Milwaukee offense grinds to a halt
The ball was moving, the passing was precise and the shots were falling.
In the first two games of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, none of that was happening. A sputtering offense contributed to Milwaukee dropping both games in Atlanta, with Game 3 scheduled for Saturday night at the Bradley Center.
In the absence of injured center Andrew Bogut, the Bucks have struggled to find an offensive rhythm and keep proper spacing on the floor. And shooting 41 percent from the field and converting just 4 of 24 three-point shots, as the Bucks did in Game 2 in Tuesday’s 96-86 defeat, doesn’t inspire confidence.
“It’s more just moving the ball on the offensive end,” Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings said after a team film session on Wednesday. “One guy gets it; then everybody is just watching.
“Then it puts a lot of pressure on the guy with the ball. When one guy has it, everybody has to be moving around, cutting or back-picking or something. That’s the same thing they’re doing to us on their offensive end.”
The Hawks’ switching defense, which features big men Al Horford and Josh Smith defending Bucks players on the perimeter, has caused some hesitation and uncertainty that has slowed down the offense.
“We’re making it too hard on each other,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “Our spacing isn’t what it normally is; we’re crowding each other some on the perimeter.
“We’ve got opportunities; we’ve got guys open around the floor. At the same time, we’ve got to have a balance. If they have their bigger players switching on our smalls, whoever has it should be able to drive the ball and try to make his own play. We’ve got to make better judgments.”
The Bucks’ frontcourt trio of Carlos Delfino, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Kurt Thomas had just 16 points in Game 2, and Thomas did not score on 0-for-3 shooting. They also combined for 16 points in Game 1, with Mbah a Moute scoring eight.
Three-point shooting has been a big problem for the Bucks, who have hit just 10 of 44 three-point attempts (22.7 percent) in the first two games. John Salmons is 0 for 10 from beyond the arc and Delfino is 0 for 5.
Jennings was hot in Game 1 while hitting 4 of 6 three-point attempts but made just 1 of 6 on Tuesday.
“We had several wide-open looks and we’ve got to knock those down, there’s no doubt about that,” Skiles said. “That’s been an area of concern for most of the season, but I’m not that worried about that.
“I’m more concerned about things we have control over.”
One way for the Bucks to counter the productive starting five of the Hawks is by getting big contributions off the bench. Milwaukee’s reserves held a 40-7 scoring advantage over Atlanta’s bench in Game 2, led by Jerry Stackhouse with 15 points and Ersan Ilyasova with 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
“We believe we can win,” said Bucks reserve guard Luke Ridnour. “Even just making shots (will help). If we can adjust and do that at home with our crowd behind us, it’s really going to help us.”
Ilyasova, who played 24 minutes in Game 2 and had seven offensive rebounds, said he thinks the Bucks’ bench can provide a needed edge.
“Especially now with Andrew out, the bench has to step up and do a little bit more than we did before,” Ilyasova said. “Dan Gadzuric did a really good job (Tuesday) and went to the offensive glass, that’s part of his game.”
Jennings had 34 points in Game 1 but was limited to nine on 3-of-15 shooting in Game 2, when he was defended by 6-foot-7 guard Joe Johnson. Skiles said he thought Jennings wasn’t attacking the defense as much as he did in the series opener.
“Sometimes the switching (defense) has caused him to shoot step-back shots,” Skiles said. “In Game 2 he missed a couple early, and that can cause him to be a little less aggressive.
“He’s made a lot of progress with that, and there are a lot of (film) clips where you can see his opportunities.”
Delfino played better in Game 2 with eight points, six rebounds and four assists, although his outside shot was not falling.
“We had several reverse layups by John and Carlos where they couldn’t block our shot,” Skiles said. “In this type of series there’s more pressure on our perimeter people. We need to relax, come out and play our normal game and see where that leads us.”