NBA Playoffs Paroxysm: Bucks-Hawks Game 1; The Series Too Close To The Sun

Thoughts and exaltations from Game 1 of Hawks-Bucks.

  • If there is an overriding theme to this weekend, no better summarized than in Bucks-Hawks, Game 1, it’s “the first barrage will kill you, even if you withstand it enough to volley your own.”  We saw Cleveland blow doors off, only to watch Rose and company pick those doors up and use them as shields as they charged back into the saloon. We saw the Lakers’ calvary make mince meat of the Thunder, before Westbrook dragged a man (Fisher) off his horse and evened the keel too late. We saw Orlando look like world-beaters for 24 minutes before the Bobcats beat their world in for another 24. And we saw this game, where the Hawks detonated and surged every being in the building with electricity, only to burn out to the floor while Jennings strapped some gauze on and went back to work.
  • That run in the first half was a blitzkrieg, capped by the Josh Smith alley oop. There was just too much Hawk. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong from a coaching and matchup standpoint did for the Bucks. Delfino on Josh Smith? Disaster. The only effective translation was Mbah a Moute on Joe Johnson, and that’s a waste considering the situation the Bucks are in.
  • Let me explain. In every playoff game there’s gotta be someone you’re going to live with. It’s the playoffs. These are all good teams. SOMEONE is going to play well (unless you’re Phoenix, apparently). For the Hawks, you live with Joe Johnson. That’s who you accept. Because if he’s hitting shots, he’s hitting shots, and if he’s not, he’s not. LRMAM may have played great defense on him (more shots than points), but that was probably going to be the result anyway. Meanwhile, in moving arguably your best defender and one of the few guys left with size sans Bogut to the back court, you give the Hawks the golden ticket. That team gets its bigs involved and you’re in a world of hurt.
  • The comeback was, of course, Jennings, who was back to Pterodactyl with Wings of Fire mode, but Salmons was the lost non-hero. He got that elbow pull-up going. There are a  lot of 2’s in the league that like that shot, that love that shot. But only a handful who can reliably knock it down. So when Salmons can do that, it gives them a big leg-up, because he’s an odd defensive assignment for the Hawks. Not a bad one, just an odd one.
  • The debate is going to be if the Bucks should go small. That’ s suicide.  The Hawks make their living by creating multiple possessions per trip, with an ORR of 28.17, good for fifth best in the league. You surrender the glass and you’re looking at too many weapons. Atlanta has the fourth lowest pace in the league, Milwaukee’s in the middle range. So the hope of speeding up the game is only going to be so effective because the Bucks aren’t that good at it to begin with. I’d actually opt to go with a bigger line-up for long stretches. Kurt Thomas, once he got going, did a much better job on Al Horford. Combo him with Ilaysova for a 4-5 hybrid, and pair him with Mbah a Moute. You can actually probably get away with an Ilyasova-Moute 4-5 for some stretches. Horford’s a tough rebounder, a smart rebounder, but not a gigantic one. You’re not giving up size, so stretch the boundaries a little bit, especially with two of your better defenders.
  • Jennings is flirting with Bombs Over Baghdad (read Ballard if you’re confused). He nails those pull-up step back threes and it’s “a big time player hitting big time shots.” But taking them too early in the shot clock without working for a better one and he’s driving dangerously close to the edge with no guard rail. Long ill-advised threes are low percentage shots that lead to long rebounds which lead to transition plays against arguably the most athletic team in the East. But you need Jennings fearless, need him to take over. It’s going to take that kind of performance to make up for the talent differential due to injury (curse you, basketball gods!).
  • I don’t know what to make of Horford. In the first half he was headed for a playoff re-arrival (Celtics ’08 was his arrival), and then smoked out in the second. Just drifted. Horford needs to be a beast in this series. Let the rest of the team cruise a bit and get the work done.
  • I have railed against Skiles playing Ridnour all year, and yet I feel like he short-timed Ridnour in this one. I’m almost tempted to suggest a Jennings-Ridnour-Salmons-Moute-Ilyasova lineup, but I just said they shouldn’t go small.  The point is that the Bucks have some versatility. Maybe the secret is to not to commit to a lineup. Keep throwing new things at the Hawks and see what sticks.
  • LRMaM cannot shoot 5 shots if he’s going to shoot 80%. He’s got to be willing to assert himself, and Skiles has to support that notion. They’re going to need points from somewhere, and whoever’s got the hand on any given day has to ride it. Your biggest, most reliable option is out. Time to get inventive.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.