Credit the Bucks for their gutsy 91-87 win that gained them a commanding 3-2 advantage as the series returns to Milwaukee. The Bucks fashioned their victory by making big plays at both ends of the court, never giving up, and getting terrific play from their bench players.
At the same time, discredit the Atlanta Hawks for their impatience, for their pathetic cheap-shot attempts to try and prove that they're really a bunch of tough guys, and for their dismal team-wide performance in the clutch.
Here are the specifics:
Brandon Jennings got the Bucks rolling by nailing four consecutive jumpers right out of the gate. After his initial hot streak, however, he only hit 2-of-11 springers. In fact, after Zaza Pachulia blasted him to the floor and incurred a flagrant foul 1:13 into the second quarter, the rookie virtually disappeared.
After making the two resulting freebies from the stripe, Jennings had 14 points in 13 minutes. And except for the four free throws he converted in the endgame, he scored only seven more in 28 minutes. Also, Jennings nearly ruined Milwaukee's chances to win the game by foolishly over-handling the ball.
But the young man did make those critical foul shots, and he did get the Bucks on the scoreboard early and often.
Carlos Delfino was MIA for most of the game, until he unexpectedly materialized to drop a crucial trey and grab an important rebound in the waning moments of the game.
Kurt Thomas didn't score a single point, but was the only big man who could control Al Horford.
Luke Ridnour came off the bench -- 5-7, 4 steals, 15 points -- to hit several big buckets and do what Jennings was unable to do, i.e., organize the offense.
My man Ersan Ilyasova was usually a step slow and a step wrong on defense, but he hustled his way to 3-of-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, one assist, one steal and 7 points in 22 minutes. Plus he made a pair of incredible shots, one incredible pass, and came up with an incredible offensive rebound.
Luc Mbah a Moute played rock-hard defense.
Dan Gadzuric distinguished himself by scoring a pair of charity layups, and by getting hit in the back of the head by a pass from John Salmons.
And the game ball goes to John Salmons, whose numbers weren't overwhelming -- 6-17 (including 2-3 from beyond the arc), 5 assists, 19 points. Still, Salmons was Milwaukee's go-to scorer down the stretch, and he also stifled Joe Johnson's tricky offensive slants when the game was on the line.
Even though they lacked a shot-blocker to close down the middle, even though they were slower, less athletic, and significantly less talented than Atlanta, the Bucks persevered on the basis of their hustle and their heart. In other words, they have all the characteristics of their coach, the redoubtable Scott Skiles.
Meanwhile, the Hawks were a disgrace.
They rarely moved the ball from side-to-side, and were more interested in blocking shots than in playing solid defense.
And exactly how did the Hawks try to manifest their spectacular advantage in talent? By running an endless series of isolations -- 42 to be exact, which accounted for nearly half of their 83 total shots. Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Iso-Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford all were allowed to dribble this way and that way until they could find what they believed to be an acceptable shot. All of these individualistic exhibitions produced 40 points.
Compare this situation with the Bucks, who ran 17 isos that generated only nine points.
Only Williams (8-10, 22 points) and Horford (11-21, 25 points) rose to the occasion. Otherwise, Mike Bibby was 1-5 and useless; JJ was 6-16 and was smothered by Salmons; Josh Smith was 3-8 with 3 blocks and was mostly AWOL, and Crawford had a John Starks-type performance, shooting a ludicrous 4-18.
The Hawks as a group also showed their true colors -- yellow-on-yellow -- by missing multiple shots in the clutch, with Crawford being the primary villain in this department.
For Atlanta to lose such an important game at home to a decidedly inferior team like the Bucks is nothing short of shameful. Moreover, Scott Skiles would absolutely destroy Mike Woodson in a game of one-on-one.