Hawks beat Bucks for 2-0 series lead

This time the Bucks weren’t rattled from the start and they again never stopped competing.

None of that mattered to the Hawks, who overwhelmed Milwaukee for stretches and turned back a late rally for a 96-86 victory on Tuesday night at Philips Arena. Atlanta won both games at Philips Arena to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.

Game 3 is Saturday at Milwaukee and the Hawks haven’t been nearly as good on the road as at home this season. But the Bucks, missing injured center Andrew Bogut, haven’t been good enough to keep up with the Hawks’ deeper well of talent.

The Hawks have no intention of letting up no matter where the games are played.

“We’re on edge,” Hawks center Al Horford said. “We can’t take anything lightly. I’m sure it’s going to be a tough environment. We’re fighting for our lives.”

When the Hawks pair that mentality with their physical ability, they can be dominant. Their challenge now is to take both on the road after posting a 19-22 record during the regular season compared to 34-7 at home.

The Hawks won their 14th consecutive game at Philips Arena, where the crowed has fueled their high-energy, running style.

“It’s the fans here,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “The fans have been great the last three years. They really enjoy the product on the floor and how we play. They’ve been huge in the playoffs, like a sixth man.”

The Bucks had enough trouble with the five the Hawks had on the floor.

The Hawks scored more than half of their points in the paint by exploiting Horford and Josh Smith’s advantage in the paint and running for 29 fast-break points. Bucks guard John Salmons scored 21 points but the other four starters combined for just 25 points.

“They outplayed us in almost every spot up and down the floor,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.

Hawks guard Joe Johnson controlled the game from the perimeter. He scored 27 points and helped limit Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings to nine points and 3 of 15 shooting after the rookie scored 34 in Game 1.

Horford and Smith combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds. Smith had nine assists to go along with 21 points and 14 rebounds to come up just short of a triple-double outing.

“If we keep handing out those easy baskets, it could be over quick,” Skiles said.

The Bucks avoided a blowout with strong rebounding and 40 points from their bench players. They trailed by as many as 19 in the third quarter but rallied to within 80-72 with 8:15 to play.

That’s when the Hawks found the energy for one more spurt to put the Bucks away.

The Hawks led 84-74 when Smith passed to Johnson in the corner for a 3-pointer. Horford followed with a three-point play, Smith scored an alley-oop basket and Mike Bibby made a jump shot to make it 94-77 with 4:11 to play.

“We weren’t going to let them get over that hump,” Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said. “When a team like that can do that, it gives them life.”

There were a couple moments in the first half when it looked like the Hawks would bury the Bucks early like they did in Game 1.

One first-quarter sequence put the Hawks up 22-12: Johnson blocked Brandon Jennings’ layup attempt, leading to a Crawford 3-pointer, and Smith’s block of Luc Mbah a Moute’s shot at the rim resulted in a three-point play by Marvin Williams.

The Bucks opened the second quarter with a 10-2 run to take a 32-30 lead. The Hawks answered with Johnson’s 3-pointer and an alley-oop layup from Bibby to Horford that gave the Hawks a 41-34 lead.

But the Bucks still wouldn’t fold and closed within 50-46 at the half. They stayed in it with 18 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova’s 13 points off the bench.

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