ATLANTA (AP) — For one magnificent half, the Atlanta Hawks did nearly everything right. They made shots. They blocked shots. They dunked and defended and did their best to run Milwaukee out of the building.
One half was all they needed Saturday to get off to a good start in the playoffs.
Led by Joe Johnson and getting production from all their key players, the Hawks blitzed the Bucks before halftime, survived a lackluster showing over the final two quarters and held off Milwaukee 102-92 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series.
“We probably played as good in the first half as we’ve played all year,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “We jumped them right away.”
The Hawks had mismatches all over the court, taking advantage of the gruesome injury that took out Bucks center Andrew Bogut two weeks ago. The home team never trailed, building a 20-point lead in the first quarter and going to halftime with a 62-40 edge.
Milwaukee 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.
“When you get ahead by so much, you kind of get lackadaisical,” Hawks guard Mike Bibby said. “Basketball is a game of runs. They made a run at us. The main thing is: We withstood it.”
The short-handed Bucks were making their 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.
“Not having Andrew Bogut, I have to go back to playing the way I was at the beginning of the season,” Jennings said. “I have to be more aggressive if we’re going to have any chance to win.”
It’s going to be tough for one man to beat 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.
“It felt really good,” said Crawford, who was bothered by a toe injury late in the season but wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of this moment. “I was excited, nervous, everything. It felt so good to get it out of the way. It felt so good to make my first shot. I even smiled a little bit. I was like, ‘Wow, it’s really here.'”
The Hawks were nearly perfect in the opening quarter, while Milwaukee looked overwhelmed on the postseason stage. 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. They stretched out the margin as high as 23 points in the first half, shooting an astonishing 62 percent (26 of 42) from the field.
“The first half, we were a little shell-shocked,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “In the second half, we competed harder. We settled down a little bit. In the second half, we played more like ourselves.”
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.
“Hey, the first wins are always the toughest ones,” Woodson said.
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.
“I’m going to play above my head the whole series,” Jennings said. “There’s no pressure on us.”
NOTES: Atlanta’s 34-point opening quarter was third-highest for the playoffs in franchise history. The 62-point first half was the sixth-best. … The Hawks won their 13th straight home game. … The crowd was announced as a sellout of 18,729, though there appeared to be plenty of empty seats and tickets were going for less than a buck online shortly before tipoff. … The Bucks played only nine players. Charlie Bell, Primoz Brezec and former Hawks guard Royal Ivey didn’t make it on the court. … The Hawks played everyone in uniform except Jason Collins. … Atlanta’s Josh Smith had a double-double: 12 points and 10 rebounds. … John Salmons scored 16 points and Ilyasova added 11 for the Bucks.