The NBA playoffs are about execution. The game slows down and becomes a chess match as execution takes a more prominent role in the outcome. Tonight’s Hawks victory over the Bucks had that playoff atmosphere and should give us some insight if these two teams were to meet in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bucks clearly have no answer for Joe Johnson. No one on their roster has shown the ability to even remotely slow him down. Johnson torched the Bucks for 31 points tonight on 12-19 shooting. Most of those came in the context of the Hawks offense. They weren’t forced and Joe was able to catch and shoot or take his defender off the dribble at will. I would be shocked if the Bucks continue to single cover Johnson if they do in fact match up in the playoffs. Teams run a bigger risk by committing a double team to Johnson with Jamal Crawford also on the court but the Bucks clearly can not slow Johnson down at all.
The truth is the Bucks have match up problems across the board with the Hawks. Those are magnified now that Andrew Bogut is out for the season with an elbow injury. The Hawks beat the Bucks up inside to the tune of a 52-20 advantage in the paint. They also outrebounded the Bucks 48 to 34. While the Hawks will hide their worst defender in Mike Bibby on Carlos Delfino the Bucks must in turn match up Delfino against a bigger Joe Johnson or in some combinations a Marvin Williams or Josh Smith. Delfino is not going to win those match ups in most situations.
I thought the Hawks defended well for about three and a half quarters tonight. That is not to say that the Bucks didn’t make some shots but most were contested and the law of averages ultimately won out with the bucks shooting only 38% for the night and only 34% from down town. There was only one small stretch in the fourth quarter where the Bucks were able to turn the match ups in their favor by attacking Al Horford off the dribble. The rotations were good enough even in these instances to make things tough for the offense.
Essentially as the game began the Hawks used some good sets to get some good shots. If the Bucks went under screens then the Hawks made them pay. It was only during the fourth quarter once again that execution broke down with a couple of quick Joe Johnson shots or some forced shots by Al Horford in the post. What will be important for the Hawks during the playoffs is to exploit the defense at every opportunity. If they are playing the Bucks then either Joe Johnson or Josh Smith will usually have a favorable match up. The Hawks will have to get that player the ball and force the Bucks to send a double team.
As a whole I was pretty pleased with the effort the Hawks showed in this road win. They went in to Milwaukee without Jamal Crawford and pretty much controlled the game from the outset. I also came away pretty impressed with the Bucks as a scrappy team. They embody their coach Scott Skiles well. Hats off to the Milwaukee fans as well as they were really a noisy group the entire night.
The Hawks now hold a one and a half game edge over Boston in the standings. The Celtics have Chicago and Milwaukee left while the Hawks have a home game against Cleveland. There still has been little decided due to Boston holding the tie breaker with the Hawks. Boston must win their last two games to have a shot at the three seed. Of course Atlanta controls its own destiny as a win over the Cavs ensures the third spot.
For a Milwaukee Perspective check out:
Neither are very optimistic about playing the Hawks in the first round without Andrew Bogut.