Never say never with these Milwaukee Bucks

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Brandon Jennings

By Jake McCormick

The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t supposed to finish above .500 because they were in rebuilding mode. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs because they weren’t talented enough. Once they did, the Bucks surely weren’t going to win two playoff games without one of their top two players. But like every other instance where Milwaukee has been told they couldn’t do something this season, the Bucks fed their critics some hefty portions of crow and are now in a position to do more than just make the Hawks sweat in the first round after beating Atlanta 111-104 to even the series at 2-2.

“I feel like all year we’ve been proving everybody wrong all season,” Brandon Jennings, who led the team with 23 points and tallied a career high six assists and only one turnover. “We’re fighting, everybody is playing together, the chemistry is going well and we just have to keep doing what we know we’re capable of doing.”

The Bucks’ Game 3 and Game 4 performances were akin to Al Pacino in The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II; the first one was great, but the second was much more refined, confident, edgy, and simply better. Game 3 was the first win and it was a nearly perfect one, but Game 4 served as proof that Milwaukee could challenge and live up to heightened expectations resulting from their previous success, sans Andrew Bogut.

Every regular player in a Bucks uniform participated in a positive way. Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric held their own down low once again and forced Al Horford and Josh Smith (Milwaukee Enemy No. 1, considering he was booed mercilessly anytime he came within five feet of the ball) to settle for jump shots and fade aways.

“We’re just trying to make those guys work so we can get back into this series,” said Thomas, who had nine points and nine rebounds. “It was just a good overall team effort to try and show them a lot of different looks.”

Danny Gadz also contributed two blocks and third quarter buzzer beater (seven points, five rebounds for the game), while Thomas had some fun taking charges like a clearance sale at a department store. The Bucks’ inside game is far from what it was with Bogut roaming the paint, but it has been entertaining and encouraging to see Gadzuric and Thomas continue to defy expectations by increasing their all around efficiency. It’s times like these where you really appreciate that often overlooked veteran savvy from role players.

John Salmons turned in his usual night casually gathering 22 points without much fanfare and hitting all of his attempts from the charity stripe (10-10). Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added a few cut baskets on feeds from Brandon Jennings, and Ersan Ilyasova used his underrated athleticism to take the ball inside and help keep the Hawks’ defense honest.

MVP: Carlos Delfino
If the Bucks were going to even the series in Game 4, Delfino needed to break out of his recent shooting woes and carry some of the team’s scoring load. He did more than that, going 3-4 from three point land and adding a highlight reel throwdown over Zaza Pachulia and Josh Smith.

Throughout this series, the team that has come out the strongest in the first quarter and half has won each game. Delfino’s 13 first quarter points, and subsequent second half clutch shooting as the Hawks whittled away at the lead, brought the mild-mannered Venezuelan sharpshooter out of his playoff funk.

Best supporting role: Brandon Jennings
Jennings had his floater going all night, including a couple that came after dribbling around for up to 10 seconds before launching a quick shot from the blocks. He played the part of facilitator when needed, but spent the majority of his time on the floor attacking the basket and blowing by every defender that faced him.

The higher the pressure, the better the performance from Jennings, who truly must see Mr. Freeze on a regular basis to ensure the ice water in his veins is fresh for every game. It makes me giddy to think that two of Milwaukee’s brightest young stars, Ryan Braun and Jennings, relish coming through in crucial situations.

“I’m just having fun playing basketball,” Jennings said, when asked if he feels any pressure from being on a big stage. “They say your name is made in the regular season but your fame is made in the playoffs.”

LVP: No one, unless you count Charlie Bell’s only shot of the night, which was a half court shot as time expired in the second quarter

Like The Godfather, Part II, it would be very nit-picky to call out a weak performance from this Milwaukee team after they held a lead through the last three quarters of the game. The team was beaten on the offensive boards early, but the majority of those miscues came on contested shots that left the Bucks’ rebounders out of position.

The team’s perimeter defense was a little weak too, and Atlanta drained 10-19 three pointers as punishment. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford put up high scoring numbers for the night, but it was a small sacrifice to make for the series’ momentum.

Atlanta Hawk Josh SmithKey stat: Points in the paint
When it comes to winning the battle in the trenches, the proof is in the paint. The Bucks nearly doubled the Hawks’ point totals around the basket (44-26). Again, all the credit in the world should be given to Thomas, Gadzuric, Ilyasova, and Mbah a Moute, who all refused to bite on the numerous pump fakes, drop steps, and up-and-under moves from Smith, Pachulia, Horford, and Johnson.

What’s next?
With the series now tied at 2-2, the Bucks will travel to Atlanta Wednesday before heading back to Milwaukee for Game 6. The clichéd (yet 100% true) saying, “the playoffs don’t start until team gets beat at home” is officially in full effect, whether you like it or not.

Milwaukee will return to Atlanta with inspired confidence, heightened chemistry, and all the momentum that comes with winning two straight playoff games by executing nearly flawless basketball. The ball and all the pressure of the series are in the Hawks’ court.

“I’m very happy for my guys to get this experience in a Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 on the road,” coach Scott Skiles said. “It doesn’t get much tougher than that, so we’ll go down there and hopefully we’ll get a win.”

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  1. paulmbanks says

    I gotta come up there for a game next round- if they advance

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