Hawks Advance in 7
Atlanta beats Bucks in decisive Game 7. Magic up next.
by David Schnur
Referring to the Hawks round 1 series vs. Miami last year, Mike Woodson had this to say before tip-off: “Our backs were against the wall last year but we were able to come home and get it.”
Enter Brandon Jennings and the heavy underdogs, the Milwaukee Bucks. With a 3-2 series lead, the Bucks faltered at home Friday night and now faced a hostile crowd in Philips Arena in a win-or-go-home situation.
After two quick fouls on Josh Smith to start the game, the two teams traded buckets until a 9-0 run by the Hawks to close out the first quarter.
There was really no looking back after that as the Hawks continued to build their lead. Behind 22 points from the newly crowned 6th Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford, and solid all-around games from Al Horford, Mike Bibby, and Smith, Atlanta’s hot shooters were too much for the Bucks. Joe Johnson was surprisingly absent throughout the game but Atlanta’s stifling defense, dominating of the boards, and protecting the paint forced the Bucks into taking bad shots (35-percent shooting from the field from a team that unfortunately had too many games like this all season to really be a contender). The Hawks kept the Bucks out of a rhythm for most of the 48 minutes and the final score of 95-74 shows just what a struggle it was for Milwaukee to find the bucket.
Still, it’s hard to find much fault with Milwaukee’s season. By the end there was no Bogut and no Redd, yet the young Bucks—mainly Jennings, Ilyasova, Salmons and Delifino—willed the deer to three solid wins and a Game 7 against an emerging Eastern Conference powerhouse…not bad for a team that hasn’t sniffed playoff success since the ’01 season.
It was quite the impressive rookie season from B. Jennings, the 10th overall pick in last June’s draft, whom many had written off before he even returned from playing overseas. The true ROY in my eyes, Jennings nearly led his Bucks to a stunning round 1 upset. With a healthy Bogut returning next season, a talented young core, and a successful draft come June, the Bucks are poised to improve upon their first-round playoff exit next season.
As for the Hawks, they did what they needed to in the end but now face a deep Orlando Magic team that took three of their four meetings during the regular season. Al Horford will have his work cut out for him with DPOY Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, a presence virtually non-existent in the round 1 series win vs. the Bucks. The series is primed for some serious scoring, with shooters like VC, Rashard Lewis, Johnson and Crawford allowing both ATL and ORL to play inside-out.
Although Crawford and Bibby picked up the slack for Joe Johnson today, the Hawks will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want any shot at taking down the defending EC champions.
My prediction for the series? A convincing 4-2 victory for a hungry Magic team looking to get back to the promised land that is the NBA Finals.