Sat May 01 01:30am EDT
Nobody would dare call the Milwaukee Bucks' first half performance in Game 6 a work of art, not with that miserable shooting and 34-point total. But by the midway point of the third quarter, Milwaukee was reflecting pretty fondly on the time they were able to almost approach 20 points in a quarter.
Because the Bucks scored just 11 points in the third quarter of Game 6 on Friday night, and it was the deciding factor in a tough road win for the beleaguered Atlanta Hawks, sending the series back to Georgia for a deciding Game 7 on Sunday. And it was a bit of insight into this Bucks team, if you hadn't seen them much recently, because Milwaukee has been pulling off these sorts of cold stretches all season long.
This one, with the possible exception of a swoon against the
Cavaliers back in December, was easily the worst. And it was a miserable watch,
as Milwaukee missed jumper after runner after jumper, going scoreless for eight
minutes of game action and watching as the Hawks put together a 19-0 run to
What's worrying is that this was a strain of Bucks basketball that we've seen sporadically throughout the season, both on the road and within the confines of what is possibly the loudest building in the Eastern Conference, and that 88 games into the season, they haven't been able to do much to remedy it. The same story, every time: Milwaukee could just not buy one, and it hardly mattered who was doing the shooting, the driving and the missing.
Though the Hawks appeared to surprise with a brand of zone defense during that run, the Bucks were quick to dismiss its impact after the game. "It was a zone, but as soon as there was any movement it turned into a man-to-man [defense]," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said after the game, preferring to point to mistakes made by Milwaukee's players rather than nodding in Atlanta's direction.
"It seemed like we were bound and determined to lay-in over Josh Smith," Skiles continued. "We had open guys, but we had tunnel vision. We have to kick [the ball] out."
While an open jumper is sometimes preferable to a contested shot around the basket, personnel has to be accounted for here, and that extends to coach Skiles. His teams in Phoenix, Chicago and (to a ridiculous degree) Milwaukee have long struggled to earn free-throw attempts, and while Atlanta did a sound job to contest close shots without fouling, the Bucks can't decline finishing opportunities in the paint in favor of tossing the ball out to perimeter jump shooters, who frankly aren't very good at shooting on the perimeter.
John Salmons, Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Jennings are as streaky as jump shooters come, and though each had their share of misses in the paint, it was the relatively open missed jump shots that hurt the most in Game 6.
The triptych went 8 for 34 from the floor, and it's not as if they didn't have good looks. Even Skiles, who is often short to praise following tough losses, termed Jennings' open looks as "decent." And Jennings himself didn't really agree that a lack of a drive-and-kick game put Milwaukee behind the 8-ball.
"I was settling for too many jump shots. Al Horford was confronting me, the help side was on tonight, but I also just wasn't hitting shots."
The question moving forward is, well, when will Jennings start to hit shots?
He's a dogged player, an exhilarating talent and a competitor worth admiring, but viewed through the prism of his 55-point game from last November, Jennings' offense was massively overrated for most of his rookie year. Even if the 55-point game wasn't mentioned, observers seemed to prefer focusing on Jennings' potential rather than a season-long 37 percent clip from the field.
And once defenders learned to try and sneak over screens set for Jennings (as opposed to what Golden State's C.J. Watson did, going under, in the 55-point performance from last fall), Brandon was effectively taken out of most games. The efficient, solid-shooting night was a rarity, an occasional perk alongside his more consistent attributes (ball distribution, defense, fantastic screen-and-roll chemistry on both ends with Andrew Bogut).
So what is Skiles supposed to expect in Game 7? After a regular season of shooting poorly more often than not, Jennings has actually alternated good and bad outings in the postseason, shooting 42 percent through six games. And though he's hardly the most to blame for Milwaukee's miserable offensive output, he will have the ball in his hands the most and he's clearly the most adept at creating his own shot.
Yes, Horford and Smith are to be credited for making life tough at the rim for Jennings and others in Game 6, but good defenses can always be picked apart.
There are easy answers; the Bucks have to hit shots, but Milwaukee can't even agree on how to get to those easy answers. Skiles thought the team drove too much while Jennings thought he shot too many perimeter bombs, and his 1 for 9 mark from long range tends to favor his take on Milwaukee's ineptitude.
From wherever it's released from, the ball has to go in if Milwaukee wants to pull the upset. But even with the clearest of lanes or most open of long jumpers, Jennings hasn't been much to consistently rely on this season when it comes to launching shot attempts.
But coming off that weakness' most prominent - and nationally televised -- example, will he have it in him to turn it around?
Only Game 7 knows.