I remember walking out of the Bradley Center on March 28th feeling very good about things. Milwaukee had just defeated the Grizzlies, the day was still young after the early game, the temperature was in the 60’s and a possible successful playoff run was on the horizon. Now, less than one month later, clouds draped the air on a cold and damp Saturday afternoon when I approached. It was almost too perfect a representation of Milwaukee’s season.
What was once so bright, had turned so dim that the light was nearly off
And then Brandon Jennings hit a three and busted out the three point monocle.
And then he did it again.
Then John Salmons got involved. When it was all said and done, Milwaukee was up 36-19 after one, the Jennings/Salmons duo was 9-10 and the brightness had officially returned to Milwaukee’s season.
Surprise seems to be the appropriate reaction, but should anyone really be shocked? Atlanta was a below average road team this season, MIlwaukee was an above average home team and Milwaukee had shot very poorly from three in the first two games. All those factors seemed to work in Milwaukee’s favor.
There was some smaller things Milwaukee did well to get themselves off first round life support — switching Luc Richard Mbah a Moute onto Josh Smith comes to mind — but remembering that they at one time used to hit open shots this season was by and large the most important thing Milwaukee did in game three.
I’ve been saying it and saying it: eventually the Bucks would start hitting some shots. All it took was getting back to the comforts of home. After three point shooting percentages that rivaled the temperatures on a normal winter day in Wisconsin, the Bucks finally found the bottom of the net on Saturday evening, hitting 10-21 3s. I actually pinpointed 10 as the number of threes the Bucks would need to hit to win game two, so I guess I was just a game early.
For all the coaching adjustments, matching up and other things that go into a playoff series, sometimes it’s the simple things that end up making the biggest difference. For the Bucks, that “little thing” was finally hitting the three at a respectable clip.
- I said this during the Daily Dime Live Chat and I’ll say it again: what a relief it must have been for the Bucks coaching staff and entire Bradley Center crowd to see Kurt Thomas’ long lost 15-foot jumper. Thomas finished 4-4 from the field. He looked good scoring eight points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Thomas and Delfino have deservedly shouldered plenty of blame for the Bucks struggles in the first two games, but it’s only appropriate to mention how Thomas’ playing his typical game played a big part in the Bucks taking game three. Milwaukee doesn’t need Thomas to do anything outside of his comfort zone, they just need him to do things longer than he might be built for at this point. The three days off seemed to do wonders for him.
- Yes, Brandon Jennings did cool off once again. But that didn’t mean he stopped contributing. As my first defense in this case I’d present his behind the back pass to Jerry Stackhouse after hounding Mike Bibby into a turnover. Stack finished with a dunk and senior citizens everywhere were suddenly inspired. Jennings was 5-11 (3-6 3FG) and scored 13 points to go with five assists.
- While Jennings couldn’t maintain his hot start, John Salmons did. Yet again. The Bucks big pickup (seriously, shouldn’t he get to hold John Hammond’s executive of the year award for a few months a year) came through when Milwaukee needed him the most with 22 points on 9-11 shooting. Even better, Salmons tallied seven assists and was creating for the Bucks who can’t create so much for themselves. He’s a humanitarian that John Salmons.
If I had the power to write things on the Bucks chalk board before games I would have wrote these three words in all caps: STOP JOSH SMITH. And you know what? I would have been pleased with Milwaukee’s effort in doing just that. Unequivocally the biggest thorn in the side of the Bucks through the first two games, Smith finally was contained a bit. Smith had been feasting on offensive rebound putbacks and fast break dunks, but the Bucks weren’t giving anything easy away to him on Saturday. Sure, he still managed nine offensive rebounds, but few of them resulted in dunks for him or points at all for the Hawks. Atlanta scored just 12 second chance points on 6-18 shooting. After shooting over 70% through the first two games, Smith finished Saturday’s game 2-12. Someone find Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s belt and put another notch in it.
- So what’s the more accurate representation of this Hawks team? The over 50% efforts from the field they had in games one and two, or this sub-40% shooting effort they produced Saturday night? It’s probably somewhere in the middle. The key to keeping them down for Milwaukee was preventing all the easy baskets they got in games one and two. When Josh Smith was heading in for a dunk, he had Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Thomas and Dan Gadzuric meeting him at the rim. Defensively, Milwaukee was simply a much more confident group.
- I’d be remiss to let a nice night from Dan Gadzuric go by without pointing it out though. After many cries from the crowd for Gadzuric after Thomas struggled so badly in the first two games, Gadz saw 17 minutes and produced 10 rebounds. It’s just what he does.
I now find myself wondering, “will we ever get a good game in this series?” The Hawks seem prone to both blowouts and doing the blowing out, but I can’t help but expect game four to be a lot closer than game three either way. Milwaukee will not continue to shoot at the clips they did and the hawks will probably find a way to put some more points on the board. But as my final final thought, I did really enjoy something I saw from Milwaukee that I haven’t in years.
The mild-mannered Luke Ridnour holding his pose on a three to put the Bucks up 93-65 with the shot clock running down. If you think Brandon Jennings wasn’t the rookie of the year, I get that. But don’t try and tell me he didn’t have more of an impact on a team than any other rookie. This one started with Jennings and the monocle and ended with Ridnour holding his pose. These are not your slightly older brother’s Bucks NBA fans.