MILWAUKEE (AP)—Powered by Carlos Delfino’s(notes) hot shooting, Brandon Jennings’(notes) creativity and an unexpected windfall of chances at the free throw line, the undermanned Milwaukee Bucks are beginning to make the Atlanta Hawks sweat.
The Bucks pulled off their second straight playoff surprise, beating the Hawks 111-104 in Game 4 on Monday night to pull even in the first round of the playoffs.
Suddenly, it’s a series.
“I still feel like there’s no pressure on us,” Jennings said. “At the end of the day, everybody still expects us to lose the series. The best thing we can do right now is just keep fighting, keep competing with them and just see how everything goes. Hopefully we can go over there and steal one.”
Delfino scored 22 points with six 3-pointers, Jennings scored 23 and John Salmons(notes) added 22 for the Bucks, who finally started getting free throws and made the most of them. Milwaukee was 28 of 32 from the line after attempting 17 free throws or fewer in each of the first three games of the series.
Free-throw shooting helped the Bucks survive a fourth-quarter surge led by Atlanta stars Joe Johnson(notes) and Josh Smith(notes). Johnson scored 29 points, reserve Jamal Crawford(notes) had 21, and Smith had 20 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s very frustrating, man,” Johnson said. “We just don’t have the toughness. They are getting all the loose balls, all the big rebounds. We can’t get stops when we need to and it’s killing us.”
It was yet another subpar performance away from home for the Hawks, who struggled on the road in the regular season and haven’t performed well on the road in recent playoff appearances.
“Somehow we’ve got to get our defensive mojo back where we’re defending and rebounding and running up and down the floor,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “And come Wednesday we’ll get that opportunity.”
Why can’t they carry their dominant play at home with them on road trips?
“I wish I knew,” Crawford said. “I wish I could figure it out. We’re two totally different teams. I think it’s been like that in the past for this team. We play well at home, we feed off the crowd, but you can’t play every game at home. We have to figure this out. That’s what winners do, that’s what champions do.”
The Hawks came to Milwaukee with two wins in hand and the series under control, looking to dismiss the Bucks and move on to the next round. Smith felt so comfortable that he decided to take a playful swipe at the city’s nightlife scene.
The dig wasn’t well-received by a surprisingly boisterous Bradley Center crowd, helping to fuel a home team whose playoff outlook appeared pessimistic after Bogut sustained a gruesome arm injury near the end of the regular season.
“Individually we’ve been through a lot,” Salmons said. “We’ve been tested, losing ‘Bogues’ and all that stuff just gave us a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
The Hawks’ day got off to an odd start, when a car collided with their team bus on their way back to their hotel after a pregame shootaround. Everybody was OK, but the day went even further downhill once the Hawks got back to the Bradley Center.
Little-used big man Dan Gadzuric(notes) gave the Bucks a jolt at the end of the third quarter, emphatically blocking a shot by Johnson and then making an acrobatic layup to give Milwaukee an 85-74 lead going into the fourth.
Delfino went 6 for 8 from 3-point range, including a 3-pointer from the corner to put Milwaukee ahead 97-88 with 3:56 left. Smith missed inside and Jennings grabbed the rebound, then hit a floating jumper at the other end.
Horford fouled Salmons, who hit both free throws to give the Bucks a 103-95 lead with 1:05 to go. Atlanta couldn’t get much closer because Milwaukee kept hitting from the line.
“The good thing is we’ve got home-court advantage,” Johnson said. “We have to go home and take care of our home court. Just start with Game 5 first.”
NOTES: Woodson said the woman driving the car that hit the Hawks’ bus, and the young boy riding with her, appeared to be OK. “I jumped out and went over to the car and opened the door, and the little kid had climbed out of his car seat,” he said. “There was smoke coming from the airbags, so I grabbed the kid. And the mom, they got her out.” … Veteran forward Thomas continued his solid play for Milwaukee, scoring 9 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. … Johnson scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half.