We now have a series. What momentum was built during games one and two is long gone and the Hawks are searching for answers. No mistake about it, the Bucks have made adjustments. Those adjustments have been huge and now have the Bucks looking like the three seed poised to close this series out. I admit it, I looked at the game three blow out as an aberration. A result of an over confident team going on the road and not giving good effort. Lost in that was the credit that was due to the Bucks and Scott Skiles.
One of the biggest differences in comparing games one and two too games three and four is the contributions of Carlos Delfino and Kurt Thomas. Delfino has started to make three point shots scoring 22 in game four. Thomas has become the best interior defender in this series and has bullied the Hawks on the floor getting under their skins with hard screens. I admit that I never thought a simple match up adjustment like moving Luc Richard Mbah a Moute onto Josh Smith would make that big of a difference. It was a big shift in philosophy really. They went from trying to slow down Joe Johnson to now shutting down everyone else around Johnson.
Game four can be essentially summed up in the numbers. The Bucks shot an astounding 55% from the field largely due to 44 of their 111 points in the paint. The Hawks on the other hand shot 47% which is a pretty respectable number considering that only 26 of them came in the paint. The Bucks are getting inside at will and either scoring or getting to the free throw line. The Hawks are dribbling the air out of the basketball and then settling for jump shots. That basically sums it up for you offensively. One team is getting layups and the other is shooting outside jump shots.I understand that things got tougher for Josh Smith with Mbah a Moute on him but I don’t understand why they have went away from Al Horford. Horford sat out a lot due to foul trouble last night but was heavily effective in games one and two in the pick and pop situation. Horford can’t overpower Thomas on the block but was effective pulling him away from the basket with his 15ft jump shot. It is something that the Hawks have to go back to in game five.
Defensively there are more questions than answers for the Hawks. The switching defense that worked so well in games one and two has been blown up in games three and four. Brandon Jennings has been a very hard cover but the Hawks look confused on defense and the Bucks are taking advantage either getting layups or kicking to the corners for wide open three point shots. Michael Cunningham has some quotes from Joe Johnson regarding the Hawks defensive scheme:
"– More than a little bit. “It’s been tough because we switch a lot and they just get pretty much any penetration they wanted,” J.J. said. “They got us helter skelter, to where we are scrambling trying to find guys, and now we are at a disadvantage.”– Is it time for the Hawks to adjust their defensive approach of switching all the time? “I don’t know,” Joe said. “I am sure we will come up with something. We have just got to get back playing with energy. They are getting layup after layup, you can’t have that in playoff basketball.”"
While Joe is absolutely right the fact that he is saying it out loud to me is troubling but more on that later. The playoffs are about match ups and adjustments. Adjustments in game and from game to game. The Bucks made adjustments clearly after games one and two and they have worked. Now it is on the Hawks and coach Mike Woodson to make the necessary adjustments to get it done. Simply coming home to play isn’t an adjustment. It is foolish for this team to dismiss the results in Milwaukee and attribute them to simply being on the road.
Mark Bradley questions in today’s AJC about what happens if the Hawks were to lose this series. It really is a chilling thought and one that was very improbable after games one and two. So much has changed since then though. Now the Hawks are back on their heels and they better be the desperate team come game five. Which brings me back to Joe Johnson’s comments, deep in Bradley’s article he writes:
"Afterward one Hawk was heard to wonder why Mo Evans, not known as a scorer, wound up shooting (and missing) on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions with the Bucks’ lead down to six points. There’s no answer except to say: That’s what the Hawks do. When in doubt, they don’t look for the open man; they look to shoot. And that’s always the harder way."
I am sure thoughts like this happen all throughout the season and Bradley names no source so take it for what it is worth. However, its troublesome that you star player in Johnson is questioning whether adjustments need to be made when no doubt there has to be some and another unnamed player is questioning offensive decisions down the stretch. While I could be making too much of this, my fear is we are seeing this team splinter right before our eyes. The Bucks lost games one and two and came together in games three and four. The Hawks have to come together for the remainder of this series if they want to advance.
I am not ready to answer Bradley’s question quite yet, but it is on the horizon.