Frank Hughes
Sunday April 18th, 2010

The Hawks' 102-92 victory over the Bucks did not go entirely as planned. They dominated the first half and held a 24-point lead, but Milwaukee whittled that margin to just seven in the fourth quarter. The comeback, though it fell short, should give the Bucks confidence that they can compete with the Hawks. Still, Atlanta was able to get the win while learning some things along the way:

The Bucks desperately miss Andrew Bogut. The Aussie center's horrendous injury will keep him sidelined for a long time, and without him, the Bucks have virtually no inside presence to keep the Hawks from marching to the rim. Milwaukee has nobody to guard the 6-foot-9 Josh Smith, who can, and did, overpower whoever the Bucks put on him. And if Milwaukee tried to double-team him, then Atlanta's coterie of outside shooters made them pay. Atlanta also dominated the game on the defensive end, blocking 11 shots -- nine by Smith and Al Horford combined -- to Milwaukee's one.

Mike Bibby can still deliver in the playoffs. Despite the presence of Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, Bibby was the key to those Sacramento teams that advanced deep into the postseason. He showed that same ability on Saturday, beginning with the early steal of a lazy Kurt Thomas pass that Bibby converted into a wide-open three-pointer. He did not have the best regular season, averaging just 9.1 points and 3.9 assists, but against Milwaukee, Bibby hit his first seven shots, including three three-pointers, and ended the day making eight of nine field goals for 19 points.

Brandon Jennings is supremely talented but inconsistent. If Jennings' regular season -- in which he had an early 55-point game but struggled with his shooting the rest of the season -- did not demonstrate this point enough, then Saturday's game did. The rookie looked unsure early on but went on a tear in the second and third quarters to finish with 34 points. He also got ripped twice by Joe Johnson in crucial situations, giving the Hawks easy scoring opportunities; had only two points in the fourth period, when his team needed him the most; and showed poor shot selection in the final minutes. Still, with 34 points, give him credit for carrying his team in the first postseason game of his career.

Joe Johnson played like he always does. The understated superstar did everything solidly and made the big play when his team needed it. Atlanta coach Mike Woodson started the game with Johnson on Jennings, a compliment given the latter's quickness. Johnson had those two impressive steals in the third quarter, which kept the Bucks at bay. He also hit a big 17-foot fadeaway from just above the left elbow in the final two minutes that served as the dagger. For someone who's also auditioning for this summer's free agency, today's showing wasn't a bad start.

The Hawks need a killer instinct. They don't have the one thing that Cleveland, Boston or Orlando possess. They're too soft. The Hawks could have ended this game in the third quarter had they played like they did in the first half. Winning by 30 or 35 would have sapped the Bucks of any confidence they may have had. Instead, the Hawks got away from everything that made them so dominant and coasted through the second half, allowing Milwaukee to think it could actually win. Atlanta has a matchup advantage at almost every position except the point. They need to remember that and play accordingly.

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