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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Hawks stifle Bucks, 83-69

The box score tells the story of Game 6. The Bucks shot just 33% from the field and 27% from long range, and were outrebounded 52-41. The Bucks’ backcourt (Brandon Jennings and John Salmons), which has played so well of late, shot a combined 6-of-28 from the field for 20 points. Milwaukee just couldn’t find a rhythm offensively for much of the game.

Credit the Hawks’ defense here. They were solid throughout the game, and although the Bucks cut the lead to seven in the middle of the fourth quarter, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson were there to hit a few big shots to put the game away. This was a nice (and surprising) performance from a team that has been terrible on the road in the playoffs in recent years.

The series moves back to Atlanta on Sunday for Game 7.

Fear the Deer! [video]

Check out this promo video for the Bucks series with the Hawks. Pretty funny stuff…

Joe Johnson leaving if Hawks lose?

In a recent chat, John Hollinger had this to say about the chances of Johnson returning to Atlanta if the Hawks were to lose the series to the Bucks.

Is Joe Johnson gone if the Hawks lose?
John Hollinger: I suspect so, just because it makes it so much harder for Atlanta to sell its management on operating at the tax line when the club is losing so much dough.

The series is a long way from over, but it’s an interesting question to ponder. Hollinger takes it from the angle of ownership not wanting to pony up for Johnson when the Hawks can’t even beat a Milwaukee Bucks team that is missing its best player.

That’s a legitimate question, but Johnson is a top five free agent this summer, do the Hawks really just let him walk? He was outplayed by John Salmons in Game 5, so he may need to come up big in Game 6 and lead the Hawks to a series win if he hopes to get a max offer from Atlanta.

The other perspective on this question is from Johnson’s point of view. Would he want to stay with a team that couldn’t get out of the first round despite suspect opposition? He may be ready for a fresh start after a semi-frustrating few years in Atlanta.

If the Hawks do indeed lose the series, it will be a big disappointment for a franchise and a fan base that was expecting at least an appearance in the Eastern Conference semis, maybe even an upset of the Magic an appearance in the conference finals. Given the turmoil surrounding the franchise’s ownership in recent seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s a serious shakeup in the roster if the Hawks do exit the postseason in the first round.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Thomas, Gadzuric key Bucks win

Left for dead by many (including this long-time, pessimistic fan) after the loss of Andrew Bogut, the Bucks beat the Hawks again last night to tie the series at 2-2.

Brandon Jennings played very well (23-4-6, 56% shooting), and John Salmons continued his steady play (22 points). I’m tempted to credit Carlos Defino’s 22 points (on 6-of-8 from 3PT) as the difference in the game, but it was the play of Milwaukee’s centers that put the Bucks over the top. Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric combined for 16 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and a steal, which looks like a typical line that Bogut was posting late in the season. The much-maligned Gadzuric played big late in the third and early in the fourth, and eventually gave way to Thomas, who drew a couple of crucial fouls in the final minutes of the game.

But back to Delfino for a moment. We’ve come to expect big games out of Jennings and Salmons, but Delfino had averaged just 6.0 points in the series, so his big night was something of a surprise. Here’s a look (and be sure to check out the dunk at the 0:13 mark):

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