MILWAUKEE (AP) — John Salmons scored 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting and the Milwaukee Bucks never let up after a hot start in a 107-89 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
The Bucks shot 68 percent in the first quarter and 51 percent for the game following a three-day layoff and were never seriously threatened after building a 19-point, first-half lead.
Atlanta still leads the series 2-1 after two double-digit victories at home, when the Bucks looked overmatched without the injured Andrew Bogut.
But veteran Kurt Thomas had eight points, 13 rebounds and four stitches, rookie Brandon Jennings added 13 points and Milwaukee proved that the Hawks may have to “Fear the Deer” after all.
Joe Johnson scored 25 for Atlanta. Game 4 is Monday night in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee led by as many as 28 in the fourth as the Hawks shot 39 percent for the game, and only once did Atlanta appear poised to make a run.
The Hawks cut the lead to nine early in the third quarter, but Jennings and the Bucks turned up the pressure.
Jennings sent a soft pass to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the lane and Mbah a Moute’s layup spun around the rim twice before falling in as the rookie point guard twisted his body 25 feet away in an effort to make the ball fall.
Moments later, Carlos Delfino hit his second straight 3-pointer to make it 64-47 after starting Game 3 by missing his first five shots. Salmons, who also had seven assists, followed with spinning 5-footer in the lane.
Jennings then whipped the crowd into a frenzy late in the quarter, stripping Mike Bibby and sending a behind-the-back bounce pass to Jerry Stackhouse for a dunk as Milwaukee took a 78-57 lead into the fourth.
While the Hawks may boast the “Highlight Factory” at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Milwaukee went buck wild back home in the Bradley Center after spending three days brooding over the tapes of the embarrassing road losses.
The Bucks found their mark from 3-point range, hitting 10 of 23 after going 10 of 44 in the first two games.
Jennings, who had nine points in Game 2, made three 3s and scored 11 points in the first quarter. Salmons hit all five of his first-quarter attempts and added 11 as Milwaukee built a 31-13 advantage and led 36-19 after the period.
Josh Smith, who mentioned there was “nothing to do” in Milwaukee earlier this week, was mostly quiet with seven points and 12 rebounds. He fell late in the first half and appeared to be limping slightly the rest of the game. Center Al Horford had 10 points, but only three rebounds in 30 minutes.
Thomas, a 15-year veteran, went in for stitches early in the second quarter after taking an inadvertent shot to the chin and missed 4½ minutes of game action, but even lightly used Dan Gadzuric had 10 rebounds in 17 minutes for Milwaukee.
Bucks owner and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl watched the team’s first home postseason game in four years in his customary seat just behind center court, and Milwaukee hit 12 of its first 15 shots to start the game.
He and the rest of the Bucks can only wonder how far they might go in the postseason with a healthy Bogut. Bogut doled out left-handed high fives from the bench with his right arm still in a large cast from the elbow down after breaking his right hand, spraining his wrist and dislocating his elbow in an ugly fall three weeks ago.