More proof that NBA is a player’s league

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
— Of all the things that occurred in Game 1 of the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, this moment seemed to define the evening as well as any:

Not even 8 minutes had been played, and there was Dan Gadzuric at the scorer’s table, waiting to be substituted into what was already a lost cause.


This isn’t to beat up on Gadzuric. That’s an old story. The Bucks let the wrong big man walk—the Hawks’ Zaza Pachulia, coincidentally—five years ago and got stuck with a bad contract. What’s done is done.

Nor is this about dwelling on the loss of Andrew Bogut. Like personnel decisions, injuries happen.

It merely goes to one undeniable fact of life in the NBA. No matter what, it’s a player’s league.

Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, who hasn’t even been offered a contract extension by the Hawks, had what seemed like a nuclear arsenal at his disposal at that early point in the game. Josh Smith was simply overpowering Carlos Delfino, doing as he pleased. Al Horford was treating Ersan Ilyasova in roughly the same manner. The young Hawks were gliding past 37-year-old Kurt Thomas, miscast as an emergency starter.

Meanwhile, Scott Skiles, a serious candidate for NBA coach of the year, was reduced to countering with a flyswatter.

In a pre-series matchup of the coaches, a lot of impartial observers would’ve given the edge to Skiles. Woodson, a former Bucks assistant, has never received much respect from the Atlanta media or, apparently, ownership, given that his future with the Hawks is not settled.

While the Hawks have gone from 13 wins to 53 in Woodson’s five seasons, the debate in Atlanta continues on his value as a coach. What isn’t arguable is the fact that the Hawks’ talent has risen considerably. Atlanta’s youth, length and athleticism create serious matchup problems for the Bucks.

While it’s not particularly fair to say Woodson can put it on autopilot and simply let the mismatches occur, that’s what it looked like early on Saturday night. Whether the Atlanta players engaged the cruise control themselves after assuming a 24-point lead or there was merit to the Bucks’ comeback should be answered in Game 2.

But it’s a deadlock cinch that Skiles, with two days to prepare, will make defensive adjustments and move players around in an attempt to offset the physical advantage the Hawks have on the Bogut-less Bucks. That’s what Skiles has done time and again during a season in which the Bucks have punched above their weight class.

Of course, none of that will matter if the Bucks start Game 2 with the same glazed, tentative look they had to begin Game 1, which was basically over by the time Skiles had no choice but try to go to Gadzuric when his other options were getting pushed around. Just as there are only so many opponents Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can defend, there is only so much a sound plan can accomplish.

And it may not matter, anyway, if Woodson’s inside players are just that much better. In the end, talent usually makes those calls in a best-of-seven series.

The Bucks, though, can find ways to make it competitive and interesting. But they can’t worry about the Hawks blocking 11 of their shots again. That’s what big, mobile players do, so find alternate routes to the basket. Dig in a little more on defense. Get a stop, get a rebound. For the outmanned Bucks, it’s all about effort from here.

Woodson has most everything he needs out on the floor. Skiles can’t hide holes in the playoffs. It’s time for the players to throw a little help the coach’s way.

Michael Hunt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Last updated: 1:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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