Bucks take big lead, Bucks lose big lead, Bucks lose game.
Stop me if you've heard this before.
Facing a struggling Hawks team lacking its go-to guy in Joe Johnson, the Bucks once again saw their offense stagnate and their defense ripped to shreds in the final period, blowing a 15-point second-half lead and stumbling to another deflating loss.
Josh Smith's line will stand out in the box score for the Hawks (24 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks), but it was Larry Drew's bench that starred down the stretch as Atlanta shook off a sloppy first half (17 turnovers) with a red-hot fourth. Jannero Pargo outdueled Brandon Jennings in the final period, Tracy McGrady did a bit of everything (9 pts, 11 rebs, 5 asts) and Vladimir Radmanovic daggered the Bucks from deep, hitting three triples in the decisive quarter including a tie-breaking three with 12 seconds remaining that sealed it. Energy, intensity, poise--whatever you want to call it, the Hawks had it late and the Bucks did not.
The Bucks' sketchy finish marred what had otherwise been a solid effort through three quarters, particularly in the case of a rejuvenated Jennings (34 pts, 10/23 fg, 5/8 threes, 9 ast, 2 stl, 2 to) and pick/pop partner Drew Gooden (26 pts. 10 rebs).
Brandon Jennings. Jennings finished just short of the season-high 36 points he scored in New York earlier this, raining down an encouraging 5/8 triples (his first night shooting better than 50% from deep since January 25) and 9/11 free throws. Not surprisingly, Jennings looked at his best in transition early, with a streak of eight straight points in the second quarter helping the Bucks build a 12 point halftime edge.
Drew Gooden. Not a terrific shooting night (8/21 fg, 9/9 ft, 26 pts, 10 rebs), but Gooden once again offered steady scoring (14 in the first half, 12 in the second) and combined nicely with Jennings for most of the night.
Beno Udrih. The Slovenian took advantage of extended minutes while playing alongside Jennings, playing the calmer, steadier foil to Jennings' quicksilver unpredictability while contributing 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
24. The Hawks haven't lost all season when Josh Smith cracks the 20 point mark (10-0), though his 24 points tonight were only the beginning of his contributions for the night. While he also turned it over five times (some sloppy passing, a pair of charges), Smith's 19 rebounds and three blocks were leading indicators of his dominance over the smallish Bucks down low.
-20. Usually an area of strength, the Bucks' bench was missing Mike Dunleavy (see below) and couldn't match the Atlanta reserves' energy in the end, as Pargo, McGrady and Radmanovic each made big plays down the stretch to help Atlanta's bench outscored the Bucks' 39-19.
34-18. Another all-too-crooked fourth quarter scoring differential for the Bucks. Getting a bit old, isn't it?
Brandon comes alive. As noted in the pregame, Jennings had little to feel good about in February, so here's to hoping that the remainder of March will bring more efforts like these. Jennings struggled inside the arc (5/15 twos) thanks to plenty of tough jumpers, but he was butter from long range and helped his cause tremendously by getting to the line for 11 free throws. Could the swagger be back?
Another Dunleavy. It's rare that we celebrate a player's absence, but Mike Dunleavy had a good excuse tonight: he was with his wife for the birth of his son. Needless to say we look forward to the junior junior Dunleavy suiting up in a Bucks jersey sometime in the 2030s.
Lotto watch. The Bucks are now 9th in the all-important lottery standings. Yay?
Closed out. The Bucks entered the night with an ever-so-slight positive scoring differential in the fourth, but they had no answers for the Hawks' reserves--a rather frustrating result when you consider that the guy who normally kills them in the fourth quarter was sitting in street clothes on the Hawk bench.
No Mike, too much Carlos. Dunleavy's absence predictably meant huge minutes for Carlos Delfino, who never found his rhythm offensively and finished just 1/10 from the field in 42 minutes. Maybe a little more Tobias Harris, just for the hell of it?
Larry in, Larry out. Can someone explain to me why Larry Sanders only plays every other game? I realize he's not a world beater, but...