Hope continues to fade: Hawks 96 – Bucks 86

Before the series, I assumed the Bucks would be down two games to zero after the first two in Atlanta.  Many targeted game three as the Bucks best opportunity to steal one from the Hawks.

Now I’m closer than ever to believing the Bucks will be swept.

Feelings of optimism reigned after a hard fought second half in game one.  It appeared the Bucks may have put a few things together and had a strategy for how to attack and at least slow down the Hawks. Few of those things were on display for more than a few minutes at a time on Tuesday night.  For Milwaukee, Tuesday’s loss in Atlanta had to seem like a loud and clear message from the opposition.  That message?

We’re more talented than you across the board and we’re going to continue to exploit every advantage we have, regardless of how you attempt to counter it.

It’s fun to see a coach pull counter moves and try and out strategize the other team. But the thing about the Hawks is that, regardless of what strategies the Bucks want to try, they aren’t the ones that will need to adjust.  The Hawks are ready for everything the Bucks throw at them and can swap the same seven guys in and out. Atlanta constantly forces Milwaukee to adapt, try new things and attempt to match up.  Atlanta has controlled six or seven of the eight quarters this series has seen. When they’ve had momentary lapses, they’ve made sure they were just momentary.  Regardless of what moves Coach Scott Skiles wants to make, the Hawks have been in control.

A lot of this starts with Josh Smith.  Smith has been everywhere the last two games. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the Hawks had two guys named Smith, both of whom were ridiculously athletic. He’s grabbing offensive rebounds (five on Tuesday), blocking shots while getting steals (four combined Tuesday), finding teammates for baskets (nine assists) and dunking. He’s doing lots of dunking. I haven’t seen someone dunking this much in a game in years. So. Much. Dunking. What’s been the worst thing about Smith, is how he’s gotten all these dunks.

  • Fast breaks

The Hawks are constantly looking to run on Milwaukee.  They’re running on turnovers, they’re running on misses and they’re running on makes.  Atlanta’s motto seems to be: never stop running.  But they aren’t doing it irresponsibly, mind you.  They’re in control the whole time.  If there isn’t an easy shot, Atlanta is pulling it back out.  But they are at least exploring the opportunity to see if there is something they can get easy.  The fast breaks that have come off Milwaukee turnovers have been especially effective.

Atlanta spent the majority of game two trapping the Bucks ball handlers on the pick and roll.  If Milwaukee wanted to run a pick and roll, Atlanta was going to force a long pass.  Atlanta was rotating defenders to make the pass to the open man a lengthy pass.  Once they created a lengthy pass, they often intercepted it once Milwaukee threw it.  Those interceptions create fast breaks and easy dunks.  Often, Atlanta is able to completely abandon Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, freeing Josh Smith to roam around in the half court and make plays. It’s hard for the Bucks to counter this, as Mbah a Moute is their worst offensive player and can’t really hit a jump shot or create.

  • Offensive rebounds

Milwaukee is allowing 10.5 offensive rebounds per game against the Hawks, after allowing an average of just 9.6 a night in the regular season.  That may sound like just one more opportunity, but that doesn’t quite paint a vivid enough picture. Atlanta converted on six scoring opportunities on 10 offensive rebounds on Tuesday night. The Hawks size and strength advantages inside create easy opportunities on their offensive rebounds.  Milwaukee has a hard enough time defending them, giving them second chances is almost assuring them of a basket.

Milwaukee is doing a great job of beating themselves, something Atlanta is already more than capable of.

Now the Bucks have lost two games, by only 10 points each, which really isn’t a lot of points. Yes, there was a little bit of garbage time in each game, but it worked in Milwaukee’s favor once and against them once when reflected in the final score. So is there anything else (aside from cutting down turnovers that lead to fast breaks and limiting Josh Smith’s offensive rebounds) the Bucks can do to beat the Hawks?

There is, and it’s not that complicated.

Hit some threes.

For all the things that have gone wrong for Milwaukee in these last two games, the most baffling has been their complete inability to hit a three. After hitting 35.6% of their threes in the regular season, the Bucks have hit just 10 threes on 44 attempts in the post season (22.7%).

It’s not hard to imagine one or both of these games turning out a little different had the Bucks hit more threes.  Tuesday, Milwaukee finished 4-24 on threes.  They weren’t all bad shots either, Milwaukee was indiscriminately missing on wide open threes as often as they were contested ones. I’d love to say I have an explanation for this sudden inability to connect from deep, but I don’t.  I could see Carlos Delfino’s current 0-5 effort on threes and 5-16 on all attempts being written off to aftereffects from the injury he suffered a few weeks ago, but it’s difficult to see any other Bucks player with a valid excuse.

They just aren’t making their shots.

Fortunately, the lack of reasons why could be a sign that things will eventually even out.  Perhaps the Bucks will come out firing once they get back home and keep it going throughout the rest of the series.  Playoff jitters likely aren’t a factor, but maybe coming back home with a couple games under their belts will improve the Bucks ability to hit threes.  If that isn’t the answer, then we could have a long two games in Milwaukee followed by a considerable gap until the Bucks next game: next season.

Categories: Playoff talk,Recaps

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  1. Skiles should have gave Gadzuric more minutes last night, his minutes were ENERGY FILLED, DEFENSIVE, MOMENTUM CHANGING, GREAT MINUTES. Look at the plus-minus for heavens sake (+14 with Gadz in 18 minutes, -23 with Kurt Thomas in 26 minutes). My god, nobody has to keep track of the plus-minus to see that much discrepancy! I’m more concerned now with Skiles’ substitutions than anything in this series. Pulling Jennings in the 4th qtr of game one may have been the biggest coaching mistake he’s made all season. Followed by not playing Gadz for 30+ minutes last night. I’m starting to feel like ‘hey’ on here about Skiles.

    I was happy to see him throw the LRMAM, Ilyasova, & Brezec line-up out there for all 50 seconds last night. Skiles looks like he’ll try just about any line-up that the Bucks are undersized for more than a minute, but won’t try the one where they actually match up well for more than a minute. It was funny to hear Dominique Wilkens, when LRMAM came in for that 50 second span alongside Brezec and Ilyasova, say, something to the effect of: now they actually match-up in the front court. Not to mention John Holliger’s suggestion of it as well.


      Thats just not enough production from Delfino on the offensive end to keep him in the game and his avg potential isn’t much more than those 8pts from LRMAM.

  2. I’ve been wrong about the Bucks all year. First when they were playing well I thought they couldn’t keep it up. Then they got Salmons for Warick and I thought that would not help at all. Then I thought they couldn’t keep up that pace and they did. Next I thought for sure they would crumble without Bogut and they didn’t, so I thought maybe we’d get Boston instead of Atlanta. Wrong again… Then I thought they might have a chance to steal one in Atlanta. Now I think they could win one at home. I hope that I’m right once here, or it will be the longest short series ever. It’s tough to watch these games. And I agree with M_B, the substitution is aweful these games, it’s obvious who the high energy and productive players are this series, yet Kurt Thomas and Ridnour continue to get the minutes…

  3. Considering how bad we’ve played defense and our complete inability to make a shot, its amazing we’ve actually had a chance to win in both games. The Hawks just have too much length and athleticism to match up with our standard rotation. Give Skiles some credit in that he’s willing to try different lineups – However, he still hasn’t found a lineup that’s been effective for more than a few minutes. It’s more the players than his coaching. Delfino has no-showed. Ridnour isn’t even strong enough to commit a foul to stop an easy bucket. Jennings shot selection was pitiful. Salmons is dribbling the ball too much. And Mbah a Moute, can you please please learn how to shoot a 15 ft jumper this off-season?

    Skiles has to shake it up a bit. First thing I’d like to see is Ersan moved into the starting lineup. He’s been playing light-outs and is one of the few Bucks with the height to shoot over Atlanta. We also need more Danny G. (I can’t believe I’m saying this?!?). He’s the only Bucks big that can match the quickness of the Hawks front line. Kurt Thomas seems to struggle with quicker players and he’s been terrible on both ends of the floor this series. I also think that Stackhouse needs more minutes. He gets a lot of favorable veteran calls from the refs and has a calming effect on our younger players when we get out of control.

    It’s gonna be an uphill battle, but it’s still possible. The Bucks were outstanding at home this season and I’m sure they will be more comfortable in the Bradley Center.

    Go Bucks!