Bucks gore stunned Hawks
No one is more stunned than the Atlanta Hawks, who figured they would have things all wrapped up by now.
Brandon Jennings scored 25 points, Kurt Thomas drew a crucial charging foul against Joe Johnson and the Bucks stunned the home team with a 14-0 run late in the game, beating the favored Hawks, 91-87, on Wednesday night for a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Milwaukee, appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, responded like the seasoned postseason team after getting blown out in the first two games. The third-seeded Hawks, planning for a long run in their third straight playoff appearance, better figure out a way to win on the road or this season will be over much sooner than they expected.
Game 6 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
“The pressure’s not on us,” Jennings said.
Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut is watching the playoffs with a cast on his right hand after taking a gruesome fall late in the regular season, but the 20-year-old Jennings keeps stepping up big with darting moves to the hoop and timely jumpers. The rookie scored 12 straight points early and clinched the victory with two free throws.
Joining him in a duo for the ages is the 37-year-old Thomas, one of the league’s oldest players. Bogut’s replacement doesn’t show up much on the stat sheet—he took only one shot and failed to score—but he came up with perhaps the biggest play of the game when he stepped out to take a charge from Johnson with 2:15 remaining, the Atlanta star’s sixth foul.
“I thought when Joe Johnson came out of the game,” Jennings said, “we had a chance to win it.”
The Hawks appeared to be in control leading 82-73 after Josh Smith’s long jumper with 4:10 remaining. Milwaukee scored the next 14 points while Atlanta was missing seven straight shots. Even though Al Horford finally broke the drought with 19 seconds remaining, then banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to finish with 25 points and 11 rebounds, it wasn’t enough to make up for a total collapse.
“This is incredible,” said Jamal Crawford, who had an awful game one day after winning the NBA’s Sixth Man Award. “We had the game won. It just slipped away from us.”
Crawford’s night ended in appropriate fashion—a desperation 3-pointer that missed badly and left him sprawled on the court. He finished 4 of 18 from the field for 11 points. Johnson wasn’t much better, making 6 of 16 for 13 points before fouling out for the first time this season.
“It was a terrible loss,” Johnson said. “It was embarrassing.”
The Bucks ran out the final seconds and celebrated with chest bumps in the center of Philips Arena, while the Hawks straggled to the locker room, hearing nothing but boos from a sellout crowd of 19,304.
“Bye-bye, Woody!” someone shouted at Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, whose contract is up at the end of a season that now finds itself in one loss-and-done mode.
“It’s a tough loss,” Woodson said, “but it’s a seven-game series.”
Atlanta cruised through the first two games at home and fully expected to win at least one game in Milwaukee, which would have set them up to clinch at home in Game 5.
Instead, it’s the gritty Bucks who are on the verge of moving on to face waiting Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We feel great,” Thomas said. “Even after the first two games, we felt very confident we would go home and get the job done.”
Milwaukee shot 41 percent from the field but simply outworked an Atlanta team that seemed stunned more and more to find itself in a tough series. John Salmons added 19 points for the Bucks and Luke Ridnour had 15.
“We know we didn’t play well,” Salmons said. “It was an ugly game.”
But it sure looked pretty at the end. The Bucks continually drove to the hoop in the fourth quarter, drawing foul after foul and hitting 15 of 18 free throws. Stunningly, Atlanta never got to the line in the final period.
Marvin Williams had 22 points for the Hawks, who couldn’t overcome the dismal showings by their two leading scorers, Johnson and Crawford.