In turning themselves around from a Lottery team to a tough playoff out, the Milwaukee Bucks have thrived on a commitment to defense. While high-volume scorers Brandon Jennings and John Salmons currently get the headlines, it’s guys like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova and Kurt Thomas whose unsung efforts on the defensive end will ultimately give the Bucks its best chance at upsetting the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
In their Game 1 loss, the Bucks were blasted in the first half before allowing just 40 points in the second and making it competitive down the stretch. Although the defense has taken a hit without injured center Andrew Bogut — who got one first-place vote on this year’s Defensive Player of the Year ballot — they could still find the right formula to contain ATL’s Joe Johnson on the perimeter and prevent Josh Smith and Al Horford from having their way in the paint. From yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Johnson contributed 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists to the Hawks’ victory on Saturday, yet Mbah a Moute did a respectable job against him.
“If Joe has a bad game in this series, more than likely it’s going to be he had an off night,” (Scott) Skiles said. “There’s not going to be a lot we can do about it, except we can try to make him less efficient, shoot a lower shooting percentage but he still gets his points. That’s our goal.”
Johnson’s all-around ability makes Skiles reluctant to put Mbah a Moute on Smith or another Hawks player in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“Joe is the player coming into Game 1 that hurt us the most,” Skiles said. “We have to do a much better job of battling Josh down there. We let him catch it and the help was late.
“We’ve just got to get back to our normal defense. We can’t all of a sudden leave the page. If we would have been playing our normal defense and they would have hurt us, then you’ve got to start thinking about adjustments and changing things. The first thing we’ve got to do is play like we did in the second half, more aggressive.”
As good as Jennings is offensively — and he did carry the Bucks with 34 points in his playoff debut — the rookie is still learning how to play defense on the pro level. His presence on the court takes away from Milwaukee’s strength in that area, and it’s not like backup PG Luke Ridnour is much better. But seeing as Jennings/Ridnour have to play in order for the offense to move (leaving a solid defender like Charlie Bell with only scrap minutes), the better defensive players on the Bucks have to step up. Like Skiles said, it could be as simple as playing more aggressively, or the coach just didn’t want to tip his hand as far as X’s and O’s.
How many games can Milwaukee win in this series?