Without Joe Johnson and Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks turned the clock back. Way, way back, to the year 2003, to be specific. Trailing 76-65 after three quarters, the Hawks rode their bench — an ancient quartet of Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse, Janerro Pargo, and Vladimir Radmanovic — to pull a magic rabbit out of an old, dusty old hat.
For three quarters, the Bucks looked like world-beaters. Brandon Jennings and Drew Gooden found a rhythm for their jump shots, Shaun Livingston was flying around making hustle plays, and the Bucks defense was squelching all the Hawks, save for Josh Smith. The one scary Hawk left in the lineup, Smith made his presence felt, scoring 24 points and grabbing 19 rebounds despite sitting as the Hawks bench took control late.
Pargo sparked the Hawks in the fourth, outplaying Jennings, and letting Brandon know it. Pargo scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the quarter, and his points got Atlanta’s offense untracked.
Then, with 11.9 seconds left, Radmanovic hit the game-winning three-pointer to break a 94-94 tie. The Bucks countered by inexplicably going to Drew Gooden in the low post. One could argue for the shoot-a-two-pointer-and-foul strategy if it happened more quickly and if Gooden wasn’t getting smothered by two defenders, but that wasn’t the case.
MVP: Brandon Jennings
Jennings finished with 34 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds. Despite fading down the stretch, Brandon came up with a gem compared to his performances in previous weeks. He got to the free-throw line (9/11 FT), he found his three-point stroke (5/8 3-pt. FG), and most importantly, he was aggressive. The Brandon Jennings of February — the one who dribbled up court, started an offensive set with a handoff, and then disappeared — was gone.
Let’s hope that the March Brandon is here for at least a month.
LVP: Scott Skiles
It’s not on the players any more. When a team consistently and repeatedly fails to:
1) Get off game-tying and/or game-winning shot attempts in the final seconds,
2) Recognize situations where a foul is needed to stop the clock,
3) Take a shot for an appropriate number of points in a game-deciding situation,
then the burden of responsibility eventually shifts to the coach.
This should delight you: Shaun Livingston
This is the Shaun Livingston that I love:
This should confuse you: Another drought.
In the three games since the All-Star break, the Bucks have been outscored in their worst quarter by 11, 14, and 16 points. They are starting to get stymied by the droughts that hurt them earlier in the year. Since they don’t have the offensive firepower to make up huge deficits, this trend needs to stop.
Another problem: When the Bucks essentially got their biggest lead of the night (a technical FT would later add a point to it), Zaza Pachulia set a pick to level Brandon Jennings, who at the time was slaying the Hawks. On the next Bucks possession, Brandon fought Zaza for an offensive rebound, and Pachulia tossed him to the ground with a forearm.
The Bucks don’t have a brutal player to dish out this kind of beating, nor do they have one to retaliate. The Hawks arguably have two: Pachulia and Ivan Johnson. If the Bucks ever get to the point of contending, John Hammond will have to consider adding a “big ugly”. Where are you now, Kurt Thomas?
Tweets of the Night:
@GSchofield50: Usually the Bucks start melting down in the 3rd. They’re a touch behind schedule…
@johnhollinger: Atlanta’s crunch-time perimeter trio: Pargo, Stackhouse and McGrady. In 2012.
@StevevonHorn: The Bucks are the worst team in the league when it comes to attempting the shot for the amount of points that will actually tie the game…
Final verdict: A Grim Reality
The Bucks now sit four games behind New York, the team currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference standings. The trade deadline looms less than two weeks away. John Hammond has the detonator in his hand. He can slowly rub his fingers over its surface and contemplate what to do next. If this team doesn’t have the pieces to make a serious playoff run in the next two years, then what is the next best path to getting there? (And how long will it take?)
Tough decisions lie ahead.