- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
ATLANTA – Nearly two months prior to Monday’s game at State Farm Arena, the struggling Milwaukee Bucks faced a similarly conflicted Atlanta Hawks team.
Back on Nov. 14, the Bucks were blown out by the Hawks without Khris Middleton to lose for the fourth time in six games and the Hawks snapped a six-game losing streak.
Just about two months later, last year’s Eastern Conference finalists met again and felt like a November redux. Milwaukee had lost 5 of 7 and Atlanta had lost five straight, and the Hawks also had the locker room shaken up with a trade of Cam Reddish to New York for Kevin Knox II.
This time around the Bucks were without point guard Jrue Holiday and the Hawks, again, snapped a losing streak with a 121-114 comeback victory over the defending champions. It also stopped a 10-game home losing streak.
"I think it was a little bit of everything," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Credit to Atlanta – they found a way in the second half. It's a 33-point third and a 38-point fourth quarter, so defensively, that's just not good enough."
Atlanta improved to 18-25 while Milwaukee dropped to 27-19. The Bucks will host Memphis, one of the hottest teams in the NBA, on Wednesday.
BOX SCORE: Hawks 121, Bucks 114
A huge part of that was Middleton, who played his first game in Atlanta since his 32-point effort in helping the Bucks clinch a trip to the NBA Finals on July 3. After a tough outing against Toronto on Saturday, Middleton was in a groove from the outset offensively but struggled down the stretch in playing 36 minutes.
The two-time all-star was central to all of the action in the decisive fourth quarter.
After he turned the ball over and the Hawks cut the Bucks lead to 88-86, Middleton pulled down two key defensive rebounds assisted on a Giannis Antetokounmpo bucket that made it 92-86 and then followed that up with a clutch three to make it 95-86.
Defending De’Andre Hunter the next Hawks trip down, Middleton coaxed the Atlanta guard into losing his dribble, which turned into a pair of Antetokounmpo free throws and a 97-86 Bucks lead with 9 minutes, 2 second left in the game.
The Hawks rallied to 100-97 with a 11-3 run, but out of a Milwaukee timeout Middleton drew a foul on a three-point attempt to make it 103-97. But Middleton then turned it over on back-to-back possessions, which allowed the Hawks to take their first lead of the game at 104-103 on a three by Danilo Gallinari with 4:37 remaining. Middleton atoned, hitting a baseline jumper to push the Bucks back in front.
But that point, it looked like Middleton and Antetokounmpo had run out of gas. Antetokounmpo missed a 10-foot baseline jumper and Middleton was short after getting set on a three.
“It’s a couple of looks we’ll take again,” Budenholzer said. “Giannis gets to a great spot, gets to one of his favorite shots, he’s made a bunch of those, that one just didn’t go in. Same with Khris. I don’t really think either one of them were fatigued – I think they’re just; they’re human. They’re shots we’re used to seeing them make a lot of they didn’t knock down. They’re timely. Tonight we didn’t make the timely shot. But I think, again, I just think we just gotta be better defensively, not put too much pressure on Khris and Gianni to deliver in that situation.”
Atlanta, however, was energized.
Kevin Huerter lost Middleton in traffic for a floater and then Onyeka Okongwu scooted past Antetokounmpo on the baseline for a reverse layup to keep the Hawks up 113-108 with 1:32 to go.
Middleton then tried to float an entry pass into Antetokounmpo, but the ball was lost out of bounds – as were precious seconds.
Hunter hit a layup with 26.3 seconds left to make it 115-109. Following a timeout, the Hawks forced the Bucks to work the ball around before Gallinari drew an offensive foul on Antetokounmpo with 19.2 seconds left to effectively seal it for the Hawks, as the teams traded baskets and free throws from there.
Middleton led the Bucks with 34 points in 35 minutes. He made 11 of his 22 shots but was just 2-for-4 in the fourth quarter. He also had eight turnovers – including six in the fourth quarter – seven rebounds and four assists.
“It’s just being better with the ball and making better decisions,” Middleton said. “I’m not going to make any excuses for my turnovers. That’s been a conversation we’ve been having in the locker room for awhile now, just gotta find a way to be smarter, be better. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights where I took a step in the right direction taking care of the ball, especially late in the game like that with the game on the line. So, just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better.”
Antetokounmpo had 27 points on 8-of-20 shooting. Bobby Portis had 13 points and 13 rebounds while Pat Connaughton had 14 off the bench.
Milwaukee was once again without Holiday, who missed his fifth straight game with left ankle soreness (and six overall), so George Hill earned the start and the initial minutes on Hawks star point guard Trae Young. Wesley Matthew provided relief off the bench, and the Bucks were quick to show decisive help on Young. Young had to work for all of his 30 points. He made just 7 of his 17 shots, including 2 for 6 from behind the three-point line. Young did make all 14 of his free throws, including all 10 of his attempts in the fourth.
Hill had five points on 2-of-4 shooting in 31 minutes while Matthews fouled out in 21 minutes off the bench. Donte DiVincenzo also played a role in defending Young, as he was on the court a season-high 21 minutes.
“George and Wes and Donte, lots of different people, I think tried to make everything as hard and as difficult as they can,” Budenholzer said of the team defense. “I think there’s a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better, the defense on Trae Young, while he’s really tough, really difficult, that probably wasn’t our biggest problem tonight.”
Hunter finished with 20 points for Atlanta while John Collins had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Huerter had 13 while Okongwu had 12.
Atlanta trimmed a 12-point halftime deficit down to 80-77 with 2:01 to go in the third quarter, but Middleton answered with a three-pointer to stem the tide for Milwaukee. Middleton then hit Connaughton for a triple the Bucks’ next trip down, and the triples helped the Bucks prevent the Hawks from totally overcoming the deficit. Milwaukee would hold an 88-83 lead going into the fourth quarter, but once again saw an opponent win the third quarter as Atlanta outscored the Bucks 33-26.
Hunter and Collins keyed the quarter for the Hawks, scoring nine points each while Antetokounmpo was held to just five for the Bucks.
“Just think it’s never nobody else – it’s always us,” Portis said of the third quarter slippage. “We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and play our minutes with force. I think we come out too cool in the second half and third quarters when we’re up maybe eight, nine, 10 points every time.
"Every half we come out then the team makes a run and cuts it down to single digits and then we think we can just cut it back on and it’s not really like that. We gotta play the game right way.
"The basketball gods don’t like that, man. We come out too lackadaisical, we don’t have that same pop, that same sense of urgency that we play with in the first half and it hurts us. It’s been hurting for three weeks now. And we gotta clean that up ASAP.”
The Bucks used an 11-4 run to end the first half and head to the locker room with a 62-50 lead. The Bucks had flirted with building larger leads throughout the second quarter, going up by 10 points in the opening minutes and then leading 40-29 after Donte DiVincenzo hit a pair of threes at the 8:35 mark. But Atlanta, which didn’t shoot well all half, managed to stay connected each time with timely baskets.
But, in making just seven of their 21 three-point attempts, Atlanta was never able to get closer than four.
The Bucks were able to build the margin largely due to scoring nine points off six Hawks turnovers. The undersized Hawks matched the Bucks on the glass (24 rebounds each) and in the paint (20 points each).
Middleton led all scorers at the break with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting while Antetokounmpo had 14 on 6-of-12 shooting. Allen had nine.
“Just being aggressive," Middleton said of his hot start. "Finding ways to get to my spots, be ready to shoot, try to draw a couple defenders and just being decisive with my decisions. I feel like I’ve been in a pretty good groove shooting for the last couple games, so I wouldn’t just say it was because I was here, but I think just the other side of it is just being better with the ball.”
Young led the Hawks with 11 points on 4 of 8 shooting. Collins had 11 rebounds but just seven points and he and Huerter were each 2-for-10 from the floor.
The first quarter shooting matched the icy conditions outside as the score was just 8-6 Bucks after six minutes, with the teams combining to go 0 for 13 from behind the three-point line. Pat Connaughton got the scoring started at the 5:53 mark with a three-pointer, and the Bucks were able to string together a few shots to go up 20-12, and then took a 26-17 lead into the second quarter thanks to six consecutive points by Middleton over the final 2:04.
Atlanta was missing shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (right knee) and center Clint Capela (left ankle). Okongwu earned the start inside for the Hawks.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young leads comeback to defeat Milwaukee Bucks