ATLANTA (AP) — With Andrew Bogut cheering from the bench while Brandon Jennings teamed with Kurt Thomas in a duo for the ages, the Milwaukee Bucks pulled within one win of an improbable first-round upset.
Jennings scored 25 points, Thomas drew a crucial charging foul against Joe Johnson and the Bucks stunned the home team with a 14-0 run late in the game, beating the favored Hawks 91-87 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Milwaukee’s third straight win over third-seeded Atlanta gives the upstarts a chance to wrap up the series at home in Game 6 on Friday night.
With Bogut out after taking a gruesome fall late in the regular season, the 20-year-old Jennings has stepped up big with his darting moves to the hoop. The 37-year-old Thomas, one of the league’s oldest players, doesn’t show up much on the stat sheet but he may have come up with the biggest play of the game when he stepped out to take a charge from Johnson with 2:15 remaining, giving the Atlanta star his sixth foul.
The Hawks appeared to be in control leading 82-73 after Josh Smith’s long jumper with 4:10 remaining. But Milwaukee scored the next 14 points, and Jennings wrapped it up by making two free throws with 9 seconds remaining.
Jamal Crawford, who had an awful game one day after winning the NBA’s Sixth Man Award, threw up a desperation 3-pointer that missed badly and the Bucks ran out the final seconds. While Milwaukee celebrated with chest bumps in the center of Philips Arena, the Hawks straggled off the court, serenaded by boos from their own crowd.
Crawford was 4 of 18 from the field and finished with 11 points. Al Horford had 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Hawks.
“Bye-bye, Woody!” someone shouted at Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, whose contract is up at the end of a season that is one loss away from ending much earlier than expected.
Atlanta dominated the first two games on its home court and fully expected to win at least one game in Milwaukee, which would have set them up to clinch at home in Game 5.
Instead, it’s the gritty Bucks, appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, who are on the verge of moving on to face waiting Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Milwaukee shot 41 percent from the field but came through when it mattered, simply outworking an Atlanta team that seemed more and more stunned to find itself in a tough series. John Salmons added 19 points and Luke Ridnour had 15.
The Bucks continually drove to the hoop in the fourth quarter, hitting 15 of 18 free throws. Stunningly, Atlanta never got to the line in the final period.
Marvin Williams had 22 points for the Hawks, who couldn’t overcome the dismal showings by Crawford and Johnson, who managed just 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting before fouling out.
The Hawks appeared to be taking control in the third quarter with the sort of play that had been missing since the first two games in Atlanta.
Johnson took things into his own hands, driving right around Thomas for a dunk that broke a 50-50 tie and sparked a 17-4 run that took less than 4 minutes. Johnson hit a couple of jumpers during the spurt, and he got plenty of support from Horford and Williams.
Horford scored six points, including a couple of ferocious dunks set up by passes from Mike Bibby. After the second jam, Bibby backpedaled down the court with a smile on his face, the Hawks appearing to have fun for the first time all night.
Williams scored the other five points in Atlanta’s outburst, including a three-point play that began at the other end with a turnover by Salmons. The Hawks ran the other way, and Dan Gadzuric got over too late attempting to take the charge. The shot went down, and Williams added a free throw that gave him 20 points in the game.
But the Bucks just wouldn’t go away, even though both replacement centers, Thomas and Gadzuric, ran into foul trouble. Thomas picked up his fourth less than 4 minutes into the third quarter, while Gadzuric was whistled for his fifth before the period was done.
Milwaukee tried to get a few minutes out of fourth-string center Primoz Brezec, then went for a stretch with a two-forward, three-guard lineup that included no one over 6-foot-8 and left the Hawks with a huge size advantage on the inside.
The Hawks’ frustration showed early.
Zaza Pachulia sent Jennings flying with a hard whack late in the first quarter, drawing an intentional foul. The 6-1 Jennings hopped off the court as though he wanted to go at the 6-11 Pachulia, but Thomas and the officials stepped in to push the rookie guard away. Ridnour jawed a bit with Pachulia before things calmed down.
Early in the second, Johnson doled out another hard foul on Ridenour, who tumbled to the court after taking a bit of a shove with the forearm.
The Bucks dished out some shots of their own. Thomas stepped out to set a pick on Smith, who tumbled to the court and rolled over with a gash over his right eye. He headed to the locker room to get five stitches, but returned to the court late in the period with a bandage covering the wound.
Jennings got off to a start befitting one of the quickest players in the league, scoring 12 straight Milwaukee points in a span of less than 2 minutes to give the Bucks an early 18-15 lead.
Both teams struggled through most of the first half, neither able to pull away or gain any sort of momentum. There were botched passes, airballs and generally sloppy play before the Hawks settled for a 46-43 halftime lead. But Atlanta received only a halfhearted cheer leaving the court, having done little to fire up the sellout crowd of 19,304.
NOTES: Bibby drew chuckles along press row when he attempted to check in during the first half, only to be told he had arrived at the scorer’s spot a split-second too late. He looked at the officials in disbelief, then collapsed against the padded table as if he’d been hit with a punch … Salmons is 23 of 24 at the foul line in the series.