(Source: Christy Willis)
For two quarters the Hawks showed us what is possible. A team attacking the opposing team’s weakness. Ample offensive ball movement and a completely relentless effort on defense. Relentless as in contesting everything. Every pass, every shot, and heavy on ball pressure. It was almost textbook and it was clearly the best I have seen out of this team the entire season. The performance was exactly what was needed as it set the tone for the entire game and potentially the entire series.
The Hawks began defensively matched up about like I predicted. Joe Johnson on Brandon Jennings, Marvin Williams on John Salmons, and Mike Bibby on Carlos Delfino. While Jennings was able to get off early, the Hawks were able to control Salmons who really didn’t get it going until late in the game. Interestingly the Hawks didn’t switch every screen in the first half and the result was constantly having a hand in the passing lane and led to several turnovers and fast break opportunities.
Milwaukee has had no luck against Joe Johnson all season yet it wasn’t Johnson that was killing the Bucks early. For at least the first half it appeared the Hawks had a plan and they executed it. Josh Smith repeatedly posted the much smaller Carlos Delfino. When Milwaukee went small with Luke Ridnour and tried putting him on Marvin Williams or Mo Evans the Hawks immediately went to post him up. Effectively giving him the “Bibby” treatment that every Hawks opponent tries to use.
In the preview I wondered if the Bucks would send the double team at Joe Johnson. They really didn’t have an opportunity as the Hawks proceeded to beat the Bucks up inside with Smith and Horford. Horford repeatedly stepped out away from the basket and knocked down jump shots early. Marvin Williams either crashed the offensive glass for key put backs or knocked down the perimeter jumper after the ball swung to him. The Bucks simply had no answer. They don’t effectively have the size to compete with the Hawks inside and the Hawks punished them when they went small.
When the Bucks went really small with a Jennings and Ridnour backcourt, Hawks coach Mike Woodson responded by inserting Hawks rookie Jeff Teague. It is one of the few times we have seen a Mike Bibby and Jeff Teague backcourt this season. Inserting Teague into the lineup against Jennings is advantageous to the Hawks because Teague has the foot speed to stay in front of him. Granted Jennings hit some shots in this game but a lot of them were tough and some forced. I am not sure he can sustain that for the whole series.
With the Hawks up 22 points at the end of the first half predictably the Bucks made a run. There were a few things different about this run though. After half time the Hawks went back to switching every screen. Seemingly wanting to keep the Bucks in front of them and force them to shoot over a defender. Some of that intensity from the first half disappeared and the Bucks shot the ball a lot better. Jennings stayed hot scoring 34 points but the Hawks seemingly could clamp down whenever they chose to.
The Hawks did defer from the game plan offensively in the second half somewhat but some of that had to do with the Bucks. Scott Skiles’ team tried to take away the entry passes into the post and Josh Smith and Al Horford got pushed out further away from the basket in the second half. As this series progresses the Hawks will have to get more creative when designing plays to get the ball in the post. Particularly if the Bucks are going to try and front Horford. Simply backing the man down might not be effective. With the offense sputtering the Hawks turned to Joe Johnson. Joe was able to get a lot of his points when matched up against the Bucks best defender Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. For the night Johnson finished with 22 points to lead six Hawks in double figures.
To sum it all up the Hawks won the game by ten points. Should they have won by more? Perhaps they should have. The fact remains though that this is the NBA playoffs and the Bucks even without Andrew Bogut are a more than capable team. The slack off in intensity during the second half is both predicted and concerning. It is fine to have a lapse happen when you have a twenty plus point lead but it is those same kind of lapses that have cost the Hawks games against Cleveland twice this season.
Also worth mentioning was the play of Mike Bibby. This was vintage Mike Bibby scoring 19 points on a ridiculous 8-9 shooting. While the Hawks can’t expect Bibby to shoot the ball at that high a percentage, if he can continue to knock down shots it makes defending the Hawks that much more difficult. Bibby was active tonight driving and initiating the offense.
Game two is on Tuesday night and it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments the Bucks try to make. I think their really only option is to send a quicker double team at Smith or Horford in the post whenever they are faced with a mis match. Of course doing so opens up the outside to shooters Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford. If they commit a double team to the post it will be that much harder to contain Joe Johnson.
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