Josh Smith came one assist shy of a triple double as the Hawks routed the Milwaukee Bucks 96-86 to take a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series. For the night Smith finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. He also had several highlight finishes at the rim showcasing his athletic skill.
As good as Smith was Al Horford was the story early. Horford scored 15 points in the first half to help stake the Hawks with a 52-46 halftime lead. Horford did his damage in a variety of ways which included a face up perimeter jumper, some tough post moves inside, and getting out on the break and finishing in transition. For the night Horford finished with a double double 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Only a near triple double could upstage Joe Johnson on this night. With the Bucks threatening to make a game of it in the fourth, Johnson scored seven straight points to finally put the Bucks away. Johnson finished with 27 points and 6 assists. The Bucks still were reluctant to double team Johnson and he burned them yet again. Defensively Johnson was just as effective as he locked down Brandon Jennings who only scored 9 points on 3-15 shooting.
As nice as those offensive numbers are the key to this Hawks victory was in their defense. I don’t think I have ever seen the Hawks force a team into as many tough shots as the Bucks last night. The switching defense was working well last night as simply the Bucks could not find room to operate and were forced into long jump shots at the shot clock buzzer with a hand in their face. Some nights those shots go in sometimes they don’t. Last night’s game was the latter for the Bucks. Also the Hawks blocked 8 shots as a team so they were contesting everything.
The only reason this game was remotely close was due to the Bucks offensive rebounding numbers and the Hawks non existent bench play. For the night the Hawks were outrebounded 47-40. Eighteen of those 47 rebounds were offensive which is exactly where the Bucks scored a lot of their points. One of the problems with the switching defense is it sometimes takes your big men out away from the basket and leaves you with smaller players trying to block out a bigger man inside. The Bucks took advantage of this several times especially early as Erson Ilyasova had a double double before half time.
Also the Hawks bench failed to generate any kind of offense or defensive stability. The Bucks bench outscored the Hawks 40-7 on the night which is an astounding stat if you have followed this Hawks team all season. The Hawks were able to overcome the rebounding and bench problems by getting out on the break to a tune of 22 fast break points. We saw the Hawks push the ball a lot more tonight with Josh Smith throwing some excellent outlet passes and Joe Johnson pushing and attacking instead of settling for a half court game.
Also worth mentioning is the impact that Mike Bibby has had in the first two games. For many times this season he was the forgotten man but his presence has indeed been felt thus far in the playoffs. Bibby didn’t shoot the ball well in game two (2-8) but he did score 10 points and made all of his free throw attempts (6-6). He also had 7 assists and really has turned it up defensively as the Bucks haven’t been able to get away with attacking him. For the night he was a whopping +19 in +/- stats and was clearly a better option on this night than Jamal Crawford.
There really isn’t a lot more that could be said about games one and two. The Hawks pretty much were the dominant team throughout. While fortunes can change on the road, it is going to be interesting to see if Scott Skiles adjusts anything defensively. He dusted off bigs Dan Gadzuric and Primoz Brezec in game two for stretches to try and throw more size at Horford and Smith. It is going to be hard for the Bucks to stop either Joe Johnson or Horford and Smith. It is up to the Hawks to recognize what the defense is trying to do and exploit it. Game two is not until Saturday so Skiles will have plenty of time to devise a strategy.
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