NBA Playoff Recap - East First Round, Game 7
(3) Atlanta 95, (6) Milwaukee 74 - Hawks win series, 4-3
Finally, after four games adrift at sea, the Atlanta Hawks - full of talent and brimming with athleticism - finally added intelligence and toughness to the mix. Unsurprisingly, they flourished.
In a contest that magnified one team's lost opportunity in Game 6 of this series, the Milwaukee Bucks - who had a chance to close down the proceedings this past Friday at home - never had much of a shot on Sunday afternoon in Georgia. Thrust into an extra road game they never wanted to play, coach Scott Skiles' players couldn't regain the winning edge they so recently possessed in this two-week tussle.
Before a jazzed-up crowd at Philips Arena, the homestanding Hawks - fresh from surviving one elimination game in Wisconsin - captured another elimination affair under much less threatening circumstances. They started strong and stayed that way in a comprehensive beatdown of the Bucks. Yes, Coach Mike Woodson's athletes won Game 6 roughly 40 hours earlier, but in all candor, they hadn't delivered a solid performance since Game 2 of this best-of-seven standoff. Four games had come and gone in this series without a high-level effort from the Hawks. Given enough time to sort out their problems, the winged ones flew high once again, and just in the nick of time.
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What was missing since the start of Game 3 - when the Bucks began a three-game winning streak and the Hawks turned ugly - was a commitment on Atlanta's part to get the ball to the rim instead of settling for jumpers. On almost every possession in the first half of this Game 7 throwdown, the Hawks either penetrated or dumped the ball into the low post as a first angle of attack. Atlanta might have opted for jumpers on a good number of those possessions, but the important fact was that the ball went inside first, not as an afterthought.
Woodson and his coaching staff finally got through to their players, as the third seed in the Eastern Conference played the game from the inside out and didn't rely on jump shooting. This was always supposed to be the strategy against a Milwaukee team playing without star center Andrew Bogut, but somehow, Atlanta got away from the blueprint over the last four games, winning Game 6 only because the Bucks crumbled under the pressure of the occasion and scored a paltry 69 points. In Game 7, though, everything the home team needed - intelligence, power, and an aggressive offensive mentality - surged to the forefront. Zaza Pachulia pounded the boards. Al Horford attacked the rim, as did Joe Johnson. Marvin Williams looked for driving lanes, as did point guard Mike Bibby. The Hawks played with conviction and single-minded purpose, and that's why Milwaukee couldn't measure up.
The Bucks scored only 40 points in the first half, as the Hawks' aggression carried over to the defensive end of the floor. Atlanta's bigger bodies swatted and altered a number of shots, limiting the ability of Milwaukee wings John Salmons and Carlos Delfino to impose their will on Game 7. Milwaukee's bigs, Kurt Thomas and Ersan Ilyasova, combined for 15 points in the first half, but their defense and rebounding were nonexistent. The Atlanta troika of Horford, Williams and Pachulia produced 23 points and - more importantly - 20 rebounds in the first 24 minutes. Milwaukee snatched only 15 boards as a team in the first half on Sunday afternoon.
Playing with power, poise and patience. That was the successful yet elusive formula for the Atlanta Hawks in a majority of this series' games. Fortunately, after living long enough to see a Game 7, an inconsistent team regained wisdom and moved on to the second round of the playoffs.
ProBasketball-fans.com Senior Staff Writer
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