For the second time in three days the Hawks frontline starring Josh Smith, Al Horford and backup center Zaza Pachulia were outplayed by the 69-year-old, two headed center filling in for Andrew Bogut and a pair of tenacious, defensive-minded young forwards named Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova.
But Brandon Jennings was so brilliant at point in orchestrating the Bucks’ 111-104 victory Monday in Game 4 that the paint battle won by the Bucks big men will probably escape notice. And Jennings was genius, in attack mode most of the game, knifing through the Hawks switching, slow-footed perimeter defense as the Bucks ran a layup drill on their way to a 2-2 split in the best-of-seven series.
Jennings led the Bucks with 23 points and 6 assists. John Salmons was the model of midrange efficiency with 22 pts on 9 shots (10/10 from the line). Carlos Delfino finally arrived in the series, breaking out of a 28% shooting funk to hit 6/8 from three-point-land and score 22.
The Bucks shot 55% for the game — a cornucupia of layups and wide open shots, thank you Hawks D. The Bucks rarely settled for jump shots and sank 28/32 free throws.
Yes, the Bucks shot 32 free throws. That’s news.
The boxscore shows that the Bucks won a game at home and split in the series. But they also came away with some important realizations: 1) They can withstand a good shooting night from the Hawks and win; and, 2) They controlled the paint once again since the switch of Luc Mbah a Moute onto Josh Smith in Game 3. The Bucks weren’t supposed to be able to accomplish #2 with Andrew Bogut on the sidelines in an arm cast.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson. “It’s like we don’t have toughness. They’re getting to all the loose balls, all the rebounds.”
Delfino isn’t going to shoot 6/8 from downtown most games, true enough. But Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby aren’t likely to combine for 36 pts on 67% true shooting, either. Crawford found “normal” after three lost games and scored 21 pts on 12 shots. Mike Bibby was 5-7 from 3-point-land for 15 points on 11 shots. Overall the Hawks shot 48% and made 10 of 19 from 3-point land. The Hawks shot well enough to win.
Joe Johnson was superb again, shooting 11/22, scoring 29 and dishing out 9 assists.
In the battle under the hoop, however, the Hawks talented stars, Smith and Horford, were losing again. Throughout the game, the Bucks stayed bigger than the Hawks, matching Horford and Pachulia with Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric, and Smith with Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova. Contrary to what has been written and said repeatedly about this series, the Bucks have the size advantage and whatever edge Smith had in athleticism has been mitigated by Mbah a Moute, who’s slightly taller, just as athletic and probably quicker.
The Bucks locked the Hawks big men down, rebounded more (Bucks held a 41-38 edge including team rebounds), scored more and fouled less. The tale of the tape shows that the Hawks big men came out on top only by turning the ball over less.
Smith, Horford, Pachulia: 90 mins, 30 pts, 19 boards, 2 blocks, 5 turnovers and 13 fouls. And Smith had two steals.
Thomas, Gadzuric, Mbah a Moute & Ilyasova: 95 mins, 37 pts, 24 rebs, 2 blocks, 8 turnovers and 9 fouls. Gadzuric had a steal.
Smith was strong with 20 pts and 9 boards but this is no longer a mismatch. Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova (21 pts, 10 rebs combined) are matching Smith at every pivot and box-out, and he retreated to the perimeter to do his late game scoring — including a jumpshot banked in from above the free throw line.
Horford (8 pts, 8 rebs) is simply being outplayed by Thomas and Gadzuric, who count height, weight and about 22 years of NBA experience on him.
Gadzuric has found new life in the playoffs after almost an entire season on the end of the bench and on the inactive list, all but forgotten save for the final 14 months of the $36 million contract he signed in 2005. Monday night, Gadz was everywhere in 16 mins, with 7 pts, 5 boards, a steal and a rejection into the seats that brought the Bradley Center crowd to its feet. In your face Joe Johnson:
In 51 minutes played in games 2, 3 and 4, Gadz has hauled in 21 boards and blocked 3 shots.