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April 18, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Hawks-Bucks, game one

by Bradford Doolittle

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Atlanta 102, Milwaukee 92

Pace: 85 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Hawks 120.2, Bucks 108.4

The Hawks started off like a house of fire on Saturday, but ended up hanging on, overcoming a Brandon Jennings onslaught that nearly brought the Bucks all the way back during Atlanta's game one win.

The efficient Atlanta offense won out over the normally-sturdy Milwaukee defense in a game played at a predictably slow pace. Atlanta's .579 eFG%, led by a 19 points on nine shots performance by Mike Bibby, was too much for a Bucks team that struggled to get points early. Milwaukee's defense relies on forcing turnovers, but failed to induce a single miscue during Atlanta's big first quarter. The Bucks did force 13 turnovers overall, so there is some hope ther going forward. Jennings led the way for Milwaukee with 34 points on 25 shots.

Early, the Hawks attacked the middle of the Milwaukee defense relentlessly, scoring 20 of their 34 points in the paint in the opening period. The Bucks were of course playing without their defensive anchor, injured center Andrew Bogut. Josh Smith dominated on the offensive end, with eight points and a couple of assists, with the point total being matched by Atlanta center Al Horford. Meanwhile, the Bucks' offense was completely perimeter-oriented. Atlanta coach Mike Woodson started Joe Johnson against Jennings and the result seven points on seven shots, and Jennings' teammates combined to go 4-of-14. The first quarter was a blood-letting, with Atlanta posting a 158.7 Offensive Rating.

The Bucks showed some positive signs early in the second quarter when the second units came onto the floor. Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova changes the way Bucks play when he comes in, disrupting the rhythm of opposing defenses with his stretch ability. However, the positive vibes were short-lived. Milwaukee tried some zone, but Jamal Crawford killed those sentiments by drilling a couple of uncontested three-pointers. Stops were few and far between for the Bucks as Atlanta was just picking Milwaukee apart during the entire half. The Hawks posted a .667 eFG% in the half and averaged 5.4 touches per minutes, to Milwaukee's tragi-comic 2.8. Atlanta led 62-40 at the break.

Milwaukee made a game of it with a thrilling third quarter. It became pretty clear that the Hawks don't have anyone that can stay with Jennings. With the rookie's off-and-on shooting stroke working, he took over the game after halftime, scoring 12 points on six shots and pushing his game total to 32 points. On offense, all the Bucks had to do was to surround him with shooters. The Hawks began to settle for jumpers on their end and they weren't falling. With the Hawks on their heels and fixated on chasing around Jennings, John Salmons also got his game going in the midrange and off the dribble, as Milwaukee drew as close as nine points and trailed 81-70 after three. The Hawks defense recovered some late and forced a couple of turnovers, but momentum was clearly on Milwaukee's side entering the final frame. Could Jennings bring them back by himself?

Skiles sat Jennings towards the end of the third quarter and didn't bring him back until 8:22 of the fourth. The decision was a little baffling, but the Hawks were unable to stretch the lead with Jennings out of the game. In fact, the Bucks gained a point. Jennings didn't do much after his return, but Ilyasova and Salmons combined to keep the Milwaukee offense humming. Mike Bibby, who teamed with Johnson and Crawford to go 6-of-8 from the perimeter in the final period, kept Atlanta afloat with his shooting, but the Hawks were still getting everything from the perimeter. Milwaukee missed a couple of good looks midway through the quarter that would have trimmed the lead down to five. After a timeout at 5:06, the Hawks again began working the ball inside to Horford, while forcing the Bucks into mistakes and contested shots on the other end. Horford didn't convert--he was 1-of-6 in the last quarter--but the pace of the game swung back to Atlanta's favor. Skiles was playing an offensive lineup of Jennings, Salmons, Ilyasova, Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, but Milwaukee's shooting ebbed as did its opportunities at the basket. The lineup couldn't get stops and Atlanta pushed the lead to 12 points.

Milwaukee made one last run. Jerry Stackhouse scored off a steal, then another Atlanta turnover resulted in a nice layup from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. However, he missed the free throw, then Johnson rescued a ragged Hawks possessions with a long fadeaway. Atlanta survived, while Milwaukee fans were left wondering what might have happened if Skiles had not sat Jennings for so long during the second half, thus disrupting the rhythm of his red-hot shooter.

The Hawks learned that they cannot settle for jump shots against a Scott Skiles-designed defense that does a great job of forcing teams to take them. Milwaukee learned that they go as Jennings goes, but Skiles is left with the quandary of who to surround him with. When he goes offense, the Bucks don't get enough stops. When he plays his best defenders, Milwaukee can't seem to get enough points. Thus is life without Bogut. Game Two is in Atlanta on Tuesday. During Game One, the Bucks seemed to make better adjustments as the contest progressed than Atlanta, so it'll be interesting to see what Skiles has in store for Woodson in the next game, which Milwaukee now has to believe it can steal.

G1: Hawks 102, Bucks 92 (Hawks lead 1-0)
MIL  17  23  30  22 -  92
ATL  34  28  19  21 - 102
BUCKS         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   21   79.3  .357  .231  .095  .140  2.14
Second Quarter  22  104.3  .452  .400  .190  .181  3.50
Third Quarter   21  144.4  .684  .250  .211  .144  5.06
Fourth Quarter  21  106.7  .476  .231  .095  .097  3.75
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43   92.0  .405  .304  .143  .161  2.82
SECOND HALF     41  125.6  .575  .235  .150  .064  4.45
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           85  108.4  .488  .275  .146  .141  3.61
=======================================================
HAWKS         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   21  158.7  .674  .286  .130  .000  5.64
Second Quarter  22  126.9  .658  .250  .158  .181  5.08
Third Quarter   21   91.5  .417  .385  .222  .193  3.88
Fourth Quarter  21  101.8  .531  .286  .250  .242  3.02
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      43  142.6  .667  .267  .143  .092  5.36
SECOND HALF     41   96.6  .471  .350  .235  .111  3.40
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           85  120.2  .579  .314  .184  .153  4.40
=======================================================

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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