Odds were, the Hawks would win this series with somewhat relative ease. Everybody had the odds against the Bucks, and now each odd has been evened, starting with the series itself, now tied at 2 games apiece. Before we go about searching for answers (or offering them, let’s examine what has suddenly gone wrong in the last two games, and where the Bucks have managed to turn a few tables.
- The switch defense can give opponents fits, and teams without good perimeter capability or constant penetration threats can suffer the most when the Hawks are executing the concept to near perfection. However, the Milwauke Bucks torched the defense for better than 50% shooting in two straight games. Nevermind the fact that they are either the worst or second-worst shooting team in the League from the regular season. What gives?
- The Hawks tend to know how to win the “grind it out” games. They can play well enough on both sides of the court to make it happen. However, grinding it out requires that you string together some defensive stretches, including some big plays. Instead of doing that, Atlanta watched as Milwaukee made big play after big play, alternating between wide open jumpers, or layups.
- Odds were that the Bucks couldn’t handle Al Horford and Josh Smith down low. That held true in the first two games, then fell flat in game 3. In game 4, Josh had enough second half/late game moxie to make his stats look better, but Al Horford had nothing. How can you explain that? Did somebod slip Kurt Thomas a six-pack of RedBull or something? Did somebody steal Big Al’s mojo while he was in cryo sleep?
- Nevermind everything I said about rookie point guards versus veteran point guards in the playoffs. Apparently I am full of it. Either that, or I simply forgot that a mix of good coaching, a capacity to learn, and outright talent can overcome inexperience. After Jennings put on a one-man show (that did not bring his team a win) in game 1, and then bombing out completely in game 2, Jennings has come back to doing what a point guard should do, even if he is no assist magician. He got his teammates involved, and initiated the ball movement without dominating the ball. His teammates kept passing the ball, and Jennings stuck with what works: using his quickness to score at the rim, taking care of the ball, and passing to teammates when his driving lanes were cut off. Jennings shot better than 50%, and had only one turnover in game 4. That isn’t where it started, though. No, Jennings turned the corner in game 3, when he managed 26 turnover free minutes, didn’t try to dominate the ball, and played within the flow of the game. I knew the kid was talented. But he changed his game. All I can figure is that he listened to what Skiles had to say (which was apparently very good instruction) and then went out and did it. What a concept….on both fronts.
So what did YOU see the Bucks doing to even the odds? What can the Hawks do to regain superior form?
Does anybody have one for this?
Perhaps we should wait for the Atlanta Hawks to return home for an answer. Maybe they are just that bad on the road, though a regular season record would indicate that they have improved there, to a degree. Of course, so many things seen in the regular season are moot in the playoffs. Can we, as fans, diagnose what the trouble is here?
Energy vs Execution
You might need a calculator to count the number of times we’ve heard (or said) that the Hawks have to play with more energy. Mike Woodson has said it a number of times. It certainly applied in game 3, but what about game 4? The Hawks didn’t lack energy, though you could see some tired legs from Joe, who got 46 minutes this time around. Even the switching on defense wasn’t lacking in effort.
Execution was a whole different matter. Atlanta messed up on the defensive side of the ball so much, it was hard to tell whether they were simply blowing assignments, or the Bucks were taking advantage. Scratch that last part. Clearly the Bucks were taking advantage, hitting on open shot after another. Is it just execution, or has Scott Skiles figured out how to beat the “system?” Perhaps a mixture of both, and somebody needs to figure it out very quickly. If it’s Skiles’ ability to change up strategy (which he apparently has), then Woodson and his staff have to figure out a counter strategy. If it’s execution, then it’s on the players, and Woodson’s only recourse is to play whomever is getting the job done. We know this much, though: if the Bucks can bring what they had in Milwaukee to Atlanta, it’s going to be trouble.
As much noise as you’ve heard from the fans in places like Detroit and Boston, I don’t know if they could have possibly topped what we saw in Milwaukee. It made me want to turn my tv down, even though I knew they couldn’t really affect the volume of the feed. Milwaukee was rockin’, no doubts about it. We’re talking a crowd being that loud and supportive from the opening tip. A crowd that had seen their team go down 2 games to none, losing by double digits both times.
Can Atlanta Hawks fans match that level of intensity and support? Now I’ve never been much into comparing one set of fans to another, but our team is the favored team. They just lost two games on the road, but won the first two at home. For those of us who can make it to the game, are you going to let “Milwaukee’s Best” turn you out? Or are you going to make as much, if not more noise than they did? The Bucks obviously fed on the energy of their crowd. I don’t know how they possibly couldn’t. The Hawks could use some of that momentum. For those who can, make it happen. The Hawks need it!