Hawks 104, Bucks 96: Atlanta flies through Milwaukee, return visit likely

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Box Score

MILWAUKEE -- The regular season is already a success, I worry a little bit that the team is starting to play like that, and judging by the last two games, the postseason doesn't figure to be much of a success, even if you are only hoping for a win or two.

After three straight wins to open post-Bogut 2010, the Bucks have now rather clearly lost two home games against their only two potential playoff opponents. A couple nights after the Celtics coasted to a win without Kevin Garnett, the Hawks led for every minute of the final three quarters without Jamal Crawford.

The Hawks cause the Bucks all sorts of problems everywhere, and they are probably going to do so again pretty soon in a stadium near you. The win bumps Atlanta 1.5 games ahead of Boston for the third seed, and Milwaukee's loss, along with Miami's win, pushes the Bucks down to sixth in the East. As such, these two are likely to face off in the first round.

Defensively, the Hawks are just too quick and too strong at every position, and they seamlessly switched their way to hound the Bucks on the perimeter, which is where they run just about all of their offense without Andrew Bogut on the floor. Offensively, Joe Johnson (31 points) hasn't met his defensive match, and they are pretty much nightly the type of balanced offensive dynamo that Milwaukee was only on its best days and at full strength.

Mike Bibby started things off right for Atlanta, burying three straight first quarter three pointers in just over a minute, and as far as just-over-minutes go, that was a pretty telling one that this wasn't Milwaukee's night.

Jerry Stackhouse (13 second-quarter points) had a bright stretch and John Salmons (28 points) was very good just like he was in the overtime loss in Atlanta in late-February, but Johnson again bested him in the end.

Andrew Bogut spoke to the crowd before the game on Fan Appreciation Night to a rousing applause, and then Al Horford operated with ease, the Hawks scored 52 points in the paint, and Josh Smith blocked six shots, just in case the loss of Bogut wasn't fresh or obvious or painful enough.

The scoreboard always seemed to have the Hawks in front by six or seven points, the biggest lead was 12 and the Bucks sliced it to four with a few minutes to go, but Atlanta led for the final 40 minutes, and that is just how it felt.

For a final regular season home game, this one didn't show much of what made the Bucks such a force at the Bradley Center this year. There are at least a couple more on the docket though, probably against these same Hawks.

And after the last few days and last few weeks, you can be sure that they will enter the postseason just as they entered the regular season: as massive underdogs.

So there might just be hope after all.

THREE BUCKS

John Salmons. Hardly a stretch to say that Salmons is the only guy on the team who can either get to the basket or to the free throw line. Fortunately, he continues to do both pretty well. For the 18th game since joining the Bucks, Salmons led the club in scoring (he led the Bulls six times this season), this time pitching in 28 points on a very steady 9-18 from the field, 3-6 from deep, and 7-9 from the line.

However, he was for the second time in as many nights overshadowed by an opposing two guard, as Joe Johnson (31/7/3) matched his all around game, and then raised him.

Forty-three more minutes, as the Bucks worked him all the way until he fouled out for the first time this season.

Jerry Stackhouse. He completely carried the second quarter, throwing in a throwback 13 points thanks to his hot outside shot (3-4 on threes). That was the only quarter Milwaukee won, and they barely even won that (27-25) despite Stack's heroics.

Unfortunately, that was also the only quarter in which he scored at all. Stackhouse shot 0-4 with zero points, rebounds, and assists in nine non-second-quarter minutes. His second quarter punch was just what the team brought him in for though; he can't be expected to do much more.

Brandon Jennings. Seemingly aware that the Bucks will need more than just Salmons scoring, Jennings went on the aggressive offensively, firing 23 shots including nine in the third quarter alone. But he missed all four of his three point attempts in that third quarter as Milwaukee made up just a single point on the seven-point halftime deficit. Brandon actually hit half of his two-point attempts (6-12) but his outside shot (2-11) betrayed him, and the Bucks just don't have enough elsewhere for those not to fall. Jennings also was aggressive defensively, pressuring in the backcourt to the tune of two steals. In the end though...

We were standing a lot on offense. Not a lot of ball movement. I thought they did a good job. But we've got some time and we'll see which team we play first.

THREE NUMBERS

21-4. The Hawks started the night with best assist to turnover ratio in the NBA, at 1.84:1. Milwaukee started tied for 10th place at 1.58:1. Yet the Bucks managed an almost unbelievable 20 assists to just four turnovers, an off-the-charts 5:1 ratio. Not easy to lose with that type of stat. Atlanta had a medicore 17 assists to 14 turnovers (1.21:1).

19. The Bucks attempted 19 more shots than the Hawks (93-74), but made three fewer (36-39).

Yes, Milwaukee shot 36-93 (.387) from the field, below 40.0 % again. So, only four turnovers, but... Skiles:

I think I could argue that a lot of our shots were turnovers. Yeah, that's what they were.

11. Atlanta racked up 11 blocks. In the second quarter, Josh Smith pulled his groin and we were told that his return was questionable.

Well, six of those blocks were courtesy of Josh Smith, and three of them came during a 37-second stretch midway through the third quarter, during which time he proceeded to stuff Kurt Thomas, Ersan Ilyasova, and Jerry Stackhouse. Smith also blocked Salmons twice during that quarter, totaling five in the third period alone. So J-Smoove had five times as many blocks in the third quarter as the Bucks had in the whole game. 

So he was fine.

THREE GOOD

Stack attack! Gosh, what a phrase.

Stackhouse, who by the way is extremely approachable and insightful after games, gave the Bucks a shot with his shot in the second quarter, scoring a quick 13 points to give some hope in a game that otherwise felt like a loss from a couple hours before start to finish.

Home. The Bucks finish the regular season slate 28-13, which your eyes have slowly had some time to adjust to. But let's remember that plenty of experts were picking the Bucks to barely win 28 games total this season. I don't think many had Milwaukee walking into the playoffs with or without Bogut or Redd.

Fan Appreciation Night to the 14,186 in attendance and overall it's been a really, really fun year at the BC. Now let's just hope the team can sell out the stadium for playoff games against the Hawks.

Young Buck. I'm pleased to see that Brandon Jennings, 20 years old and 169 pounds and first year in the NBA and team leader in minutes, is still going hard on both ends of the court pushing 40 minutes in Game 81. He pressured full court with some success, passed the ball around a bit, and wasn't the least bit shy shooting.

Not always the best shot selection, but I don't really mind the 11 three-point attempts, even though just two went in. If he makes a few more of those, all of sudden he has 30 points and the Bucks have nine more points and a win. That is probably what it's going to take, because there is certainly no dumping the ball in at this point. I would prefer he attack the rim a bit more to open up others and at least give guys a chance to pick up misses on the offensive glass, but overall I am glad that he isn't passive Brandon at this juncture.

THREE BAD

Frontcourt scoring. Kurt Thomas (3-6, six points) and Luc Mbah a Moute (1-5, two points) are Kurt Thomas and Luc Mbah a Moute. But that is just the problem when they comprise your starting frontcourt. Mbah a Moute started but only scored two points and only played 23 minutes in the win over Atlanta a few weeks and tonight he was even less of a factor, scoring two more points in just 19 minutes as Skiles couldn't justify giving more court time to his new best defensive player (sans Bogut) against the second best offensive team in the NBA. Thomas did well, but he's just so limited, and everything is just so difficult for the Bucks right now on the offensive end.

The starting backcourt of Jennings (23) and Salmons (18) combined to shoot 41 field goals as the Bucks just have nothing inside.

The Hawks scored 52 points in the paint (on 26-40 shooting), the Bucks scored 20 points in the paint (on 10-30 shooting), and that is just an absurd difference and the difference.

The revenge of Zaza Island. We've seen this before.

The revenge of Zaza Island.  Back in 2005 when the Bucks were deciding whether to re-sign Dan Gadzuric and/or Zaza Pachulia, the RealGM gang jokingly termed the Zaza loyalists as members of "Zaza Island" (it preceded "Mo Nation" among the Bucks' nation-states).  Well, you know the story by now.  The Bucks signed Gadzuric--who in fairness was a very productive role player in 04/05--to a $36 million deal while letting Pachulia walk for a far more reasonable four years, $16 million.  Gadzuric proceeds to regress almost instantly, and of late he's been mostly miserable despite having ample opportunity to prove himself with Bogut out.  Meanwhile Pachulia at least maintains some dignity.  You can guess how things went tonight. 

The Bucks didn't lose by 30 like they did in January 2009, but once again Zaza Pachulia (10 points, 7 rebounds, and a team-leading 4 assists) gave it to his former team while Dan Gadzuric gave four minutes, zero points and zero rebounds to his current team. Again, with Bogut out, again just when they need a center. Also: Zaza lobbed a ball and seemed to purposely hit Mike Woodson during the pregame warmups, always rising on the hilarity meter.

More Hawks? You might have been a borderline delusional optimist to think that Milwaukee would beat Boston in a first-round series without Bogut, but they match up better with the Celtics than the Hawks. And all of the bad blood and old friends and star players and chippiness would have made for a fun series regardless of the final scores against the C's. But with this result, combined with the Heat beating the Sixers, we are now looking at a Hawks/Bucks first round matchup as the most likely scenario. Milwaukee does not match up well on either side of the ball against Atlanta, the Hawks are virtually unbeatable at home (33-7, same home record as the Magic and Lakers and Nuggets, oh my), and although Maurice Evans took Brandon Jennings to the ground and Al Horford got t'd up, this doesn't feel like much of a rivalry.

Familiarity breeds contempt though, so we'll see if they get sick of each other in the playoffs especially following these late-season games.

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