Game the Sixth: Opportunity Knocks
Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 3-2
Atlanta Hawks (Mike Woodson) 2-3
Time: 6:00 (CST)
TV: ESPN & FS Wisconsin
By game six in a seven game playoff series, there are no secrets any more. Both teams know what their opponent wants to do, both teams know what their own teams must do to win. By game six, it simply comes down to which team’s will is stronger, who’s better at imposing their game on the opponent. Typically it’s a no-brainer in my mind that this is where talent comes out on top.
But it’s not that simple anymore.
Milwaukee has so blurred the lines of talent in this series, that I’m not sure we can truly measure the more talented team. The common perception thus far has been this series has been more Atlanta blowing it than Milwaukee taking it. I’m not buying that. Milwaukee isn’t a pretty team and they don’t have great offensive statistics, but what happened to that old axiom that defense and rebounding win when it slows down in the playoffs. Have we all forgotten that?
This series has been a testament to the difficulty we have in measuring defensive abilities and hustle. When Milwaukee holds Atlanta to at the rim shooting percentages of 48%, 41% and 58%, all under their season average of 63%, it still is spun more as Hawks missing layups rather than Milwaukee challenging them. Something changed after the first two games in this series and Milwaukee imposed their will on Atlanta.
So while we’ve seen all kinds of statistical advances over the last few years, we’re still not quite there yet. We can’t accurately measure each aspect of every game. Sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it. If you’ve watched the last three games of this series, I have a hard time you can honestly believe the Hawks are the superior team. 82 games worth of regular season data may indicate otherwise, but the playoffs are a different animal.
An animal the Bucks could tame this evening.
The Bench Must Rise Again
If role players truly do play better at home, Milwaukee shouldn’t have much of an issue in this one. After Luke Ridnour stepped up in game five, the Bucks will again look to their crew of castoffs for at least one big game. Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse or even Dan Gadzuric will need to step up just one more time to serve as a pressure release for John Salmons and Brandon Jennings. I don’t believe in ancient history as much of a barometer, but if it is, Stackhouse may not be the guy to look to. Among active players, only Rajon Rondo (.373) has a lower career field-goal percentage in potential series clinching games than Stackhouse (.378). But that was the old, featured Jerry Stackhouse. Now he just needs to get to the line and, for the love of all things, try and watch the turnovers.
Stop the Break One More Time
Limiting transition success has been a remarkable boon for Milwaukee over the last few games. In game five, Atlanta was just 4-9 in transition, turning it over twice. The turnovers and low shooting percentage Milwaukee will take, those Josh Smith coast-to-coast dunks and layups, they could live without. The switch of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute onto Josh Smith may have been the move of the playoffs so far and Milwaukee’s general focus on contesting Atlanta at the rim every single time has done wonders for the Bucks.
Will the Star Shine?
A worry for Milwaukee has got to be Joe Johnson. The biggest star in this series, Johnson hasn’t taken over a game in that, “My team will NOT lose this game” type way all series. Is he capable? Physically, yes. But mentally, I’m not so sure. Johnson’s greatness is in his ability to do so many things, be a good rebounder and exceptional passer, not necessarily in his ability to dominate. Even if he does toss up 40+ points, that doesn’t automatically spell doom for the Bucks. Of the top five scoring efforts against the Bucks this season (Chris Bosh – 44, Kobe – 39 (Bucks loss), Captain Jack – 35, Monta Ellis – 33, Kevin Durant – 33 (Bucks loss)) only two of them came in Bucks losses. It will be more important to the Bucks to make sure Johnson doesn’t slap together some sort of 30/8/12 effort rather than just the big time scoring effort.
On This Date…
39 long years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks won an NBA title. An omen? We’ll see. But it can’t hurt, right?