Posted Apr 24 2010 11:33PM
MILWAUKEE -- Josh Smith was wrong about this city.
So, so wrong.
The Hawks' forward dismissed Milwaukee as a vacation destination, playfully, after practice two days ago, insisting that "there isn't much to do here."
Smith and the Hawks should have plenty to do now, after absorbing a thorough beating from the Bucks in Game 3 Eastern Conference first round series.
The Bucks toasted the Hawks early and roasted them at the finish of a 107-89 lip-busting that signaled the rebirth of one team and the reappearance of another.
"It was nice to see these guys show up again," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said of his crew after they'd run the Hawks ragged. "This is the team I'm used to coaching and seeing."
A dreadful road team the last three years, the Hawks reverted to form, led by Smith, who made just two of his 12 shots from the floor and couldn't manage a double-double after finishing one assist shy of a triple-double in the Hawks' Game 2 win in Atlanta.
"We knew what was at stake and we knew what to expect coming into this game," Joe Johnson said. "For us to come out and play the way we did, that's on the starters. And it was unacceptable."
With a raucous sellout crowd of 18,717 cheering them on, the Bucks made this a series by taking precious care of the home crowd and court with an energized effort that would have given any team fits on this night.
"I was blown away," Bucks guard John Salmons said of a crowd that cranked things up early with drums and horns and seemed more like a European soccer crowd than a playoff crowd.
The atmosphere certainly worked for the Bucks.
They outplayed the Hawks in every category and didn't wait until the second half to get it going. They missed their first two shots and then sank nine straight to take control of the game, control they never relinquished.
They led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter and 28 before the finish, fueled by the shot-making of Brandon Jennings and John Salmons early on and the relentless work of Kurt Thomas (13 rebounds), Dan Gad uric (10 rebounds) and Luc Mbah a Moute (12 points, five rebounds and solid defense on Smith and Johnson all game long).
They didn't bog down on offense with the lead late, as the Hawks did after taking big leads in Games 1 and 2. They got stronger as the game went on. The closest the Hawks got after halftime was nine points, 54-45 with 9:48 to play in the third quarter. Their lead dipped under 20 points just three times in the fourth quarter, when that crowd let Smith and the rest of the Hawks have it for not showing up ready to work."
"A lot of the focus these last couple of days was just moving the ball, trying to penetrate and dish and get your teammates open shots," said Salmons, who led the Bucks with 22 points and seven assists. "Coach always preaches defense first and that's the only way we compete every night. Shots come and go but our defense is the only thing we can control every night ... and we talked about it before, we had to play as close to perfect as possible if we wanted to win this game. And we did a good job of that."
Fear the Deer?
The Hawks should indeed be worried after being splattered like road kill in true deer-in-the-headlights fashion.
As good as they looked in imposing their will on the Bucks in Games 1 and 2, the Bucks looked even better in wiping the Bradley Center floor with them Saturday night.
"Our guys just didn't perform," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said, using the same words he often does about his team when they are away from Philips Arena.
The Hawks won just 19 road games this season, matching Denver's total for the lowest total among the top four teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
"You play all season for home court advantage and we took care of business at home, but now we have to see what we are like on the road," Woodson said. "We just didn't fare well tonight across the board. We need to break this tape down and learn from it and be ready to play on Monday."
Monday's Game 4 looms as a must-win for both teams.
The Hawks don't want to face this team and crowd in this environment again, if they can help it. And the Bucks certainly can't afford to head back to Atlanta for Game 5 down 3-1.
"We know Monday's the game," Bucks point guard Luke Ridnour said. "They say a series doesn't really start until the road team wins. We can't let that happen Monday. We've got to bring the same energy and get this series back to 2-2."
If Milwaukee plays anything close to the way they did in Game 3, the Bucks will be ready.
No one is sure about the Hawks, who have won just one playoff road game the past three years.
And Smith still has to figure out what to do with himself on a soggy weekend in a city full of folks that suddenly know his face, what with him being all over the local TV news and in the newspaper as Public Enemy No. 1.
When asked if he'd recommend any hot spots for Smith to visit while in town, Salmons started laughing.
"Naw," he said grinning. "Just let him stay in the hotel the whole day."
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