ATLANTA (AP) — With Joe Johnson and high-flying Josh Smith leading the way, the Atlanta Hawks avoided another Game 2 letdown.
Johnson took control in the fourth quarter to finish off a 27-point effort, Smith finished one assist shy of a triple-double and the Hawks ran away from the pesky but outmanned Milwaukee Bucks for a 96-86 victory in the Eastern Conference playoffs Tuesday night.
Atlanta was mindful of last season, when it blew out Miami in its playoff opener — then lost at home and had to go the full seven games.
This time, the Hawks took care of business on their home court. They’ll head to Milwaukee on Saturday night with a commanding 2-0 lead, the first time they’ve won the first two in a best-of-seven series since 1970.
Again, the Hawks’ balance and size advantage on the inside were just too much for the Bucks, who knew they’d face a huge challenge in this series after 7-foot center Andrew Bogut took a hard fall late in the regular season and was done for the playoffs.
All five Atlanta starters reached double figures for the second game in a row, and the two guys on the inside sure took advantage of Bogut’s absence.
Smith had 21 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists — not to mention two steals and two blocks. He had the crowd on its feet with four thunderous dunks and a couple more above-the-rim layins. Center Al Horford was nearly as dominant, scoring 20 points, snatching down 10 rebounds and blocking three shots.
But Johnson, as usual, took over in the fourth quarter. After Milwaukee had closed to single-digit range, he buried four straight jumpers, the last of them a 3-pointer from the corner after snaring a rocket pass from Smith, pushing the Hawks to an 87-74 lead that essentially finished off the Bucks.
Johnson scored 10 points in the final period, and bolstered his all-around effort with six assists, two blocks and a steal.
The Bucks head home, hoping to turn things around in the next two games. But they’ve led only three times in the series — never by more than two points — for a total of 1 minute, 32 seconds.
John Salmons scored 21 points, and Ersan Ilyasova came up big off the bench with 13 points and 15 rebounds. But rookie Brandon Jennings, after scoring 34 points in Game 1, managed only nine points on 3-of-15 shooting.
The Bucks grabbed their first lead of the series, 4-2, on Luc Mbah a Moute’s putback less than 1½ minutes into the game. But Atlanta looked like it was headed for another first-half blitz, pushing out to 22-12 lead on Marvin Williams’ three-point play.
In Game 1, the Hawks led by 20 in the opening quarter and 22 at halftime.
This time, Milwaukee kept it respectable in the early going, ripping off an 8-0 spurt to get right back in the game. But the Hawks scored the final six points of the period in flamboyant fashion. Smith stole the ball in the defensive end and took off, going all the way to the hoop for a thunderous left-handed jam that brought the crowd to its feet.
After Salmons turned it over, the Hawks were running again. Jamal Crawford missed on an attempted slam, but Smith grabbed the rebound and put it in off balance with 2 seconds remaining to put Atlanta ahead 28-20.
Milwaukee got off a quick start in the second quarter, starting with a 12-2 run that gave the visiting team another brief lead, 32-30. Again, the Hawks quickly reclaimed the upper hand, scoring the next six points and leading the rest of the period — though never by more than seven. Johnson finished off the half with a driving layup that sent Atlanta to the locker room with a 52-46 lead.
NOTES: C Primoz Brezec played 5:41 after being one of three Milwaukee players who didn’t get on the court in Game 1. He didn’t register on the scoresheet. Charlie Bell and Royal Ivey also got some late action with the game out of reach. … The Hawks played everyone but Jason Collins for the second game in a row. … Atlanta’s last triple-double in a playoff game was by Mookie Blaylock (14 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) in 1994. … The Hawks won a Game 2 for the first time since a best-of-five series against Detroit in the opening round of the 1999 playoffs. … The Hawks drew a second straight sellout, 18,938.