For the second straight game, the Bucks let one abysmal quarter derail a game that started off promisingly enough. After allowing Memphis to outscore them by 20 in the second quarter on Saturday, the Bucks delayed the bludgeoning until after halftime this time out. But a decisive 31-12 showing in the third quarter proved too much--even a late rally wasn't enough as the Hawks rode Joe Johnson early and late (30 points 10/18 fg, 3/5 ft, 7/10 ft) to squeeze out a win that moves them closer to clinching the East's fourth spot.
Maybe it's just my own waning interest coloring my view of the game, but the intensity from both sides seemed minimal in the early going. Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith were scoring on each other down low with ease. Ramon Sessions made a lazy pass and then showed no effort in hustling after Bibby on the break (Ridnour jogged to table shortly thereafter). The BC was fittingly quiet and attendance was patchy.
Still, the Bucks were shooting well and made the Hawks look a bit tired in racing to a 62-53 halftime lead, with the bench playing a crucial role. Keith Bogans had 10 in the second, Malik Allen scored eight (including a dunk?!?), and even Ridnour looked pretty solid for a change. Oh, and Gadzuric was hitting jumpers...though that's weirdly not such a crazy thing to see anymore (let's say it again: weird).
And then the third quarter started. Villanueva stroked a three to push the lead to a dozen immediately (giving him 13 at the time), but then the bad Bucks showed up again. You know these guys: no rebounding, no shooting, lots of fouling. An 11-0 run gave the Hawks their first lead since the first quarter, and not even the superscrubs could prevent Atlanta from extending their lead to 10 by the end of the quarter.
The Bucks could have easily given up from there, but to their credit they had some fight left. Sessions hadn't scored a point in the first three quarters, looking gunshy in attempting just two shots, but with the Bucks beginning to look frisky he began taking it to the hoop and finding some daylight for a change (10 points in the final quarter). Jefferson was playing aggressively and set up Bogans for a pair of triples, but more importantly they were beginning to swarm and get after it defensively. With momentum swinging their way, the Bucks tied it at 103 with two minutes left.
Unfortunately the Hawks still had some daggers left. After the Bucks collapsed on penetration, Bibby nailed a corner three on the next possession, and Johnson made two tough shots over Luc Mbah a Moute in the final minute to seal it. And for good measure Mbah a Moute threw it away on the Bucks' final two possessions. Figures.
Keith Bogans. We still got some flashes of the real Keith Bogans (exhibit A: a blown layup late in the fourth), but Bogans had a great night by his standards on an evening when most of his teammates were struggling to put anything together. Ok, 7/17 fg isn't a good thing, but Bogans managed 22 points thanks to four triples--and also added five boards, three assists, two steals, and no turnovers. And while the Bucks' defense was nothing to write home about for most of the night, Bogans did his best and was part of the unit that actually looked fairly competent late in the game.
Richard Jefferson. He missed more often than not, but 19 points on 13 shots, seven assists, and no turnovers were indicative of a reasonably solid all-around night.
Ramon Sessions. Sessions (10 pts, eight assists, four to) had a quiet start for the second straight game, but he almost salvaged the night with a big fourth quarter. But perhaps fittingly it ended like it started, as he was stripped driving to the hoop with 1:15 left.
34-21. Hey, would you believe it if I told you the Bucks were outscored by 13 from the foul line? No, because it happens every game. These summaries just write themselves.
28. I'm kind of surprised the Bucks shot almost 50% given the Hawks gave them so few opportunities off turnovers (11 to), but I guess that's what passing the ball will do for you. The Bucks' saving grace of late: ball movement, which has seen them rack up an average of 27.2 apg over the past five (the Jazz lead the league at 24.7 apg, for reference). Tonight they kept it up with 28, led by Sessions (8) and Jefferson (7)
- 26. That's how many minutes Villanueva played, in large part due to his inability to defend without fouling. Smith (5/8 fg, 10/14 ft, 21 pts) couldn't stop Villanueva either, but he at least managed to stay on the floor. Villanueva scored 13 of his 15 points (7/12 fg) in the game's first 25 minutes.
The bench. Led by Bogans 22 and Allen's 10, the Bucks' bench helped them build a first half lead and posted a 46-15 margin over the Hawks' scrubs.
- Late energy. I'm not sure they deserve too much credit for giving the Hawks a bit of a run, but I'm short on optimism right now.
- Gadzuric's jumper. I can't believe I'm putting those two words under the heading of "good," but seriously, what the hell is with him the past month or two? I figured at the beginning of the season that a hardass like Skiles would eliminate jump-shooting from Gadz's game entirely, but the opposite has been true and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Yes, he's still prone to the occasional all-glass brick and is probably getting a little too confident for his own good, but it'd be nice if Bogut could shoot like that from time to time. Last year 30% of Gadzuric's shots were jumpers and he made less than 20% of them; this year it's 46% of his attempts and he's making 40% of them. In other words, they're still not good shots and he shouldn't be shooting more, but it's at least a vaguely respectable percentage.
- Backcourt. Sessions got his act together in the fourth, but overall Bibby (22 pts on 16 shots, eight assists) and Johnson (30 and eight boards) torched Bell (2/6 fg, five pts, and a five inch height disadvantage against JJ) and Sessions. The longer Mbah a Moute was a much better matchup for Johnson, but not even he could stop some of Johnson's circus shots.
Streaking. That's now four losses in row, nine of ten, and 14 of 17. If any decisions at the deadline were made in the hopes of keeping the Bucks in the playoff hunt, you can officially consider those mistakes.
- Broken record. OK, so they weren't killed on the boards for a change, but the Bucks as usual made life difficult for themselves by resorting to fouling as a substitute for defense. I'd trace much of this back to Bogut, who at least provided something of a stopper in the lane--whether by blocking shots, taking charges or simply grabbing every rebound in his vicinity.