MILWAUKEE– There were a lot of doubts about the Hawks but after this stirring W they deserve to squawk a bit. So let them.
– “It was gut-check time for us,” Al said. “It really defines what our team is about.”
– “When we play the right way, we can beat anybody,” Jamal said.
– “Everyone counted us out except the people in this locker room,” Smoove said.
– The Hawks finally asserted their will on the Bucks. They shared the ball and got open jumpers. They went inside when the advantage was there. And, most of all, they defended the hack out of the Bucks for long stretches.
– Milwaukee shot just 32.9 percent from the field, their worst shooting game of the regular season and playoffs. “What really won the game was defense,” J.J. said. “I don’t think we’ve been that active all season.”
– Give Woody credit. The Hawks started off showing and recovering on screens instead of switching. That left them vulnerable with Bibby on Delfino but the Hawks made it work.
– “We had to keep them guessing as much as we could,” Al said. “The guards did a good job of getting over the screens.”
– In the third quarter, the Hawks went with a zone. Suddenly Milwaukee’s guards didn’t have so many gaps to exploit and Al and Smoove didn’t have to cover to much ground to get out to Delfino. Their ball movement, excellent for much of the series, came to a halt.
–The Bucks made just 3 of 17 shots in the third quarter and missed 11 in a row when the Hawks went on that 19-0 run. “It worked,” Josh said of the zone. “It was good just to show them a different look here and there. We were able to throw them off balance.”
– Woody had played sly the day before the game, insisting he wouldn’t change his defensive approach. “We just tried to mix it up a little bit,” Woody said. “They are so good in the one-on-one position and you’re not sitting down and taking individual challenges on the ball. It becomes a nightmare.”
– Talking to Jamal during the series, he hadn’t seemed like himself. He might have been most affected by that Game 5 loss but he showed something by bouncing back. That driving shot over Delfino when the Bucks rallied late is the kind of thing Crawford had done all regular season.
– “I feel like that’s what they brought me here for,” he said. “I felt like I let the team down in the last few games, especially the last game. I didn’t sleep the last couple days.”
– It was a brutal first half offensively for both teams but don’t discount the defense. The game was physical and tightly-contested. It was lacking in aesthetics but physical play was plentiful. “Nobody wanted to lose tonight and that’s an indication of the score,” Woody said. “Both teams were just grabbing and fighting and clawing to win a basketball game.”
– Neither team could gain separation in the first half. The Hawks gained a 16-10 advantage but Milwaukee closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run. The Hawks answered by opening the second quarter with a 9-0 run that featured three baskets by Jamal. Delfino started a 15-2 run with three consecutive 3-pointers. The Hawks made four free throws to close the half and calm things down.
– “We were missing easy shots, they were missing easy shots,” Horford said. “But we were playing the right way. I knew eventually we would get it going.”
– Man, did they ever. That 19-0 run was the Hawks’ most dominant stretch of play since the first half of Game 1. The Hawks shared the ball, collected rebounds and defended the Bucks late into the shot clock. Those 19 points were spread around: Bibby had five points, Josh four, Joe five, Al three and Jamal two.
– “I haven’t seen us play like that the whole series and it feels so good,” Smoove said. “Everybody laid it on the line.”
– The Hawks’ biggest lead was 58-38. Milwaukee made its inevitable run to get within 69-62, with J.J. taking a few ill-advised iso shots, but this time the Hawks stayed tough.
– After Jamal missed, Smoove blocked Stackhouse’s shot to lead to a jumper by Joe. Crawford took Delfino to the hole, Smoove blocked Salmons’ shot and J.J. made two free throws to finish the Bucks.
– The finish was the opposite of that meltdown in Game 5. “We weren’t going out like that,” Al said. ““We at least had to play our hearts out.”
– Bucks fans chanted “Josh Smith suc–” at the end as he urged them on. “It feels good,” Josh said. “I’d like to thank Milwaukee fans for their hospitality. They’ve been great.”
– He said he was being serious but somehow I don’t believe him.
– AJC wise guy Jeff Schultz wanted to make sure I noted that he’s 3-0 in this series while colleague Mark Bradley is 0-3. Before you ask, I’m not sure which guy will be there Sunday.
– I’m out, Hawks fans.