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.