Down two with only 24 minutes left in their season, the Hawks used a 29-11 edge in the third quarter to spoil the Bucks' upset plans and take Game 6 83-69 in Milwaukee Friday night. The game was as ugly as the score suggests, but with Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson re-acquainting themselves with the basket, the Hawks flexed the muscle of a 3 seed and maneuvered the series back to Atlanta for Game 7 Sunday, which, by the looks of Game 6, offers some intriguing contrasts.
1. Welcome back. Despite a clear talent advantage, the Hawks played the last three games at the Bucks' level, tight defensively, tight offensively. The first 24 minutes of Game 6 didn't look any different as the Hawks came up empty on 11 shots from no further than 10 feet. Some of that was Milwaukee's active defense in the paint, more was just inaccurate shooting. That changed in the third quarter with a pair of Mike Bibby perimeter makes and some active defense on Josh Smith's part. While Bibby's shots seemed to relax the Hawks on offense, Smith's block on John Salmons and his ability to draw an offensive foul on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute set the Bucks on a mid-range odyssey that saw them take 10 of their first 12 shots from outside the paint -- without making one. By the time the Bucks staggered off at the end of a third quarter filled with jumpers from Johnson and layups from Al Horford, the Hawks were up 15 and, more important, dictating the flow.
2. The fine line between winning and losing. Friday's loss demonstrated just how little margin for error the Bucks have in these playoffs. For a team with little inside game to speak of and two reliable scorers (one of whom is a rookie), the Bucks have to shape the tactical approach of the game. The pace has to be controlled on both ends, the opponent has to be frustrated enough by Milwaukee's D to jack up some errant jumpers and the Bucks need their backcourt to drive the offense just fast enough to keep the game close. That worked in the first half, when Atlanta didn't score a point in transition and neither team shot 37 percent. But when Atlanta ripped off a 19-0 run in the third quarter as Milwaukee scratched out only 3 of 14 shots for the quarter, the Bucks were forced into a game for which they didn't have the tools. The Bucks can't win trying to match the shot-making and athleticism the Hawks possess.
3. Maybe this Woodson guy knows what he's doing. It wasn't pretty, but Hawks coach Mike Woodson proved he knows what buttons to push on this team. With the Hawks down to their last 24 minutes, Woodson got the Hawks to respond. The defense closed down the lanes Brandon Jennings and Salmons have been driving as regularly as a bus route and pushed Milwaukee's attack to the perimeter, a place with which most of the roster is uncomfortable. The frontcourt kept the Bucks off of the offensive glass. And he allowed his club to find its rhythm from mid-range. Woodson didn't appear to panic with rotation changes and his team didn't panic with an upset a half away.
4. Without any help from his friends. While most of the Bucks shrunk from the opportunity to spring the biggest upset of this year's playoffs, Carlos Delfino played with a desperation Milwaukee may regret it didn't take advantage of. The 6-foot-6 Argentine was aggressive going to the basket and accurate from outside the arc, where he hit 4-of-9 shots as part of his 20-point performance. He also contributed six boards, three assists and three steals in an effort no one else came close to matching, not with the 17-67 (25.4 percent) shooting for which the rest of the team combined or the 20 points Jennings and Salmons paired up to offer. Impressive it was, but perhaps ultimately elusive, considering Delfino has scored 19 points total in first three games played in Atlanta.
5. The window closes for Milwaukee? The Bucks aren't playing with an abundance of advantages, so they needed to make use of whatever pluses they could find, like a closeout game in front of the home crowd. Game 6 has left them on their own, which worked out well in Atlanta in Game 5, but expecting to win twice on enemy grounds is a bit much. The Hawks seemed to rediscover what made them a 53-win team in the second half Friday night. They answered the calls from some (cough -- me -- cough) that they were soft. And they got a series they seemed destined to lose Game 5 at home, where they have lost only twice since December. If the Hawks get up big early, we seriously wonder if Scott Skiles will find his club out of gas when he hits the peddle for another mistake-limited effort in Game 7.