MILWAUKEE — Brandon Jennings says he’s too busy for press conferences right now. The Bucks rookie point guard is preparing to try to win Game 6 of Milwaukee’s first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Jennings’ playful jab was meant for Tyreke Evans after the Sacramento guard won the rookie of the year award Thursday.
Jennings is the only rookie among top candidates in the postseason.
“He had a great year, but I’ve got to get ready for Game 6,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m still playing right now, so I’m trying to do the best I can for this team.”
Jennings and the Bucks are loose leading the series 3-2. They maintain the pressure is on the Hawks to beat them at the Bradley Center tonight after Milwaukee stunned Atlanta 91-87 on the road in Game 5.
“To win a playoff series, that’s real motivation right there, because they said we couldn’t do it as a team. So, if we get the game Friday I’m sure everybody out there will be ‘Fearing the Deer’ as they say,” Jennings said.
For the Hawks, it’s been closer to a nightmare.
Zaza Pachulia failed to sleep after calling his performance unacceptable in Game 5, when the Hawks squandered a nine-point lead with just over four minutes left and saw their 14-game home winning streak snapped.
Pachulia has struggled because Jennings and Luke Ridnour have been taking advantage of Atlanta’s switching on defense to get matched up — or totally mismatched — with the 6-foot-11 center.
“We’re always talking about how we want to be a good team, how we want to be one of the elite teams,” Pachulia said. “We’ve got to go show it.”
The Hawks will be eliminated if they don’t win in Milwaukee, where Josh Smith joked there was nothing to do when they were up 2-0. Atlanta was blown out in Game 3, the team bus was hit by a car before losing Game 4 and the Hawks squandered home-court advantage in Game 5.
“We’re going to win. No question about it,” Hawks center Al Horford said. “That’s the bottom line. We have to bring it back to Atlanta.”
The Bucks announced early Friday that Game 6 was already sold out in the most anticipated matchup here since Game 6 against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001.
“I want it to be ridiculous. ... Hopefully everybody in Milwaukee is going to try and come out and support us,” Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute said. “I don’t think so far in the NBA I’ve played a game that has this big of a meaning.”
Everything is suddenly against the heavily favored Hawks, who have won just one road postseason game in the last three appearances and are on the brink of elimination after one of the bigger collapses in recent NBA postseason history.
The Hawks led by double digits in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night and still had an 82-73 lead with 4:09 to play before the Bucks finished the game on an 18-5 run.
“We have to see what we’re made of now,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
The differences between the two squads in Game 5 were stark down the stretch.
The Bucks bounced around, exchanging chest bumps as coach Scott Skiles playfully whacked Ersan Ilyasova on the head when Milwaukee took a four-point lead with 1:16 left.
On the other end of the court, Horford was yelling at his teammates, Marvin Williams was looking down with his hands on his hips and Smith leaned up against the scorer’s table with his hands up like he wasn’t sure what else he could do.
The Hawks’ biggest threat, Joe Johnson, had fouled out a minute earlier on an offensive charge into Kurt Thomas.
“John (Salmons) made the 3, we had a very odd play with 2 seconds left on the shot clock where Joe Johnson picked up his fifth that led to his sixth, Ers’ got the offensive rebounds. Kurt took the charge. If any one of those plays aren’t made, we’re probably down 3-2,” Skiles said. “It’s that thin of a margin.”
Thomas, the 15-year veteran center who has filled in ably for the injured Andrew Bogut, went scoreless, but Milwaukee outscored Atlanta by 22 when he was on the court during Game 5.
“A lot of people focus on who scores 20, 30, 40 points, but it’s about doing all the other small things on the court that add up to big things,” Thomas said.
That effort in this series hasn’t been overlooked, even by the rookie.
“You don’t always have to score to be the best player on the court,” Jennings said. “He was our best rebounder, our best defensive player and he does all the dirty work that we need.”
Atlanta will have to get dirty, too, if it wants to even the series. The Bucks believe they’re prepared for Atlanta’s best — and maybe final — shot.
“We’re just playing more aggressive right now. I guess you can say we want it more because everybody didn’t want us to win it. It’s a chip on everybody’s shoulder right now,” Jennings said. “We have a chance to finish it out, so we need to go ahead and do that.”