Hawks fly past Bucks
The result: Atlanta has a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series for the first time in 40 years.
Johnson took control in the fourth quarter to finish off a 27-point effort, Smith finished one assist shy of a triple-double and the Hawks ran away from the pesky but outmanned Milwaukee Bucks for a 96-86 victory in the Eastern Conference playoffs Tuesday night.
“He’s one of those players that can control the game without calling plays for him,” John Salmons, who led Milwaukee with 21 points, said of Johnson.
The Bucks head home for Game 3 on Saturday night, hoping to turn things around in the next two games. But they’ve led only three times in the series—never by more than two points—for a total of 1 minute, 32 seconds, looking very much like a team making its first playoff appearance since 2006.
“Our preparations have been great, but we’re having trouble taking it onto the game floor,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We knew it would be interesting to see how we would react in this type of environment. They outplayed us in almost every spot up and down the floor. We’ve got three days to get better.”
Ersan Ilyasova came up big off the bench with 13 points and 15 rebounds, but Jerry Stackhouse was the only other Milwaukee player in double figures with 15 points. The Bucks shot only 41 percent (37 of 90).
Smith played as though he’s still upset about being snubbed for the All-Star game, when teammates Johnson and Al Horford were selected but he stayed home. He’s certainly a player capable of taking control of a series, as he demonstrated with his 21 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, not to mention two blocks and two steals.
“There’s nothing he can’t do on the floor,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
Atlanta has won the first two games in a best-of-seven series since the Western Division semifinals in 1970. That team went on to beat Chicago in five games, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the division finals.
The current Hawks aren’t taking anything for granted, even though they’ve seemed capable of pulling away any time Milwaukee tries to make a run.
“We’re on edge,” said Horford, who teamed with Smith to give the Hawks a big edge in the lane. “We can’t take them lightly. We know it’s going to be tough up there.”
Again, the Hawks’ balance and size advantage on the inside were just too much for the Bucks, who knew they’d face a huge challenge in this series after 7-foot center Andrew Bogut took a hard fall late in the regular season and was done for the playoffs.
All five Atlanta starters reached double figures for the second game in a row, and the two guys on the inside sure took advantage of Bogut’s absence.
Smith had the crowd on its feet with four thunderous dunks and a couple more above-the-rim lay-ins. Horford was nearly as dominant, scoring 20 points, snatching down 10 rebounds and blocking three shots.
Johnson took over in the fourth quarter. After Milwaukee had closed to single-digit range, he buried four straight jumpers, the last of them a 3-pointer from the corner after snaring a rocket pass from Smith, pushing the Hawks to an 87-74 lead that essentially finished off the Bucks.
“I felt like we were in a drought,” said Johnson, who scored 10 points in the final period and bolstered his all-around effort with six assists, two blocks and a steal. “I just wanted to be aggressive and make plays.”
Johnson also led the defensive effort against Bucks rookie star Brandon Jennings, who followed up a 34-point performance in Game 1 with just nine points on 3-of-15 shooting.
“All season long he’s been playing point guards, so he’s sort of used to it now,” Woodson said. “And Jennings is a tough cover because he is so quick, and he can shoot the outside shot as well as get to the rim.”