Hawks put away Bucks, 95-74

Milwaukee was cold from the field in Game 6 and that trend continued on Sunday, as the Bucks hit just 33% of their shots (an just 21% of their threes) in Game 7. The Bucks’ defense kept the game from getting out of hand, but without Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee had to hit its shots to keep it close.

Still, the Bucks trailed by just 12 early in the fourth quarter, but the Hawks buckled down and outscored Milwaukee 19-10 over the final ten minutes of the game. Joe Johnson struggled (4-of-14 from the field, 8 points), but the Hawks got good games from Jamal Crawford (22 points), Al Horford (16 points), Josh Smith (15 points) and Mike Bibby (15 points), who combined to shoot 25-of-43 (58%) from the field.

This series probably would have ended differently had Bogut been healthy, but give the Hawks credit for playing well with their proverbial backs against the wall. They played great defense in the last two games, and have all the tools to be a great defensive team. But Atlanta’s problem is focus. The Hawks have a tendency to vary their level of effort depending on the score of the game, and often come apart at the seams when the chips are down. They’re good, but they’re not good enough to turn it on and off whenever they want.

Do they have a chance against the Magic? Sure, but the Hawks are going to have to play an entire series the way they did in their four wins against the Bucks. Against the Bucks, if the Hawks played well, they’d win. That’s not necessarily the case against the Magic.

As for the Bucks, this was a disappointing end to a great season, but like Scott Skiles said in his “wired” segment before the game, when the team was sitting at 18-25 during the season, had anyone asked if they’d take an opportunity to play in a Game 7, they would have jumped on it. The fact that they pushed a far more talented Hawks team to seven games without Bogut is a moral victory.

Looking ahead to this summer, veterans Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse are free agents. Ridnour played well enough this season to potentially earn a starting gig next season, though he’d likely struggle against the other starting-caliber point guards in the league. Thomas and Stackhouse may come back to give the Bucks a steady veteran presence off the bench, though GM John Hammond would be wise to keep the purse strings as tight as possible.

The big free agent decision may be John Salmons, who could opt out of the final year of the contract ($5.8 million). Despite posting 18-4-4 in the series against the Hawks, Salmons may have played himself out a few million dollars with a woeful shooting performance (8-of-31, 26%) in Game 6 and Game 7, when the Bucks needed him most. Salmons turns 31 in December, so the Bucks should proceed with caution. I can see a three-year deal worth $21-$24 million, but Milwaukee shouldn’t break the bank trying to re-sign him.

From Salmons’ point of view, he should give the Bucks a hometown discount, because he wouldn’t even be in the position to sign a lucrative new deal this summer if Hammond hadn’t traded for him at the deadline and Skiles hadn’t given him the freedom to be the Bucks’ main scorer on the wing.

Milwaukee projects to have a ton of cap space next summer (2011), so assuming the deal lasts at least two years, whatever contract they sign Salmons to will cut into that projected cap space.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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