How Ersan Ilyasova Saved the Bucks
But for me, this was the Ersan Ilyasova show.
Ilyasova has long been a personal favorite, and thankfully this series has presented a new audience for the NBA's next great Turk. In the final three minutes of the Bucks' win, Ilyasova surely made believers out of some Hawks, outplaying the vaunted Atlanta frontcourt by keeping Milwaukee alive on a couple important possessions.
As Milwaukee fought back into the game, Jennings had a pair from the line with two minutes and 44 seconds left. The rookie made the first, but the second missed right. Josh Smith, the brilliant Hawks power forward, misjudged the carom, boxing out the lane from its center. The ball flitted off to the right corner, and Ilyasova beat Smith to it easily. The offensive rebound eventually resulted in two Salmons free throws to make it a one-point game at 82-81 Atlanta.
Old-growth redwood Kurt Thomas drew a charge on Joe Johnson on the Hawks' next possession, giving Milwaukee the chance for a lead. A misplay sent the ball bouncing toward the baseline. Ilysasova broke off his position near the rim to make a desperate lunge for the ball before it became a turnover ... and he saved it, slapping it back into play. Eventually, he regained post position, took a pass from Thomas and scored inside to give the Bucks a lead they would not relinquish.
After the Hawks wasted a possession with a long Smith three (with 11 seconds on the shot clock, no less) and a failed Al Horford putback attempt, Ilyasova made one more save, this time collecting an offensive rebound on Jennings's missed lay-up and flipping it out to Delfino, who had spotted up in the left corner. The Argentine hit his shot and the Bucks took a four-point lead.
Ilyasova, who only played 22 minutes on the night, having been the first big man off the bench, was in the game for the entirety of Milwaukee's game-clinching 14-0 run in the fourth quarter. Despite Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's status as starter, coach Scott Skiles hasn't been afraid to go with either young power forward. The extra option paid off in spades Wednesday night, and put the Hawks -- with two All-Star caliber big men of their own -- on the brink.
This series may have come down to Ersan Ilyasova outplaying Josh Smith over a three-minute period. The Hawks can't feel good about that.