The End of the Beginning Is Still an End
Jennings brought back memories from the home opener when he busted this one out.
When it was all said and done too many factors were working against the Bucks. Atlanta’s superiority was evident: length, size, athleticism, shooting, you name it Atlanta has it over Milwaukee. The Bucks pulled off a few victories that not many saw coming, but when focused, Atlanta was just too much for the Bucks to handle.
To have gotten as far as they have, for the Milwaukee Bucks right now it would be easy to be satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Without their best player, Milwaukee pushed the third best team in the Eastern Conference to a Game 7. But there seemed very little satisfaction in just getting there throughout Milwaukee’s last stance in their first round series with the Atlanta Hawks. Not from Brandon Jennings at least, who forced ABC to make use of their five second delay as he cursed at himself in disgust heading off the court at halftime after missing the second of two free throws.
Maybe they still shot too many jumpers, but when it came down to it, Milwaukee just didn’t have the players to exploit the Hawks constant switching off screens. Not enough Bucks are good enough off the dribble to take advantage of mismatches on the perimeter. That’s how the Bucks came to rely on a 20-year-old rookie in Game 7 of an NBA Playoffs series. And make no mistake, the Bucks rode Jennings in this one.
After being one of the aforementioned Bucks that settled too often for jump shots in Game Six, Jennings was in attack mode against the Hawks Sunday afternoon. Of his 18 shots, Jennings took 10 of them inside the paint and at the rim. Someone had to expose the Hawks on their pick and roll defense and Jennings wanted to step up to be the guy that did that Sunday. That’s what leaders do.
But Jennings can’t guard Al Horford. And apparently neither can Primoz Brezec. Or Dan Gadzuric. Or Ersan Ilyasova. Or even Kurt Thomas, at least not when Horford really has it going and is attacking the glass. Horford was too much inside all game and all series, save for a game or two. Horford led the charge with 15 rebounds as the Hawks dominated on the glass 55-34.
It won’t always be like this though. The Bucks will have Andrew Bogut back next season. It’s possible he could be joined by a brand new burly power forward with some tools. A slasher could show up ready to get to the bucket with John Salmons if he hangs around and the Bucks could be better than ever.
And look at that, I’m talking about next season for the first time. On May 2nd. That sure feels a lot better than doing it in March or April as I’ve done the majority of this last decade. So I’m as disappointed as the next person today, but it feels good to have something to build on.
I don’t know if John Salmons will be a Bucks player next season, but if he isn’t, this wasn’t a pretty end to a very solid run. After shooting 39% on threes for the Bucks during the regular season, Salmons finished the playoffs 4-23 from long distance. I don’t know if he ran out of gas, something that seems feasible, but whatever the case, Salmons collapsed over the last three games for Milwaukee. No longer was he attacking the hoop and getting free throws, he was just settling for jumpers. It was as if everything that had happened during the regular season never happened. If this was the John Salmons that the Chicago Bulls shipped out this season, I can see why. But I don’t to believe that’s who he is. I want to remember Salmons as the guy who helped get the Bucks to the level they finally could not advance past.
- Ersan Ilyasova may not have a post game and he may miss a few shots around the rim, but you never feel like you’re getting cheated when you watch him. As usual, Ilyasova was the Bucks best rebounder against the Hawks, grabbing more than half of their offensive rebounds. I’m looking forward to see what the future holds for Ersan Ilyasova; Scott Skiles likes to project him as a near 40% three point shooter going forward. At the very least, we know one thing we’re getting from him, be it in a one point win or Sunday’s frustrating loss, is maximum effort.
- The production from role players that had gotten Milwaukee so far this season was no where to be found when it was needed most. Jerry Stackhouse: 0-a-miserable-3 FG. Luke Ridnour: 1-4 FG. Carlos Delfino: 1-8 FG. Folks, there is a reason Michael Redd will have made over $100 million dollars by the time his career is done. Some guys can be relied upon to score, others can’t. Those scorers are worth a lot of money on this level. Milwaukee simply didn’t have enough reliable options in the playoffs. There are times I’ve tried to spin that as a Bucks advantage, “they’re hard to game plan for, anyone can creep up and strike!” But who was I kidding? The Bucks need at least one more reliable scorer to put those role players in a better position to take advantage of their strengths.
Milwaukee got eaten up inside. Al Horford is grabbing an offensive rebound and dunking right now probably. I mean, it’s been said 1,000 times, but there was just too much Atlanta inside. They were too big and to strong. Ilyasova did his best when matched up with Zaza Pachulia and Horford, but what was he supposed to do? Kurt Thomas held up as well as he could, but that only gave Milwaukee so much.
- And if it wasn’t bad enough to see the Hawks banging around Milwaukee inside, it seemed every time Milwaukee was possibly on the verge of something good, either Mike Bibby or Jamal Crawford hit a three. Bibby and Crawford were the bullies that kept pushing the Bucks heads back underwater whenever they’d squirm away and come up for air.
Scott Skiles talked a lot about the Bucks earning everything they’ve gotten this season before game six.
“Let’s make sure wherever we go this year, we deserve to be wherever we are,” said Skiles. “If we don’t work very hard, we’re gonna get what we deserve. If we work hard, the opposite is going to happen. And we’ve done that. We deserve to be where we are right now, we deserve this opportunity.”
The Bucks deserved everything they got this season. A lot of people (yours truly included) scoffed at the “Work Hard Play Hard” mantra they took on before the season. I figured, we’d all heard sayings like this before, why should this season be any different? But this season was different and it was no fluke. The Bucks outworked opponents all year before they finally ran into a team that would not fold four times in seven games.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it certainly is something to get excited about.