Wasn’t this supposed to be the playoffs that got away from the Bucks? Their starting center and best player broke his arm in 17.5 places! His replacements are Dan Gadzuric and the 93 year old walking corpse of Kurt Thomas. How does this happen?Scott Skiles is one reason. The team reflects the coach, and the coach is all business. In fact something similar is going on in Utah right now where starting center Memhet Okur and defensive ace Andrei Kirilenko are both out of the series. Jerry Sloan won’t make an excuse or concede to injuries, so neither will his squad. Jerry should have a couple of Coach of the Year awards gathering dust in his garage, and, as the Double Dribble end of season podcast decided, Scott Skiles should have a shiny new Coach of the Year award right now.
Credit Skiles with sticking with the game plan while speeding things up. Generally when the other team has more firepower on offense, a coach will try to slow things down and minimize possessions, but Skiles identified two advantages to a faster pace. First, his team has a better chance of scoring against the stronger, more athletic Hawks if they can get into sets early in the clock. Second, the Hawks only really go 6 men deep, and only two players are really good decision-makers. And one of them is Mike Bibby who played his best basketball back when Shaq and Kobe were still glaring at each other in the same lockerroom.The rest of the story is how great the Bucks’ bench has been in the last three games. Gadzuric has been killing himself on the boards against the stronger Atlanta front line. Stackhouse has been digging in on defense as though he just lost 6 years of wear and tear even though he’s always at an athletic disadvantage in this series. Luke Ridnoir continues to provide a great counter as a steady hand backing up the more dynamic young Jennings. Ersan Ilyasova plays tough up front and shows flashes of greatness.
A 3 – 2 lead does not a series win (Anymore. Now back in my day, when cellphones were for rich people, and logging onto the internet sounded like a Decepticon malfunctioning, a first round series was done after one team had three victories. Think how much more money the NBA could have made if Michael Jordan had been needlessly forced to crush the Bullets or Nets one more time in each first round series). Still the Bucks have not only risen to the challenge when the basketball pundits, me included, expected them to buckle, they have given themselves a chance to close out the higher seed in hometown Milwaukee.