, Coach Skiles had this to say:

The revelation is more how many free throws we shot. It’s important for us at some point early in the game, because we penetrate usually pretty well and are pretty unselfish, that we’ll get some open three looks early in the game. It could be any number of guys, but it’s important that somebody steps up and knocks a couple down early and gets us feeling good about ourselves offensively. That’s what happened with Carlos tonight.

Defense

You often hear about veterans and their tricks defensively, but it’s not always clear if it’s a myth that they actually have these tricks up their sleeves. Let me assure you, it’s no myth with Kurt Thomas. All night long, Thomas was prodding the Hawks with little forearms off the ball, physical play and extra long screens. When Hawks guards tried to blow through him, he’d go down. When Hawks players would penetrate, he’d go down. Thomas nestled inside the Hawks heads at some point and was laughing about it by the fourth quarter. He helped limit Al Horford to just eight points and eight rebounds on a night Horford fouled out. I asked Thomas about his tricks, only to see him start to beam like a proud parent before breaking out in laugh.

“That’s a part of the game. Do what you can, try to keep them guessing and not let them see the same defensive coverages every time and try to keep them on their toes.”

  • I swear, at the end of the third quarter, everyone in the Bradley Center had forgotten about Dan Gadzuric’s contract and was just thrilled to see him on the court. In a classic Gadzurician moment, Danny G. blocked a Joe Johnson layup attempt out of bounds and then converted on a bunny that he almost fumbled away just before the final buzzer in the third quarter sounded. Gadz may have only had seven points, five rebounds and two blocks, but his energy was a catalyst for the Bucks in the first half and then again in third quarter in which they pushed their lead to 11.
  • Josh Sm…BOOOOOOO

Jo….BOOOOOOO

It was that kind of night at the Bradley Center. Whenever, umm, a certain Hawks forward, caught the ball, a chorus of boos rained down like a nasty thunderstorm. He had a nice bounce back game, 20 points (7-11 FG 1-1 3FG 5-6 FT), nine rebounds, two steals and a block, but Milwaukee didn’t allow this certain athletic Hawks player to get his transition game going. His numbers looked good, but his impact was demonstratively smaller than it had been in the first couple games. Keeping him and the rest of the Hawks from running (just eight fast break points for Atlanta) when this one gets back to Atlanta will be huge.

Final Thoughts

Well, at this point, this is up in the air. We could have a series that features one home team win after the next, we could see Atlanta figure it out and win the next two or watch Milwaukee steal one on the road before finishing it out at home. Throw out the seeding, throw out the regular season and every game this series, it’s a best two out of three between two teams that know they can beat one another. Milwaukee will certainly savor a win in a game that Atlanta shot 47.5/52.6/85.7. While the Bucks were capable defensively, the Hawks were still able to have a pretty good night from the field. That tells Milwaukee if they play their game and hit their shots, they can survive even a good night from the Hawks. Confidence is high and it seems like the Bucks can’t wait to get to Atlanta.

I guess I’ll let a can’t slide right there.