Atlanta Hawks drag Milwaukee Bucks off cliff for 45 minutes

Josh Smith

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Since the 2009-10 season ended, the Milwaukee Bucks roster has shape-shifted more than Mickey Rourke’s face. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Atlanta Hawks feature the same rotation that fought through a seven game first round series against the Andrew Bogut-less Bucks in last year’s playoffs.

By Jake McCormick

Remember those YouTube videos of eagles dropping goats and other mountain dwelling animals off cliffs just for the fun of it? That’s pretty much what the fully taloned Hawks did to the injured Bucks in their 95-80 win at the Bradley Center Monday night.

With Milwaukee up 9-8 at the 7:41 mark in the first quarter, Atlanta promptly rattled off a 15-4 run over a five minute span and sparked a game-long assault of Josh Smith ally-oops and team-wide mid-range jumpers at a 50.7% clip.

The Bucks managed to string together a13-6 run to start the second half and lower the deficit to eight points, but that was about as close as this game would get. Coach Scott Skiles was right to say that only a blind man couldn’t see that Atlanta was out-hustling, outworking, and outplaying the Bucks.

“We weren’t really aggressive on either end, we were very passive on the defensive end,” Skiles said. “They kind of threw the ball wherever they wanted to throw it, did whatever they wanted to do, all night really, and methodically went through all their options. They handled us all night, and it was worse than the score appeared.”

The average NBA team spends most of its time with the ball trying to avoid the low percentage shots from between 16 and 23 feet, but the Hawks are not the average NBA team. Atlanta ranks second in the league in shooting percentage from that range (44.8%) and take the third most shots in the league from between 16-23 feet.

The Hawks also rank last in the NBA in pace (92.1), which allows athletes like Smith, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford time to look for the most open look on the floor, regardless of location.

One bright spot of note for the Bucks was the play of point guard Keyon Dooling, who had a near double-double (15 points, 9 assists) and paired respectably with Earl Boykins for 28 points on a very Brandon Jennings-like 9-24 shooting.

However, there were far too many things that looked off Monday night to focus more than a sentence on their decent production with Jennings shelved until mid-January.

Pessimist: 47-33 Hawks rebounding advantage

Early in the season, the Bucks were ranked as high as fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, but those rankings can easily be misinterpreted. The most current example lies in the gap between Milwaukee (13th) and Atlanta (24th) in rebounding averages.

Just 1.7 rebounds per game stands between these a top 15 and a bottom six rebounding team, and on Monday night, the seemingly lesser of the two thoroughly dominated the supposed better board crashers 47 to 33.

When Jason Collins ties for the Hawks’ game high of 12 rebounds (four offensive), and Andrew Bogut is playing, it’s easy to fathom how far Milwaukee is destined to fall in the RPG rankings without another consistent post presence (Drew Gooden was out, for what it’s worth).

Optimist: John Salmons over the last five games – 18.1 pts, 42.6% fg, 10-15 3fg, 23-27 ft, 3.4 asts

While shooting 42.6% over the last five games may not be anything to brag about for a team’s best scoring wing player, it is definitely an improvement for John Salmons. Salmons led the Bucks with 18 points connecting on 6-12 shots, including 3-3 on three pointers.

John Salmons

AP Photo/Morry Gash

In Brandon Jennings’ absence, Salmons has indeed stepped up and “carried” the team at times (at least since the second half of the Portland game), and the return of his quick first step off the dribble could be a sign that the Salmons of 2010 is prepping for a reunion tour when Jennings returns.

But as serviceable as Salmons has been over the past week, he simply isn’t (and wasn’t) dominant enough to be the only player able to score within the flow of the Bucks’ offense (don’t everybody stare at Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts all at once).

Realist: Jason Collins outplayed Andrew Bogut

As has been stated again and again and again, the Milwaukee Bucks are dependent on Andrew Bogut establishing an all-around presence immediately and maintaining that throughout the game. While Bogut did have 10 first half points, his first second half basket didn’t come until the 9:20 mark of the fourth quarter.

Bogut obviously isn’t the biggest issue facing the Bucks’ offense as they trek through their toughest stretch of the season without key contributors, but a great game from someone like Jason Collins doesn’t inspire confidence in Bogut’s upcoming matchups against Carlos Boozer, Dwight Howard, and Tyson Chandler.

“This is how our season’s gone, we’ve been really ready and really competitive a couple games in a row, and then we’ll have a couple where we’re not,” Skiles said. “We’ve been riding that wave too much, regardless of who played and who’s injured. It was easy to see who wanted the game more, and that team won.”

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