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Hawks feature balanced attack in Game 1 win over Bucks

By Matt Winkeljohn, for
Posted Saturday April 17, 2010 9:32PM

ATLANTA ( exclusive) -- A strange thing happened after the Hawks mismatched the Bucks all over the floor Saturday while roaring to a 20-point lead in the first quarter, scoring 40 points in the game's first 13-plus minutes, and generally treating Milwaukee like a lottery team.

The Hawks had balance as their top six players all reached double figures in scoring by the end of the third quarter, but the battered Bucks adjusted their defense and made a game of it by using their only mismatch -- rookie guard Brandon Jennings -- to whittle Atlanta's 62-40 halftime lead down to seven.

Atlanta took a 1-0 lead in the first-round playoff series with a 102-92 win in spite of Jennings' 34 points as Hawks All-Star guard Joe Johnson scored 22. Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles, however, sounded as if he gleaned value from the game.

Issue: with Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut out for the postseason with a dislocated elbow, the Hawks have a big manpower edge in the post. No wonder that in the first half center Al Horford scored 13 of his 15 points, and Josh Smith 10 of his 12, and the Hawks 34 of their 46 total points in the paint. Lesson learned: over-play the paint.

In the second half, in which Milwaukee had a 52-40 edge, the Bucks helped down into post more defensively, and outscored Atlanta 28-12 in the paint.

"The second half, we can build on that . . . we looked more like ourselves. We competed better," Skiles said. "Early in the game, we just let Josh catch it where he wanted. We didn't react well; we just watched. We were shell-shocked. If you contrast the first half and the second, make some adjustments . . . "

Then perhaps there is hope for Milwaukee.

The Bucks won 16 of 19 from Feb. 10 to March 22, but Bogut's injury, suffered April 3, changed Milwaukee's complexion.

So, "We tried to punch the ball [inside]. In the first half, we kind of had our way," said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, whose team led 32-12 when Jamal Crawford made a free throw with 48 seconds left in the first quarter. "They started over-playing the post later. Playoff basketball is about mismatches, and you've got to find the best fit for your team."

The Bucks had only one mismatch, and that was Jennings. The rookie guard scored 13 points in the second quarter, and he and John Salmons scored 12 points each in the third quarter as Milwaukee outscored the Hawks 30-19.

"I think we were a little nervous [early]," Jennings said. "I just feel like without Andrew Bogut, I had to go back to the way I was early in the season being more aggressive. That's the only way we have a chance to win. Me, [Salmons] and a couple other guys are going to have to try to take the scoring load."

Soon, Woodson told his players in a huddle that they could not keeping playing "crazy basketball," which was one way of saying stop letting Jennings dribble-drive with immunity.

Johnson stole the ball from him on consecutive possessions near the end of the third quarter, and the Hawks pushed the lead back up to 14 points on Johnson's running shot with 10:13 left in the game.

Jennings scored just two points in the fourth quarter, yet the Bucks closed to within 87-80 on Ersan Ilyasova's 3-pointer with 7:56 left. Milwaukee never drew closer, learning that six is better than three, at least when it comes to double-digit scorers.

Atlanta's Johnson had help from Mike Bibby (19 points on 8-for-9 shooting), Crawford (17), Horford, Smith and Marvin Williams (12 points).

Crawford hit a 3-pointer on the possession after Ilysova's bomb, enjoying every bit of the first playoff game of his 10-year career. He'd played in 676 regular-season games first. "It got goosebumps as soon as we were on the court," he said. "We had a great first half. The second half, we slacked off a bit."

Beyond Jennings' 34, Salmons' 16 and Ilyasova's 11, no Buck scored as many as 10. "We generally need, when we're short-handed, three or four, sometimes even five guys in double figures," Skiles said.

Finding more offense in Game 2 on Tuesday won't be the Bucks' only issue.

The trickle-down effect of Bogut's absence is substantial, and the Milwaukee defender best equipped to slow Atlanta forward Josh Smith, 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward Luc Mbah a Moute, also happens to be Skiles' top choice to defend guard Joe Johnson.

Mbah a Moute can't be two places at once.

"We have some mismatches we know we have to deal with," Skiles said. "Joe Johnson is every bit of 6-8. If you put a guard on him, he'll go over him; if you put a forward on him, he'll go by him."

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