Posted Apr 27 2010 8:03AM
MILWAUKEE -- That whole overmatched and undermanned theory about the Milwaukee Bucks is in need of some serious revision.
No, Andrew Bogut won't be coming through the door anytime soon to rescue the Bucks.
The way things are looking right now, they don't need rescuing. Not with the way they are playing in what has turned into a thrilling Eastern Conference first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Who needs rescuing when Brandon Jennings is dribbling circles around hapless Hawks defenders, all of them bigger than he, that lack the foot speed to keep up with the mercurial rookie point guard? Who needs saving when John Salmons continues his dribble-drive assault on the Hawks' defense from all angles? They combined for 45 points, seven more than they've averaged in the series.
And nobody needs rescuing with Carlos Delfino -- that's right Carlos Delfino -- draining shot after shot from beyond the 3-point line as the Hawks scramble to figure out who it is that's supposed to be keeping up with the Bucks' 6-foot-6 small forward, the same one the Hawks used as a punching bag in the first two games of this series.
After shooting just 28 percent from the floor in the first three games of the series, Delfino finally found his groove. He drained six of his eight shots from deep, making the Hawks pay for not rotating and leaving him open on the wings. He sank four from the left corner, one from the right and one from up top. He finished with 22 huge points, outscoring his Hawks' counterpart Marvin Williams by 18. Delfino had 16 points by halftime, and his wicked down-the-lane dunk over Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia late in the first quarter set the tone for the Bucks' entire night.
"We're beyond happy for Carlos because he's had trouble finding the bottom of the basket a little bit," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "But he was loose tonight. We found him. He was able to knock them down and get us off to a good offensive start. Brandon was good again. He's in his first playoff series and he's not turning the ball over and he's made some big plays. There's a lot going on out there that he's still feeling his way through a little bit, but all in all he's played very well."
The momentum in this series, if you believe in such a thing after both teams win their home games in convincing fashion, is now on the side of the folks that chanted "Fear the Deer" throughout Game 4, a 111-104 nail-biter that delighted a second straight raucous sellout Bradley Center crowd. The Bucks outplayed their bigger and supposedly better opponent for the final 39 minutes of the game, but had to withstand the Hawks' late rally to do so.
Things shift back to Atlanta for Wednesday's Game 5, where the Hawks have won 14 straight home games and then right back here for Friday night's Game 6, when someone will have a chance to finish this thing off.
"I feel like we had confidence the whole series even though we were down two games to none," Jennings said. "Now we have to go to Atlanta and try to steal one from them, then try to finish business on Friday. We're not a good playoff team until we win one on the road."
After a lackluster effort in a Game 3 loss Hawks center Al Horford admitted that his team was "exposed" by the Bucks. His words weren't needed this time. The Bucks followed up a 51 percent shooting effort in Game 3 with an even better 55 percent in Game 4. The Hawks' refusal to tweak their routine finally caught up with them. They never did adjust on defense. The Bucks turned the Hawks' dedication to switching on every screen against them, using great ball movement on offense to pave the way for mismatches all over the floor. Milwaukee exploited those mismatches repeatedly to set up one-on-one battles they won more often than they lost.
"They were very effective and they were just looking to attack," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "The bottom line is we have to make some decisions about whether or not we want to make some changes. Because we can't keep putting our bigs in that position. Our perimeter guys are going to have take on more of that defensive challenge, because our bigs are being exploited."
No Bogut inside meant the Bucks couldn't play through their rugged 7-footer, who remains out for this postseason with a dislocated elbow, broken hand and sprained wrist. But that didn't stop the Bucks from owning the paint. They pounded the Hawks inside with 44 points in the lane, including a 16-2 edge in a critical third quarter that decided this game.
Veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric toted the load normally reserved for Bogut, combining for 16 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and more hustle plays, taken charges and hard picks than should be allowed.
"I love playing and getting the opportunities and I'm trying to make the most of it," said Gadzuric. "My teammates are very embracing and everybody is pushing each other and supporting each other and that's the best feeling. We have a great team so we just have to keep going."
That's the main difference between the Bucks and the Hawks. The Bucks spread the wealth. Every player that hits the floor has a purpose. They know to be ready and they will get their chance.
"That's pretty much our formula," Skiles said. "We need everybody to play as well that we can get. We've been getting good minutes out of Danny, [Jerry] Stackhouse, of course [Ersan] Ilyasova has been good, [Luke] Ridnour, our bench in general has been very good. We're not afraid at all to leave them out there during critical minutes."
That's where the overmatched and undermanned Bucks have turned this series around. They've owned the critical minutes the last two games.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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