The Bucks are a tough team that has overachieved all year long. Head coach Scott Skiles pushed all the right buttons during the long layoff between Games Two and Three in this series.
With that being said, the Hawks looked terrible in Game Three. It would have been easy to blast the team and rehash all of the "Can't Win on the Road" articles from the past two playoff seasons.
However, this is a different Hawks team and that is why they are going to play big and win Game Four tomorrow night.
Winning on the road in the NBA playoffs isn't just a matter of showing up with more talent.
Ask the Los Angeles Lakers or the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are a combined 1-3 on the road in these playoffs. The Hawks have to make some adjustments, but they mostly have to focus on these three keys to winning Game Four:
1. Defensive Intensity
Winning on the road in the NBA playoffs starts on the defensive end of the court. The Hawks love to play their switching man-to-man defense, but you have to switch aggressively to challenge the jump shot or the pass.
No dunks and layups. The Hawks were trailing cutters all night long in Game Three.
There are guys on the Milwaukee Bucks that can only score from dunks or offensive rebounds. Those points have to be eliminated. Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute cannot be allowed free cutting lanes or rebounding lanes.
In Sunday's games, the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs are challenging every shot at the rim. The Hawks have to do the same. Someone besides Zaza Pachulia has to have the guts to take a hard playoff foul on someone.
The Hawks have to be mentally and physically tougher than Milwaukee tomorrow night. However, I do not mean "toughness" as far as getting into a fight or throwing cheap shots.
When you play on the road, everything is against you. You basically have your 20 members of the Hawks franchise contingent and that is it.
Toughness means taking charges, setting solid screens, boxing out, jamming cutters, posting-up close to the basket, attacking the rim at the end of the shot clock, diving on the floor for a loose ball, hustling back to stop a three-on-two fastbreak, etc. That is basketball toughness.
That toughness was missing in Game Three.
Toughness means not getting distracted when an official's call does not go your way. In Game Three, Hawks fans saw some glimpses of the old Josh Smith. Smith dominated Game Two like an All-NBA-type player.
Game Three saw some slippage. Smith did not attack the basket. He griped about the officials. He did not destroy Delfino on the block.
Smith has been creating for teammates, but not in Game Three. If Smith plays the all-around game that he has played all season long, it is nearly impossible for Milwaukee to beat the Hawks in this series.
That is a lot of pressure for J-Smoove, but he will step up in a big way in Game Four. He is one of the few guys in the NBA playoffs capable of a triple-double.
3. The Hawks Have To Initiate Their Offense More Quickly
In Game Three when the Bucks scored, the Hawks were slow to push the ball up the floor and get into their offensive sets. That plays right into the Bucks' strategy. Skiles wants to play these games with scores in the 80s.
You can complain about Mike Bibby's defense and Jamal Crawford's shot selection, but these guys have been solid this year running the offense. Bibby has to push the ball on makes. If the Hawks can get Smith or Al Horford the ball on the block earlier in the shot clock, the Hawks have the ability to score in the post or kick the ball out for open shooters.
They should also make the adjustment to run more pick-and-rolls with Al Horford.
Horford has to set a solid screen, but he has consistently been making his jump shot. Use Jamal Crawford to attack off the screen. Crawford needs to come up big in Game Four.
These keys are a great start, but what else needs to happen for the Hawks to take a commanding three-games-to-one lead in the series?
Marvin Williams has to play better. The Hawks have to attack John Salmons on the defensive end. Horford has to hit the offensive glass. Joe Smith needs to do something, anything. Give Joe some minutes.
And of course, Joe Johnson has to play like Super Joe knows how to play. I could not have more faith that Joe is going to be the best player on the floor in Game Four.
The prediction here is that the Hawks win in a tight game, 93-89.