Isn’t it funny how a matter of moments can alter the perception of one shot?
Along with many others that joined me on Wednesday evening’s Daily Dime Live, I thought Josh Smith had finished off the Bucks with just over four minutes to go Wednesday night. Smith faded a little bit from the top of the key and drilled a long perimeter shot that I’d been very enthused about from the moment it left his hand until the second I realized it dropped through the bottom of the net. Josh Smith simply isn’t supposed to hit those shots. One of those consensuses that form when this kind of things happens quickly formed. You know what I mean, where everyone collectively says, “Well, if he’s hitting those kinds of shots, the Bucks are doomed.”
A few voices did manage to get their dissenting thoughts out there though. Perhaps it would be a good thing for the Bucks that Smith hit a long shot. It may persuade him to try hitting another unlikely jumper later. I just didn’t feel there was enough time for any of that to matter though. The Bucks were down more possessions than there were minutes left on the clock, that’s never a recipe for success.
Then John Salmons put together five points in less than 48 seconds and the lead was down to four. The shot still lingered in the back of my mind, but it remained buried since Joe Johnson would very likely be the guy with the ball in his hands for Atlanta as this game wound down.
Except he didn’t get the ball, because he committed two fouls in the next 29 seconds and was relegated to cheerleader duty for the rest of the contest. Sandwiched between those Johnson fouls were three more Milwaukee free throws and suddenly the Bucks had the ball down only a point.
After Ersan Ilyasova caught a pass and scored over Smith in the lane to give the Bucks a one point lead with just under two minutes to go, the Bucks had the lead and the Hawks didn’t even have a leader. Where would they turn?
Well it’s a funny thing that happened. Maybe that shot that I had previously assumed finished off the Bucks was still fresh in Smith’s memory, or maybe it wasn’t, either way Smith took another shot that he had no business taking, a three with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Smith predictably missed and Al Horford rushed a shot attempt after controlling the offensive rebound. The Hawks were rattled. The Bucks were rolling and wouldn’t look back.
When it was all said and done, Milwaukee went on a 14-0 run after that Josh Smith jump-shot that worried me so. The very shot that I thought may have ended the Bucks season has them on the brink of an upset in round one.
As he’s done in their victories, Brandon Jennings took a lead role once again. Flashing that streakiness that once elevated him to rock star status in his 55-point game, Jennings opened up the first quarter by scoring 12 consecutive Bucks points after the Hawks opened up an all-too-easy 11-6 lead. When Jennings gets hot it seems once again impossible to predict when he’ll let up. That’s what was so fun about Brandon Jennings earlier in the season. He had such control over every game and seemed to make every big shot when his team needed him. His confidence was high and everyone else’s confidence in him was even higher. During his extended drought that was known as “most of the regular season” it was easy to forget how fun that first month following Jennings was. He’s brought those good times back and done it at the best possible time.
- Milwaukee was 15-18 on free throws in the fourth quarter. On 25 separate occasions this season, the Bucks shot less than 18 free throws in an entire game. I think this says wonders about how bad Milwaukee wanted this one and their desire when it looked to be slipping away. The Bucks continuously attacked the rim as soon as Atlanta was in the penalty, knowing if they could just score some points their defense may be able to keep them in the game.
- As he’s done most of the season, Luke Ridnour brought his jump-shot with him to the game. Ridnour finished with 15 points (5-7 FG 1-1 3FG 4-4 FT) and four steals, reminding us all of how effective he’s been as a reserve this season. I figured at least one Bucks role player would have to step up and have a big game and Ridour did just that.
- Ersan Ilyasova’s two offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter were so delightfully Ersan that I almost can imagine John Hammond calling Larry Bird after they happened and saying, “See, that’s why I didn’t want to give him up for Troy Murphy.” Seven points and seven rebounds may look quiet, but Ersan sure played a very important part in this one.
How does a man end a game with a +21 +/- while attempting just one shot and going scoreless? Well, it’s actually a two part answer. Part one is he plays terrific defense and part two is his backups play generally horrible. That’s the story of Kurt Thomas on Wednesday. Al Horford may have scored 25 points, but just nine of them came with Thomas on the court. Horford wasn’t able to back Thomas down and get any easy looks the way he did when any combination of Primoz Brezec, Dan Gadzuric, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were on him. His defense on an otherwise dominating Horford will deservedly take a backseat to the monster charge he drew on Joe Johnson, but it was a huge relief for everyone rooting for Milwaukee when he checked back in to slow Horford in the fourth quarter.
- Nearly as impressive as the job Thomas did on Horford was the one John Salmons did on Joe Johnson. With a forgettable performance brewing from Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, the responsibility in this one fell on Johnson. Salmons couldn’t have made his life any more difficult in the fourth quarter, making him hit shots falling away from the hoop with a hand in his face and maneuver through double teams instead of into open space. Salmons work allows Mbah a Moute to nest inside of Josh Smith’s head and changes everything for the Bucks.
Milwaukee has blown through what typically justifies progress so quickly that I’m still a little stunned. There are supposed to be proper channels for these things. A few close games in this series should have led to some wins next year which then would lead to a series win or two the following year. But the Bucks have been terrifically impatient and appear to be unsatisfied with progress being a slow process. With game six already sold out on Friday, Milwaukee has a prime opportunity in front of them. Does this seem like the type of team to let something like that slip away?