Atlanta fears the deer now.
This was supposed to be easy. The Hawks have athletes all over the floor, they are the more physically gifted team in this series. The Bucks were without Andrew Bogut. But the Hawks play like Nuke LaLoosh — million-dollar arm and a five-cent head.
With game five — and maybe the series — on the line the Hawks got tight, they stopped executing. Up nine with four minutes left their offense became a predictable and defendable series of isolations that went away from their strengths. Meanwhile, the Bucks kept coming, kept executing, kept getting the mismatches they liked and attacking them. They kept their heads. They won the loose balls. They went on a 14-0 run.
The Bucks won 91-87 and are now up 3-2 going back home to the Bradley Center for game six Friday night.
Folding up late in games is not some new thing for the Hawks, it’s a season-long trend. Their execution goes away, their play calling is poor and/or ignored. At some point, that responsibility has to fall on coach Mike Woodson. He has not made an adjustment to counter Milwaukee’s destroying the Hawks switch on the pick and roll. That play and the Hawks late game play combined into one big disaster late.
Early in the game the Hawks tried to exploit their advantage and size inside — and it worked. Marvin Williams was attacking, dunking and hit four of five. Josh Smith and Al Horford were getting good looks. The only thing that kept the Bucks in it was Brandon Jennings, who kept going around the pick, getting a Hawk big to switch on him them blowing by for a layup, or hitting the jumper over him. Jennings started 5 of 7 while the rest of team was 4 of 14 in first quarter.
Late in the game, it was John Salmons doing the same thing off the same plays for the Bucks, and he had eight points of their 14-0 run.
Late in the game Hawks stopped going inside, they stopped making good passes into the post. They went to isolations, and the result was help on drives where the Hawks missed layups.
Joe Johnson fouled out with 2:15 left and his final two fouls were the kind of thing the Hawks did wrong all night. He closed out late on a Jennings jumper and fouled him. Six came on an offensive charge where he drove the lane, kicked out to a shooter and barreled into Kurt Thomas anyway.
Meanwhile, Bucks were making plays. Ersan Ilyasova made a fantastic save of a ball going out of bounds under the basket, recovers, gets position, the ball back and scores inside. Next possession he runs in hard to catch offensive rebound, gets it to Carlos Delfino open in the corner for the three (Mike Bibby made the mental error of reacting as if the shot clock was reset, doesn’t run out at Delfino, and let him set his feet).
The Hawks ignored their advantages — Williams posting Luke Ridnour — due to bad spacing and indifference.
This was not a matter of desire — both teams wanted it, both teams played hard. But the Bucks have been coached to execute under pressure, to play the system. The Hawks have not. Ballgame. And maybe series.