Posted Apr 26 2010 10:18AM
The stench was so strong that Milwaukee Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings caught a whiff of it before realizing what it was.
With his Bucks on the wrong side of lopsided defeats in Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, they'd done little to make the Hawks respect them.
"To me, I felt like they were a little cocky," Jennings said Sunday, the day after the Bucks earned a little respect with a blowout Game 3 win over the Hawks to draw a little blood of their own in the series. "They came in like, 'this is Milwaukee, we're up 2-0.' That's just how what it felt like to me. They thought they were just going to come in and blow us out. But with the crowd and the way we came out, it changed everything."
How much things have changed won't be clear until tonight, when the Bucks take their second shot at earning a little respect in Game 4 at the Bradley Center. They turned the pressure up with that first win. Tie the series at 2-2 and things will really get cooking.
Jennings relishes the chance to perform under pressure, insisting that he thrives under the most pressure-packed conditions. His first quarter work in Game 3, he was 3-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line and matched John Salmons' 11 points to help the Bucks take an early 16-point lead, is his proof.
"I love it," Jennings said. "I love it. And I think that's what gets us going. Now it can be a good thing and a bad thing. You don't want to get so hype that you are out there missing shots and doing anything crazy. So you just have to stay in the middle. But the pressure, I'd rather have that."
After three blowouts in the series, a little pressure might be exactly what both teams need. Sooner or later they have to play a close game, one with a little intrigue in the final minutes.
"We haven't had that toe-to-toe game yet," Hawks forward Josh Smith said. "We had our way with them at home and they returned the favor here, so nobody has really seen a real game yet. We knew they were better than they showed in those first two games and we know we are not the team that you saw in Game 3. We're better than that and they know it, too. But we always seem to struggle on the road."
Hawks coach Mike Woodson thought his team would have conquered those road woes by now. They've won just once in the playoffs away from Philips Arena the past three years.
"You would hope that you've grown a little bit from the last [few] years and the games won't be so lopsided," Woodson said. "But you've got to learn from it and try to improve the next time out. One thing we know, this [Bucks] team is not going to stop playing here at home."
While the Hawks are still trying to sort through those issues, the Bucks sense an opportunity to build a little momentum.
"If we win all the pressure goes back on them," said Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who like Jennings is getting his first taste of playoff action. "So we're going to need everything we've got and more to get it done. And we know it's going to be a fight and we're going to be ready for it."
Bucks coach Scott Skiles warned his team that they better be. He watched the same game film as his players but saw more than just his team playing to the delight of its raucous crowd and draining 10 of its 23 shots from beyond the 3-point line.
He saw a Hawks team that went away from the things that worked for them in Games 1 and 2. He saw one team feed off the crowd and the other get consumed by it, the same way his team did in Atlanta.
So while his players use that cosmic energy generated by the home crowd to get them going, Skiles will remain oblivious to the surroundings, even when it clearly favors his team.
He's more concerned with his team sticking to what it's done all season to get here.
"We just have to stay concerned about our defensive game and if they hit tough shots they hit tough shots," Skiles said. "We didn't get caught up in their switching or anything. We moved the ball and had a very unselfish game. That's our game and our guys are very comfortable playing that way."
The question remains can they play that way under pressure, when both teams are in a groove? Tonight's Game 4 should provide the answer, for both teams.
"We're up for it," Jennings said. "I know I can't wait."
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