Bucks stun Hawks, take 3-2 lead

After a Josh Smith jumper, Atlanta led by nine with 4:09 to play, and the Bucks’ chances were looking pretty grim. But Milwaukee went on a 14-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to take a five-point lead. The run was keyed by John Salmons (8 points) and Ersan Ilyasova, who made a couple of key saves that led to a Carlos Delfino three and an inside bucket for Ilyasova.

Also key was Joe Johnson’s sixth foul, which came on a drive to the basket with 2:15 to play. Kurt Thomas, who drew a couple of key fouls in Game 4, stepped in and took the charge, and the play forced the Hawks’ best player out of the game. They tried to go to Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford down the stretch, but they went a combined 0-for-5 in the final two minutes. Throw in the Bucks’ 10-for-12 stretch from the free throw line (including 4-for-4 from Brandon Jennings with under 0:20 to play), and it all adds up to a Milwaukee win.

Jennings led the Bucks with 25-4-3 and is now averaging 20-3-4 in the postseason. Salmons chipped in with 19 points and played excellent defense on Johnson (6-for-16, 13 points) all night. The Bucks have won three straight after Scott Skiles decided to put Salmons on Johnson and let his defensive specialist, Luc Mbah a Moute, cover Josh Smith, who killed Milwaukee in the first two games. Salmons has proven that he’s up to the challenge and it has completely turned this series on its head.

The Bucks now head back to the friendly confines of the Bradley Center on Friday night with a chance to close out the series. I fully expect a raucous Milwaukee crowd.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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Steve Blake is a menace! [video]

First he elbows and trips Ersan Ilyasova under the basket (look at where Blake’s left leg is) and then when he runs into Bogut’s screen at half court, he throws an elbow.

This guy needs to go to some anger management classes.

How John Hammond has made the Bucks better

Bill Simmons did a running diary of the Hawks/Bucks and Thunder/Spurs games last night. Here’s what he had to say about Bucks GM John Hammond…

9:30: Johnson posts up Salmons for two, followed by Carlos Delfino (21 points) draining a 3. Bucks GM John Hammond made three great moves in the past year: The Salmons trade; gambling on Brandon Jennings at No. 10; and signing Delfino for nothing last summer. (Not only does Delfino fill up the stat sheet, play both swing spots and give you solid D, but he has a giant tattoo of a lizard on his left shoulder that looks cool in HD. There’s a lot to like.) Meanwhile, Joe Dumars ran the Pistons into the ground in the 18 months after Hammond bolted Detroit for Milwaukee. Were the two events related? Hmmmmmm.

Hammond also signed Ersan Ilyasova, who first played for the Bucks during a rough 2006-07 season when he was just 19. After a couple of years in Spain, Hammond brought him back and he has played well, averaging 10-6, 44% FG%, 35% 3PT, and playing hard-nosed defense. The signing made Richard Jefferson expendable, so Hammond traded him to the Spurs and ended up with Amir Johnson (from Detroit), whom he shipped to Toronto for Delfino, who is averaging 11-5-3 and is shooting 37% from long range, while playing tough defense on opposing wings.

I criticized the Jefferson trade at the time because I didn’t think that the Bucks got enough for him, but it turns out that with Ilyasova and Delfino, they did. Plus they’ll have significant cap space in the summer of 2011 with Jefferson and Michael Redd off the books. At that point, they’ll have six players under contract — Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Ilyasova, Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute and Charlie Bell — and $25 million or more to spend. That’s a nice little nucleus, especially if they can keep Salmons at a reasonable price.

I also thought Hammond should have retained Ramon Sessions, but with Ridnour playing pretty well, he was expendable.

Hammond got off to a rough start in his first draft where he took Joe Alexander at #8, passing on Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph, D.J. Augustin, Jerryd Bayless and Marreese Speights in the process. Passing on Lopez is somewhat understandable if you’re drafting for need (with Bogut already on the roster), but the team’s future would be even brighter if they had a forward like Randolph or Speights on the roster.

Regardless, Hammond bounced back with the Jennings pick and has made a number of savvy moves to get the Bucks to where they are now. Is Milwaukee a threat to make a Finals appearance? No, but the Bradley Center is hosting some good basketball now and to fans in Milwaukee, that’s all that matters. Hammond seems to understand how to manage a small-market team and has put the franchise in a good position for years to come. That’s all you can ask for out of your general manager.

Bucks interested in Troy Murphy

The Milwaukee Bucks are hovering around the #8 spot in the East and can probably make the postseason with their current roster. But according to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times, they’re eyeing Troy Murphy.

The Bucks and Pacers have bandied about several players in exchange for the 6-foot-11 Murphy, who is averaging 14 points and 9.9 rebounds this season. One of those players is Ersan Ilyasova.

The Pacers want Ilyasova, but the Bucks don’t want to give him up. Ilyasova is only 22, capable of playing both forward positions and has flashed signs of becoming a big-time scorer.

While he is averaging a modest 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, Ilyasova has had five 20-plus games this season, including 25 against the New York and 24 against Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers.

He also had 20-point outing against Orlando and San Antonio, two of the best teams in the NBA.

The Bucks would be wise to hold onto Ilyasova, unless they can get more of an impact player than Murphy. The Bucks aren’t the Cavs; they’re not looking for one missing piece to the championship puzzle. They’re building for the future, and Ilyasova could be part of that future. He can play either forward position, can hit the three (36%), is a pretty good defender and rebounds almost as well as Murphy (rebound rate: 17.1 to 15.3). Plus, he’s only 22, so he has room to grow.

Milwaukee should be looking to upgrade at shooting guard and small forward. Caron Butler would be a good fit, but the Bucks don’t want to make the same mistake they did with Richard Jefferson. Unlike Jefferson, Butler’s contract isn’t a cap killer. Unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the pieces to acquire Butler unless the Wizards are willing to give him up for expiring contracts and a mid-first round pick. I’m not even sure I’d include Ilyasova in a deal for Butler as I think he (Ilyasova) could be a starter on a good playoff team in a couple of years.

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