Skiles: Bucks need to be active early
But if the Milwaukee Bucks are caught watching the game instead of participating, it spells trouble for their playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles made that a point of emphasis in a film session with his players at the team hotel Sunday, following the Hawks’ 102-92 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series.
The teams will meet Tuesday night in Atlanta before the best-of-seven series moves to Milwaukee on Saturday.
“We spectated a little too much,” Skiles said. “Normally we’re a very high-level team in regard to recognizing a teammate in trouble and playing unselfishly defensively and getting down there and helping. We were just a little bit locked up.
“As we got going in the second half, we started getting more active and getting out in some passing lanes, creating some more advantages for ourselves.”
The Hawks took full advantage of the Bucks’ sluggish start Saturday, pushing to a 22-point halftime lead before Milwaukee cut the margin to seven points late in the third.
But Atlanta shot 54 percent from the field and scored 102 points, even though the Bucks defense allowed just 40 points in the second half. The Hawks made a sizzling 62 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half.
With injured center Andrew Bogut missing as a defensive anchor, Milwaukee’s task becomes more difficult. But the Bucks know they will have a greater chance of success if they can limit Atlanta to a final total in the 90s rather than 100 points or more.
“That’s sort of an ideal scenario, that we get a team at 87, 88, 91 points, something like that,” Skiles said. “Any playoff team, it’s going to be very difficult to do that. But we have to have our goal high; that’s where we want them to be.”
Six Atlanta players scored in double figures, led by veteran guard Joe Johnson with 22 points.
“We’ve got to try to get Game 2 to try to make the playoffs a little interesting,” said Bucks rookie guard Brandon Jennings, who made a sensational playoff debut with a 34-point performance.
“You could tell it from the Hawks, they were on the fire from the get-go. The atmosphere wasn’t really as high as I thought it was going to be, but the intensity on the court was.”
The Hawks were successful in the paint with Josh and Al Horford using their size and quickness to full advantage, and Mike Bibby provided a strong outside threat with 19 points while sinking 8 of 9 shots.
“My point is, we weren’t sharp,” Skiles said. “In the third quarter they shot 39 percent. I don’t expect us to go out and hold the Atlanta Hawks to 39 percent shooting in a full game; they’re a very talented team.
“But it can’t be 62 percent, either. When we see our guys not playing as well as they have, as hard as they have, we have to address it.”
Skiles isn’t underestimating the task facing the Bucks in Game 2. The Hawks have won 13 straight at Philips Arena, their most since winning 20 straight at home during the 1996-’97 season, and have 35 victories on their home floor this season.
“Of course we want to get a win here and go home,” Skiles said, “but the main thing is how are we playing, what are we doing. Are we passive or fully engaged and getting after it? That’s our concern right now, that we do that and then see where we are.”
Skiles is likely to make some matchup adjustments after he used Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as the primary defender on Johnson and Carlos Delfino on Smith in the opener.
But the Bucks coach pointed out that the Hawks’ top six players, including sixth man Jamal Crawford, provide no easy defensive assignments.
Skiles liked the way his team battled back but said it can’t spot the Hawks a 20-point lead in the opening quarter.
“We’ve got to establish that we’ve got some carryover from the second half, that we’re going to compete when the ball goes up,” he said of Game 2. “If that means we’re down six at the end of the first quarter, we won’t call that a slow start. We’ll say, ’Hey, we’re here, we’re competing.’ “
The Bucks’ 30-point third quarter did provide a needed boost of confidence as the team approaches the rest of the series.
“At this level, in the playoffs, to come back from a 20-point situation is not easy at all,” Delfino said. “It’s a positive thing and now we’ve got to start like that in the next game. Hopefully we understand what was working and take advantage of that.”