With 3:42 left in the second quarter, John Salmons hit a jumper.
In the next 12:03 of basketball time, and what seemed like eternity in real time, Milwaukee saw one more basket, a Carlos Delfino made layup, in Friday night’s game six loss. That’s the equivalent of just over one quarter of Friday night’s game in which Milwaukee scored a grand total of one hoop. And it’s not like Atlanta was cooperating and staying out of the bottom of the net as well. No, they scored 23 points in this stretch, turned a seven point deficit into a 12-point lead and effectively put away the Milwaukee Bucks hopes of winning game six.
So what happened?
During this brutal stretch, Milwaukee attempted three layups (one of which was Delfino’s make), two shots inside 10-feet and 14 attempted jump shots, zero of which went in. The beginnings of this ominous run were telling.
On three consecutive possessions, one for Salmons, Delfino and Brandon Jennings each, Mike Bibby was isolated on a Bucks player who had some room to operate. And on three consecutive possessions, those Bucks players chose to pull up for jump shots of varying degrees of difficulty. Both Salmons and Delfino were off balance for shorter shots, while Jennings attempted a three with more balance and space. But why Bucks players are pulling up for shots with Mike Bibby on them, instead of attacking him and making him defend at the rim is beyond me.
From there Milwaukee twice got some penetration that led to kick out passes for open shots. Unfortunately, the recipient of those passes on both occasions was Dan Gadzuric. On consecutive Milwaukee possessions, Gadzuric took jump shots from beyond the short corner that scorekeepers apparently didn’t even bother to chart the distance of. If anything, they should just have put “Dan Gadzuric misses too far away jumper”. Even when the Bucks had some of the execution they wanted, it wasn’t the right player taking the shot.
Mind you, this is all before Atlanta went zone.
Milwaukee actually had a nice enough start to the second half, the Delfino layup, an okay three-point opportunity for Jennings and a cut for a layup that was blocked by Josh Smith for Salmons, but from there, the Bucks looked lost and confused.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute got called for three in the key, hanging out while Jennings failed to successfully penetrate a switch. Then on a fast break, Mbah a Moute was at the center of another turnover when he ran through Josh Smith. John Salmons then missed on a jumper he’s probably made more than half the time this season, but couldn’t find Friday, before an offensive rebound led to a Mbah a Moute jumper that no one rooting for Milwaukee wanted to see.
The pressure was mounting at this point and the Bucks looked like they were cracking.
The lead had officially been lost by the next long jumper from Salmons, and not even a hustle play by Ersan Ilyasova (he hustled to a loose ball and drew a foul on Josh Smith) could get them going: he turned it over after the inbound on a travel.
Milwaukee followed that turnover with another, a bad pass by Luke Ridnour which led to the Hawks first two fast break points of the game and three consecutive missed threes. Two of which were taken while the Hawks were sitting at four fouls with over six minutes to go in the third quarter. At that point, the game five parade to the foul line that saved Milwaukee seemed like a billion years ago. The Bucks were steadfastly refusing to penetrate and get into the lane, pulling up for jumper after jumper.
And it wasn’t so much the Hawks zone that seemed to be getting to the Bucks. There was lots of talk after the game about the Hawks zone stifling Milwaukee and getting them out of their comfort zone, but the Bucks willingness to settle for jumpers when they weren’t hitting them and Atlanta was sitting on four fouls was what really did Milwaukee in. All the good things Milwaukee had done in attacking the switches and penetrating on bigger Hawks defenders had gone out the window. John Salmons resorted to launching jumpers left and right (0-5 during the run) and Brandon Jennings looked like he was playing in the biggest game in his life, not like he was just out there having fun as he so often does.
If Milwaukee found a way to hit three or four of their shots, the entire game could have been different. There have been stretches all year when the Bucks couldn’t buy a bucket, just as their have been stretches post-John Salmons in which they heated up and couldn’t miss. It’s difficult to derive much from one horrible stretch, other than a reinforcement of the idea that when players are missing shots, attacking the rim is never a bad idea. Especially when the other team is in the bonus.
That’s the one thing that is most disappointing about the Bucks two points in twelve minutes and the thing they’ll need to take with them into game seven. Don’t let Atlanta off the hook. When they’re fouling, punish them and when your team is missing shots, don’t punish yourselves by continuing to chuck them up there.