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NBA Playoff Recap - East First Round, Game 6

(3) Atlanta 83, (6) Milwaukee 69 - Series tied, 3-3

 

The Atlanta Hawks gave the Milwaukee Bucks an open invitation to advance to the second round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs.

The Bucks promptly declined the offer... at least for one night, but probably for good.

Yes, the underdog from Wisconsin still has a Game 7 opportunity looming on Sunday afternoon, but that dance with destiny will take place in Georgia. It was in the comfy confines of the Bradley Center, in front of a maniacal home crowd, that the Bucks had their best chance to win this series and make the offseason absolutely miserable for Coach Mike Woodson's Hawks, who performed a classic face-plant in Wednesday’s Game 5. Milwaukee - a winner of three straight games in this best-of-seven standoff - just needed to maintain the feel-good vibe on its bench and not absorb the pressure attached to a "close-out" game on its home court.

It's true that home teams leading 3-2 need to seal the deal in a Game 6 situation, but the Bucks - expected by nobody to win this series - had to find a way to retain a nothing-to-lose mentality. Their opponent from Atlanta played with absolutely no confidence whatsoever in each of the last three contests, so if Milwaukee had been able to generate even a modest amount of game pressure on the Hawks, they would have found themselves in a very strong position.

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Instead, they wilted, and they can only look in the mirror to identify the source of their Friday night failure.

Atlanta did not win this game by dominating or playing well... at least not for prolonged stretches. The Hawks hit only 13 of 40 shots in the first half and scored a paltry 31 points before halftime. Three starters who should have been able to do more damage against Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut-free lineup - Marvin Williams, Al Horford and Josh Smith - combined for a grand total of just 12 points. As they normally are on the road, the Hawks were shaky and tentative in the first 24 minutes and projected the look of a pretender, not a championship contender or a 50-win regular-season team. If you had told Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles that Atlanta would have scored only 31 points in the first half, he would have loved his team's chances. Not liked; LOVED.

And yet, all the Bucks could do was score 34 points on 13-of-36 shooting, with star scorers John Salmons and Brandon Jennings combining for a meager six points. Atlanta got a reprieve, and everyone in the Hawks' locker room knew it at the intermission.

 


In the third quarter, the third seed made the most of its second chance in a must-win situation. Atlanta smothered the Bucks with a 29-11 quarter, leaving Milwaukee with just 45 points through three periods of play. The youthful upstart that had surged over the past week of competition - ever since Saturday's Game 3 in the very same building - felt the weight of the occasion in all its fullness, and simply panicked. Salmons and Jennings - the anchors of the Bucks' offense - never shot the ball with a settled confidence. They continued to throw up bricks and did not do a good job of remaining square on the release of a shot. As a result, the pair finished 6 of 28 from the field and hijacked any chance of securing a date with the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Atlanta posted a subpar total of 83 points - four fewer than in its Game 5 debacle back at Philips Arena - but since the men of Milwaukee couldn't even crack 70 points, Philips Arena is exactly where this series will conclude on Sunday afternoon.

It's hard to think that the young Bucks - so footloose and fancy free heading into Game 6 - will find the moxie and mental might needed to capture Game 7. This is once again Atlanta's series to lose.

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By: Matt Zemek
ProBasketball-fans.com Senior Staff Writer


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