NBA: Johnson scores 22 points, Hawks beat Bucks
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are off to a good start in the playoffs, even though they barely showed up for the second half. The Milwaukee Bucks are short-handed but at least showed a little fight.
Led by Joe Johnson and getting production from all their key players, the Hawks blitzed the Bucks early, survived a lackluster showing after halftime and held off Milwaukee 102-92 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series Saturday.
The Hawks had mismatches all over the court, taking advantage of the gruesome injury that took out Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut late in the season. The home team never trailed, building a 20-point lead in the first quarter and going to halftime with a 62-40 edge.
The Bucks made a game of it led by Brandon Jennings, who scored 34 points in his playoff debut. But the rookie didn't have nearly enough help against the No. 3-seeded Hawks, making their third straight playoff appearance and hoping to break up the expected Cleveland-Orlando duel in the Eastern Conference.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Atlanta.
Milwaukee was making its first playoff appearance since 2006, and that inexperience showed even though Jennings tried to take matters into his own hands. He took 25 shots, making 14 of them, and accounted for more than third of his team's points.
That kind of formula doesn't figure to work against the Hawks, who have a balanced lineup and perhaps the best sixth man in the league, Jamal Crawford. Johnson scored 22 points, Mike Bibby added 19 and the other Atlanta starters also were in double figures. Crawford put up 17 points in the first postseason appearance of his 10-year career.
By comparison, only two other Milwaukee players joined Jennings with double-digit scoring.
Even though Crawford looked a bit nervous after waiting so long to experience the playoffs, he hit three big shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Hawks played a nearly perfect first quarter, while Milwaukee looked shell-shocked. Atlanta made 15 of 23 shots, controlled the boards, blocked three shots and didn't commit a turnover. The Bucks went 7 of 21 from the field, turned it over four times and appeared totally incapable of stopping Atlanta's myriad weapons.
Al Horford and Josh Smith both scored eight points in the opening period, and the Hawks made it 32-12 on Crawford's free throw in the final minute of the quarter before settling for a 34-17 lead.
The Bucks made a game of it in the second half, taking advantage of the sleepwalking Hawks to cut the gap to 77-70 late in the third — the closest Milwaukee had been since the opening minutes. But Mike Bibby hit a big 3-pointer from the corner and Atlanta took an 81-70 lead to the final quarter.
Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova both had 3-point attempts that could have cut it to five points late in the game, but neither connected. The Hawks iced it from there as Johnson hit a big jumper with Luc Mbah a Moute right in his face.
The Bucks knew the odds were against them. They lost Michael Redd in January to a knee injury, but the biggest blow came with less than two weeks to go in the regular season when Bogut wrenched his right arm in a gruesome tumble to the court, finishing him for the season.
With Bogut out, Jennings was basically a one-man team. He had 20 of Milwaukee's 40 points in the first half, and reached 30 points with more than six minutes left in the third quarter — before any of his teammates had even reached double figures.
The lightning-quick rookie was the one player who caused matchup problems for the Hawks, easily beating his man off the dribble no matter who the Hawks threw at him — everyone from 6-2 rookie Jeff Teague to 6-foot-10 center Al Horford.