JS: Rally can't overcome Bucks' poor first half
I was glad Scott Skiles at least tried to experiment more with Mbah a Moute on Johnson--given the Bucks' defensive problems without Bogut, you'd think their best defender will need to be on the court more than just 15-20 minutes per game. But I'm also not sure we got any real answers as far as what the Bucks' best matchups would be going forward. There's only so much Mbah a Moute to go around defensively, and that also comes at the cost of playing mostly four-on-five offensively. That's especially tough because it means Josh Smith can basically play free safety on defense. The Bucks also showed some signs of life with Ersan Ilyasova on the court, but he didn't even get off the bench until the Hawks were up 19.
"Luc did a respectable job on him (Johnson)," Skiles said. "In our opinion he's one of the tougher guys to cover in the league. But one of our issues is Luc can only guard one guy.
"Somebody else has to deal with Josh Smith. If we put Luc on Josh, then Joe gets loose a little bit. In the Carlos-Jerry (Stackhouse)-John (Salmons) mix, we need to step up and do a good job on one of their other skilled players."
Had Carlos Delfino shown up at all, the Bucks probably would have won. Delfino was nonexistent. He should be able to outproduce anyone the Hawks put at small forward, and he should be effective at the power forward. On Saturday he was neither. In his defense, he is reliant on ball movement to get his offense going. I think the ball was getting stuck a lot, as the Bucks incredibly low 11 assists in 37 made baskets illustrates (.297%; the historic norm, and the Bucks average this season, was .561%). That may have been brought about by the nervousness of a first playoff game. If guys don’t feel comfortable, they tend to go one-on-0ne a lot. Hopefully that will pass.
Ty's numbers showed Delfino was effective at PF against the Hawks last week, so I'm praying that bears itself out more as the series goes on. But after watching Smith monster-truck him in the first quarter I kind of doubt it can work with Mbah a Moute also on the court--again, Smith can just defend Luc on the other end and focus on help defense, so there's no way for Delfino to keep Smith honest. The important questions are a) whether Delfino on Smith and Mbah a Moute on Johnson is a better option than the reverse and b) whether the better option is Ilyasova on Smith and Mbah a Moute/Delfino on Johnson. The Bucks could also go super-small and play Delfino as a true PF, but I worry that puts the Bucks at too much of a disadvantage on the glass.
Ball Don't Lie: Resting Jennings hurts Buck comeback
KD points to Skiles' decision to rest Jennings as the turning point in the game, but I think his characterization is also a bit dramatic:
Though Luke Ridnour hit a three and runner in Jennings' absence, he played poor D despite good effort, and the Hawks pulled away again. By the time Jennings returned with over four minutes gone in the fourth, the game was more or less finished, the momentum had swung back. And it didn't help that before Jennings sat, the Bucks went away from him despite a hot hand. John Salmons, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Carlos Delfino all got a look, though Jennings didn't help that case by being stripped by Joe Johnson(notes) on consecutive possessions following.
This doesn't take away from the fact that Jennings should have played longer, and should have been featured more prominently. The Bucks struggle to score as it is, so to take away the only sound offensive option they had (even when Salmons was hitting, the looks weren't all that great) for that long, with a switch in home court advantage that close? Bucks coach Scott Skiles, as stubborn as he is, probably looks back on that move with regret.
The Bucks were down seven when Jennings departed with 36 seconds left in the third, and they were down 10 when Jennings came back with 8:22 left in the fourth. Ilyasova then promptly hit a three to make it a seven point lead with eight minutes left--so does that really count as the game being "finished"? I'd say Skiles' bigger mistake was waiting until the Bucks were down 19 to bring on Ilyasova in the first.
And while I agree that Jennings' rest clearly didn't help, it's also convenient to ignore the possibility of Jennings simply getting tired and going cold that way. After all, that's basically what happened with Salmons, who scored just as many in the third as Jennings (12) but didn't get a rest--he played the entire second half. Salmons seemed to tire and in fact went scoreless in the fourth on just two shots. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. In hindsight we would all have preferred to keep Jennings in and give Salmons a rest, but the Bucks lost the game with their lack of intensity in the first half, not with their substitutions in the second.
Bucher: Comeback provides reason for optimism
Ric Bucher writes that the Bucks' comeback at least gives them some optimism going into game two.
"It just seemed like we were scared to shoot," Jennings said. "It didn't sink in that we were in the playoffs until they were kicking our butts. But coming into the locker room after the game, we were hyped. We feel like we can compete with this team."
FanHouse: Hawks fast start too much
Tom Ziller echoes Skiles' dilemma: too many Hawk threats, not enough Luc Mbah a Moute to go around on defense. Note that the Hawks scored 34 of their 46 points in the paint in the first half.
The Hawks got out to a blistering start, shooting 62% in the first half on their way to a 62-40 midpoint lead. The absence of Andrew Bogut killed Milwaukee's defense, as Josh Smith dominated his agile defenders in the paint, and teammates Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it. The Hawks had 34 points in the paint in the first half. Carlos Delfino, traditionally a small forward, drew the bulk of the Smith assignment. It didn't go well -- Josh is too incredible a combination of size and athleticism for smaller defenders to have a chance.
One half of good basketball and the Brandon Jennings explosion has me feeling okay about this game. There are some areas where the Bucks can see what they need to do better and the second half gave them some visual proof that they can get better. I wouldn’t count on another run to start next game like the one we saw Atlanta put on Milwaukee in game one. I’m willing to write that off as a "Welcome to the Playoffs" moment for the generally inexperienced Milwaukee Bucks. The playoffs require that extra gear that teams rarely go into and some teams never know they have. I don’t think the Bucks knew they had it, but they certainly found it in the second half. Especially Jennings.