Set to Stun

Fear the Deer, indeed. Down two games to none on Saturday, Luc Mbah a Moute and the Milwaukee Bucks needed a win just to save hope.

Three games later, Milwaukee now needs just one win to finish.

No. 12 and the Bucks stunned the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, taking down the home team, 91-87, for a Game 5 win on the road. The Bucks now lead the series 3-2 and return to Milwaukee for a chance to clinch a trip to the second round in their place on Friday night.

Luc driving on Atlanta’s Al Horford during the win Wednesday night (Getty Images).

Luc did his part to help the Bucks get into the position to clinch, once again stifling Atlanta swingman Josh Smith all night while connecting for nine points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbing five rebounds.

Milwaukee cut a late Hawks lead to four, but hope looked to be growing dim after a three-pointer by Jamal Crawford and a long two by Smith, as Atlanta quickly went back on top by nine with 4:10 left in the game.

But following Smith’s jumper, the Bucks went on an unbelievable 14-0 run thanks to clutch free throws, smart choices, and dominant defense. You could see the frustration on Hawks’ star Joe Johnson’s face when he fouled out on a charge drawn by Kurt Thomas with over two minutes left.

To go along with their 14-0 run, the Bucks played stout defense Wednesday night, much of it coming from John Salmons and No. 12, who covered Johnson and Smith, respectively. The two were able to work off each other as Jeremy of Bucksketball wrote:

« Salmons couldn’t have made his life any more difficult in the fourth quarter, making him hit shots falling away from the hoop with a hand in his face and maneuver through double teams instead of into open space. Salmons work allows Mbah a Moute to nest inside of Josh Smith’s head and changes everything for the Bucks. »

During the teams’ regular season meetings Luc Richard handled Johnson for most of his time on the court, but Bucks coach Scott Skiles couldn’t ignore Smith’s impressive performances in Games 1 and 2, so he dispatched No. 12 to slow Smith.

Salmons stepping up to the challenge in taking on Johnson has given Luc the advantage of not having to worry about anyone but Smith. It has shown in Smith’s line. The lengthy forward shot just 3-of-8 for seven points, only getting to the line once, and had by far the team’s worst (+/-) net points score of -13.

Paul Forrester of Sports Illustrated wrote glowingly of Luc’s work on Smith:

Where’s Josh? Defenders who aren’t swatting away shots at the rim require a more refined palate to appreciate, the kind that Josh Smith is developing in trying to overcome Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The Bucks’ 6-foot-8 defensive specialist made Smith little more than a bystander on offense for much of Game 5. He kept the Hawks’ explosive forward in front of him defensively and largely outside of the paint, where Smith has smartly spent more time this season in lieu of his previous ill-fated romance with the three-point arc. Mbah a Moute also paid careful attention to push Smith toward the perimeter when Atlanta shot, neutralizing Smith’s leaping ability on the offensive glass. Smith ended the night a quiet 3-of-8 from the floor for only seven points.

The Bucks return home with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to clinch.

After a season-defining road win in Atlanta, the Bucks get a chance to win their first playoff series since 2001 at home in front of all their fans. A victory would set up a matchup with the Orlando Magic in the second round with a Friday night victory.

Tip-off is at 6:00 CST and Luc Richard has taken to Twitter, encouraging all Bucks fans to come out for the excitement, as he tweeted:

 » Fear the deer » great win tonight! We are gonna need the whole city at the Bradley Center on friday… »

If you can’t make it out to the Bradley Center on Friday, support your Bucks and watch the game live on ESPN.

Progress is supposed to be a slow process (Bucksketball, April 29, 2010)…
Bucks center Thomas steps up, takes charge (MJS, April 29, 2010)
Bucks stun Hawks to take 3-2 lead in first round series (, April 29, 2010)
Luc’s Twitter Page (Twitter, April 29, 2010)