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May 2, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Executing to Win

by Kevin Pelton

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at Atlanta 95, Milwaukee 74 (Atlanta wins series 4-3)
Pace: 80.4
Offensive Ratings: Atlanta 123.3, Milwaukee 88.2

After seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks proved to be who we thought they were. The Bucks fought hard, and enjoyed more success than almost anyone imagined going into this series, but ultimately Milwaukee simply did not have the talent to compete with the Atlanta Hawks, not with Andrew Bogut on the sidelines. The Bucks trailed by double-figures pretty much throughout the final three quarters of Game Seven and never really threatened Atlanta.

To pull the upset, Milwaukee needed big efforts from its guards, and neither Brandon Jennings nor John Salmons provided that kind of play. Jennings shot 6-of-18 from the field, Salmons 5-of-18, and the Bucks went 4-of-19 as a team from beyond the arc. Even though Milwaukee turned it over just five times (the positive part of Jennings' game that gets little to no attention is his sure-handed play) and Ersan Ilyasova had six offensive rebounds, it's about impossible to win a game shooting a 34.9 percent effective field-goal percentage.

The Bucks were beaten at the other end too. The Hawks dominated the offensive glass in the first half and finished with 17 second chances against 22 Milwaukee defensive rebounds, extending possessions and creating extra points. Even on a day where Joe Johnson (4-of-14, eight points) struggled, Atlanta had plenty of offensive options, led by 22 points off the bench from Jamal Crawford. Mike Bibby hit a trio of three-pointers and Josh Smith and Al Horford combined to make 11 of their 15 shot attempts.

Horford was simply outstanding, and he and Zaza Pachulia went a long way toward changing the tenor of the game (which was quite positive for the Bucks in the very early going) by controlling the paint after Smith picked up a quick second foul. Still, the Hawks are going to have to step up their play starting Tuesday, because the Orlando Magic has a lot more weapons than Milwaukee and is equally well coached. What we saw in the opening round won't cut it against the Magic.

at L.A. Lakers 104, Utah 99 (L.A. Lakers lead series 1-0)
Pace: 89.8
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 116.6, Utah 109.4

This felt like a game that was designed to taunt Kelly Dwyer, by which I mean it was an afternoon where the Los Angeles Lakers demonstrated what they can do on offense when they execute the triangle and share the basketball, and it left you wondering why they can't do so all the time. Of course, when I say game, I really should say 42 minutes, because the Lakers melted down offense for the first half of the fourth quarter, scoring one point in nine possessions over six minutes and two seconds, allowing the Utah Jazz to turn what was an eight-point deficit through three periods into a three-point advantage.

The Jazz would ultimately go up by four points with 4:09 left on Wesley Matthews' reserve, but was unable to match the Lakers execution the rest of the way. L.A. scored on five of its next eight possessions, with Kobe Bryant authoring four of the five buckets, while Utah did not make a field goal again until 19 seconds remained in the game and the Lakers held a five-point advantage.

Bryant had his best game of the postseason to date, shooting 12-of-19 from the field and scoring his 31 points with a .702 True Shooting Percentage. That's far better than he mustered in any game against Oklahoma City (his high TS% in that series was .570 in Game Six). Both Matthews and C.J. Miles got their chances, and Bryant torched both of them. Matthews couldn't force misses, while Miles tended to put Bryant on the line, including back-to-back shooting fouls in the last four minutes.

Gasol was pretty good too, scoring 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting. When the Jazz sent the double-team at Gasol, he found teammates, and he handed out four assists. Though the Lakers didn't have a lot of assists overall (18 on 41 made field goals), four of the five starters had at least three assists, so multiple players were touching and sharing the basketball.

The lone downside for the Lakers on offense was what continues to serve as their Achilles' heel, long-distance shooting. The starters missed all six of their three attempts, and the Lakers were 2-of-12 as a team. Part of the failure of Utah's defense was forcing so few threes on a day when the Lakers shot an even 60 percent on two-point attempts.

At the other end of the floor, the Jazz looked far more comfortable in the second half, ringing up 54 points as compared to just 45 before halftime. One difference was Paul Millsap, who struggled in the first half with the Lakers' length, shooting 3-of-9 and totaling six points. Millsap scored 10 after halftime on 5-of-9 shooting.

Playing through pain in his right shoulder, Deron Williams was brilliant throughout, getting to the free throw line 10 times, scoring 24 points and handing out eight assists. But Utah didn't shoot the ball particularly well from downtown eight, making five threes in 18 attempts, and it was only an average offensive performance for the Jazz.

Utah can probably feel comfortable enough in its second-half performance that we won't see extensive changes before Game Two. The biggest game-changer in this series will be the return of Andrei Kirilenko, which won't likely come until the series heads to Salt Lake City. Kirilenko would give Jerry Sloan another option as far as defending Bryant, as well as a chance to rest Millsap and Carlos Boozer without having to use Kosta Koufos.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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