The Hawks have offered very little in the way of aberrations when it comes to what we've seen in this now-seven game series against the Milwaukee Bucks---so few in fact that I am kicking myself for not foreseeing a seven game series before this even began.
Things looked grim for the good guys entering Game Six in Milwaukee---what with the team completely caving into their worst habits displayed throughout the season, including the requisite fourth quarter home breakdown in Game Five and now facing elimination.
But even from the tip, you saw the Hawks had brought the A-game energy wise, even if the offensive results didn't follow.
Passes were being challenged, feet were moving. The Hawks were attacking, even if they weren't doing it in the best of ways. Still, any sign of life was encouraging to those who were hoping for victory, as we described in our Most Important Thing before the game began.
The Bucks weren't going to go down just because the Hawks had finally decided to pay attention, but that's no shocker either. That they led at halftime just wasn't much of a concern---the Hawks had shown they had the will to do what it took to win in the first half--the only question was whether they would do it for another (24) minutes.
Oh, did they.
The Hawks set about shutting down the Bucks in the third quarter employing---gasp!---an adjustment on defense. The use of this weird change of pace labeled "a zone" sent the Bucks into an offensive funk to the tune of (11) points in that third quarter, upon which the Hawks offense launched an attack that would lead them to a "did-they-do-that?" 83-69 win to send the series back to the ATL.
I got exactly what I wanted from Friday night's game---and believe the Hawks will show up with the same energy they showed on Friday in Milwaukee. Steve Perry once said to don't stop believin'--and I've always heard you should listen to people with better hair than your own.
"Everyone counted us out except the people in this locker room," Smoove said.
He definitely had a chunk on his shoulder, but it didn't translate to uber-efficiency offensively, shooting 4-11 and finally allowing us to see his playoff ready three-ball---twice. Still, he had (9) boards, (2) steals, and (4) blocks, including the clutch fourth quarter number on Jerry Stackhouse.
I asked that the Hawks make their jump shots, since they were going to take a load anyway. Well, they did. No, really they did. I know that their team total (38) percent may not look all that good, but it wasn't their jump shots that let them down---at least the non-Smoove jumpers, that is.
The Hawks were 22-52 from beyond (10) feet, including a reasonable 5-16 from long range. It was inside of (10) feet that the Hawks were truly unspectacular. The Birds misfired on (20) of (29) shots from inside that range, a fantastically bad percentage by any calculation.
Joe Johnson was 6-13 outside of (15) feet, 2-11 inside of it. Atlanta made only 9-22 shots at the rim, including both of Maurice Evans' bad attempts on the fast break (just pass already Mo when you have a wide open teammate on the break---you are not beating the defender.).
The key to the win was not how well the Hawks played offensively--because just by the numbers above, you can see they didn't---it was how their energy and zone flummoxed the Bucks into doing even worse. Milwaukee, one of the worst shooting teams in the league during the regular season, made up for lost time by shooting a mere (32) percent from the floor.
Some other key numbers were that Atlanta also created (14) turnovers and (15) offensive rebounds (Note: Al Horfordhad six of those---part of his whopping 15 boards on the night) while keeping the Bucks down to only (8) offensive rebounds of their own. Shooting better than your opponent, winning the rebounding battle, and being on the plus side on turnovers is a pretty good recipe for victory---one I hope can be repeated in Game Seven.
Except for the road team winning. Obviously.