This wasn’t right. It couldn’t last. The Bucks stunning come-from-behind 91-87 victory in Atlanta will be called unlikely, unbelievable, improbable. But the Bucks should not have been trailing in this game, and certainly not down 13 (67-54) with just under 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, Brandon Jennings having just turned it over to Jamal Crawford for the second time in less than two minutes.
The Bucks had missed layups and wide open jumpers for most of the game, and the Hawks were getting up to block shots in the paint. For about a 13:30 stretch in the first half, the Bucks couldn’t buy a hoop (3-20 shooting) and turned it over 5 times.
“We didn’t play all that well. It was ugly.” — John Salmons
Meanwhile, Hawks center Al Horford hit a prayer of a fallaway as time expired at the half and Hawks forward Marvin Williams had emerged from his usual invisibility and was on his way to career playoff high of 22 points on 8-10 shooting. Was it more improbable that the Bucks were only down 46-43 at halftime or that the Bucks hadn’t buried the Hawks 60-44?
All the while, Brandon Jennings cruised through the Hawks defense wherever and whenever he pleased, showered in boos from the Atlanta crowd every time he dribbled through the lane. Were they booing Jennings or the Hawks porous defense? I’ll go with the latter. The more determined, tough and tenacious team won a thrilling Game 5 in Atlanta. But the winners in Atlanta also had more wide open lanes to the basket and easy open looks. The rebounding battle was even.
My notebook was filled by the time Jennings dribbled out the final seconds. box score.
NOW FOR SOME HEROES (there are many)
Ersan Ilyasova: TNT had Kevin McHale in the broadcast chair, and I’m glad they did. McHale touted Ilyasova all game, probably thinking Ersan’s uncanny ability to steal hustle plays would have had him fitting right in with Bird and McHale and Parrish on the 1980’s Celtics championship teams. To Bucks fans who remember the heartbreaking losses to the Sixers in the early 1980’s, the 6’9″ Ersan invokes another player McHale hasn’t forgotten, Sixers forward Bobby Jones, the man who caused more grief than any opposing player in Bucks history. ???
Ilyasova was Bobby Jones incarnate Wednesday night, entering the game with 4:09 to play and the Bucks down nine, 82-73. He took over the game with three come-from-nowhere hustle plays on consecutive Bucks possessions that left the Hawks demoralized, beaten and booed by the Atlanta faithful.
… First he chased down a bricked Jennings free throw in the corner and pitched it to John Salmons, who drew a foul and sank two free throws, his 6th and 7th points in a minute-30. The Bucks were within one, 82-81. … After Joe Johnson barrelled into Kurt Thomas to foul out, Ilyasova flubbed a pass in the lane but stretched out of bounds to save it to Thomas, who then dumped the ball back into Ilyasova, who had managed to post up — and Ilyasova hit a turnaround jumper to give the Bucks the lead for good, 83-82.
Josh Smith missed a three-pointer for the Hawks (yes, he took that shot) and Jennings took it down and airballed a driving runner in the lane. But Ilyasova snuck in and snatched it from Horford and Williams, fumbled it, almost fell out of bounds and slung it Carlos Delfino in the corner. Three-pointer, assist Ilyasova, 86-82 Bucks lead with 1:16 to go. … Not even Bobby Jones ever did that to the Bucks three possessions in a row.
John Salmons: He missed a few good looks early and was having an ugly game until the final four minutes, but he and Johnson were busy. The shooting guards, the leading scorers, waged a defensive battle that didn’t end until Johnson (13 pts, 6/16 shooting) fouled out with 2:15 to play. When Johnson left, Salmons picked up Crawford and, though he had played 43 minutes at that point, seemed suddenly energized and more hyper-intense defensively than I’ve ever seen him. John Salmons in battle fury? Crawford had no room to breath and missed a jumper, got it back on a Horford rebound and had his shot blocked by Salmons. After a scrum and jump ball, Crawford got it back again and missed badly — with Salmons in his face. Salmons then drew a foul from Horford and sank another free throw, his 19th point and 8th point of the final four minutes. 87-82 Bucks.
Kurt Thomas: He didn’t score in the game and only played 21 mins (6 rebs, 3 assists) but the charge he took on Johnson with 2:15 to play was sandwiched between two of Ilyasova’s hustling back-breakers. In sequence the plays utterly demoralized the Hawks, and Thomas’ D forced their All-Star out of the game. To make it all the more poignent, Crawford buried a three-pointer as Johnson was whistled for the charge. Ouch.
Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour: Ridnour came into the game at the 1:48 mark in the 3rd quarter and hit two big jumpers to keep the Bucks within striking distance. He was then fouled hard by Joe Johnson — no flagrant called — and sank two free throws. A minute later he hit a three-pointer to pull the Bucks within 4, 77-73. Those were big shots (9 pts) that prevented the Hawks from pulling away in the late-3rd to mid-4th quarter. 15 pts in 17 mins, plus 4 steals is an assassin game off the bench. ….
Jennings was simply irrepressible and doggedly determined to rip through the Hawks defense. He started the game hot with 14 in the 1st quarter, cooled off but never stopped attacking. The Hawks have no answer and allowed him to dribble in and out and around their defense all game long, sometimes not even giving chase. Jennings has been on a mission since he found his focus in Game 3.
SOME GOATS (quite a few of these, too)
Josh Smith: 7 pts, 9 rebs, 4 assists and 3 blks for the Hawks big man. Maybe he is all of 6’8″. Two of his buckets were “Highlight Factory” plays but in the half court all he could manage was a 20-footer from the top of the key. Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute had forced him out to the perimeter again. With the Hawks trailing by 1 after Ilyasova’s jumper, with shooters Mike Bibby and Crawford on the court, Smith launched a 3-pointer. Josh Smith hasn’t hit from 3-point land all season long. Have the Hawks simply given up on Coach Mike Woodson? Smith played well enough at times, and played some good defense throughout, but he’s just not there every second. With Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute in his grill every second he’s on the court, Smith has backed down from the challenge. If you look like you just don’t care and act like you just don’t care — you don’t care, Josh.
Mike Bibby: Shot only 5 times all game and missed two free throws late in the 3rd when the Hawks were up 13 with a chance to break away. Only two dimes for the game, most of which was spent guarding forwards Carlos Delfino and even Ilyasova because the Hawks continue to switch their bigs onto Jennings.
Joe Johnson: He’s going to light up the Bradley Center Friday, or go down trying. Johnson will try to put the Hawks on his back in Game 6 and get them back home for Game 7. Like the genuine All-Pro that he’s been, Johnson never seems to be idle on the court. Salmons held him to 13 pts on 6-16 shooting but Joe also had 6 assists and 6 rebs, and played tough D all night on Salmons. On the goat side of things …. Johnson tied Crawford with a game high 4 turnovers and his team lost its head when he fouled out (Smith shooting a 3) which says something about how limited the Hawks clear-out based half-court offense is. And Johnson got away with a flagrant foul on Luke Ridnour midway through the 4th quarter, tossing the driving Luke to the floor with a two handed shove. That’s the second flagrant Johnson has gotten away with in the series. The first was in Game 1 when he pulled Luc Mbah a Moute to the floor in frustration after Luc’s breakaway steal late in the 4th. The refs wouldn’t be protecting the Hawks All-Star would they? That seems a little out of place in this series.
Jamal Crawford: No, it’s not really Crawford’s fault that he spent the last few years in New York and Golden State, where defense is a dirty word. He howed some heart and willingness to battle with the Bucks (much moreso than Bibby) but shot 4-18. No, it’s not really Crawford’s fault that he’s always been a streaky shooter. He did, however, steal it from Jennings twice in the 3rd quarter as the Hawks built their 13 point lead. That was probably the first time he and the rest of the Hawks thought the game was in the bag.
Al Horford: How can a guy with a career playoff high of 25 pts and 11 rebs be a goat? Horford led the Hawks in garbage — buckets that dropped in despite horrendous shot selection. There was the fallaway jumper to end the half and then his first 3-pointer of the season, which he banked in from the top of the key. That sort of highlight junk (which the Hawks seem to get a lot of) distorted the perception of the game, which was controlled by the Bucks point guards throughout. The Hawks were never really playing well in this one, despite the score.
It should also be noted that the 20+ points and 11 rebounds, minus the garbage, was still more in Game 5 than Horford scored/rebounded in Games 3 and 4 (18 pts, 11 rebs total). … This was how Horford’s season went. One good game (big games against the Knicks and the Pacers) mixed in with a couple of bad ones. The good games resulted in All-Star reserve votes, and he only needed four of those to make it on a scattered vote for the last spot.
Zaza Pachulia: 7 minutes in the 1st half, an and-one and a flagrant foul on Jennings. Kurt Thomas looked ready to kill him and Zaza seemed genuinely worried.
Coach Mike Woodson: Will winning the series save his job? Does he even want to work for the Hawks at this point? Does it get any worse than Josh Smith and Al Horford shooting threes at crunchtime? Is there any chance the Hawks will suddenly listen to Woodson in Milwaukee, Game 6?