The Atlanta Hawks suffered their sixth consecutive loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in a tight affair, 97-100, at BMO Bradley Harris Centre. The Hawks had three players who scored 20 or more points, Dennis Schröder (28), Tim Hardaway Jr. (25) and Dwight Howard (20 points to go along with 12 rebounds).
Following this loss, the Hawks and the Bucks are now tied at 37-35 for the fifth seed but, crucially, the Hawks do own the tiebreaker between the two teams thanks to taking care of business in the first three meetings with Bucks this season. The only problem is that Bucks have won 11 of their last 13 while the Hawks have lost six straight. Meanwhile, back in the seventh seed, the Indiana Pacers are just a game back of Atlanta, who can thank the Nuggets for defeating the Pacers in Indy.
Another close loss
When it rains, it pours. The Hawks lost a heartbreaker in a game that could cost them vital playoff position. It won’t count for much since they’ve lost, but the Hawks have played two very decent games against the Wizards and Bucks but have come up short. This time, there were a few plays that cost them. We’re going to look at two of them: the one that put the Bucks up by two and the Hawks’ final shot.
Game situation: the game is tied at 96 and the Bucks have possession of the ball following a made basket by Dennis Schröder.
Malcolm Brogdon brings the ball up the floor and executes a pick-and-roll with Greg Monroe. Following this, Brogdon drives toward the rim and Dennis does a good job recovering — having stumbled — and staying in front of Brogdon. However, Dwight comes over to help and this leaves Greg Monroe all alone and Brogdon finds the big-man and he scores with ease.
Did Dwight need to help in this situation and, in the process, leave Monroe? You could argue that Dennis was in trouble but I think he had the position he needed and didn’t need Dwight to come over and help. Brogdon believes that he got himself in Dwight’s head when he was coming down the lane, having made a floater a few possessions earlier and this, Brogdon believes, drew Dwight away from Monroe:
“A few plays before, I made a floater in the lane, just to get him (Dwight Howard) on his toes to make sure he knew I would shoot it, so I could get that space to make those plays for Moose.”
— Malcolm Brogdon
Regardless, the Hawks need to now score to salvage this game. The Hawks play through it and Dwight Howard is fouled as he receives the ball in the paint with 10 seconds left, putting him on the free throw line. Dwight goes 1-for-2 and now the Hawks are forced to foul. Kris Middleton hits the resulting free throws and the Hawks take a timeout, trailing 100-97.
Out of that timeout, the Hawks get the ball to Dennis Schröder, who waits for the right time to pass to the moving Ersan Ilyasova, who takes a tough three-pointer that misses and the Bucks secure the rebound.
Ball game, indeed. But was there a better opportunity than the one Hawks took in the end? Look at the replay again and look how open Mike Dunleavy finds himself as Ersan catches the ball.
Dunleavy found himself in a lot of space, certainly in a better position than Ersan was. Who knows if he would’ve actually made the three but it was a missed opportunity in the end. Count the loss.
The Hawks, however, maintain that there are positives.
“…You have to look at the positives. You can’t look at the negatives. We’ve been playing really good basketball these last two games even though we lost. You have to look at the positives. Look at the standings. We are still in the playoffs. We have to get that positive spark going to take us into the playoffs.”
— Tim Hardaway Jr.
Coach Bud also believes there are positives to be had:
“There were some positives. Learning how to play without Paul and Baze. Executing down the stretch a couple of the plays we made were good. And then a couple we need to make. Whether it’s a defensive rebound, a better decision. Those plays add up to winning. We’ve just got to make a few more of those winning plays. I think the group from Wednesday night to tonight we are getting better. That is the only way we are going to break through.”
— Coach Mike Budenholzer
You have to give the Milwaukee Bucks a lot of credit. They played a great game (including some excellent basketball in the first half on both sides of the floor), their crowd were very involved and they made the winning plays down the stretch. The Hawks, on the other hand, fall to 0-7 without Millsap, who the Hawks aren’t sure will be ready to rumble on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets.
End of the road trip
The Hawks finish their three-game road trip 0-3. It’s been a pretty miserable trip without Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore, but these last two performances have been pretty decent. The Hawks have some good news coming, however. They play the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers and the Suns in the next week, an opportunity to make up lost ground.
Limiting Middleton but no answers for Giannis
Without Jabari Parker, Kris Middleton is the Bucks’ next best offensive player next to Giannis. This is how this game was as close as it was: the Hawks shutdown Middleton, holding him to six points on 1-of-13 from the field. Thabo Sefolosha sure earned his moneys worth with his defensive job on Middleton, Thabo just didn’t leave him and contested almost every shot Middleton put up. When Middleton did have a decent look, he didn’t have a rhythm and just looked uncomfortable.
However, the Hawks had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 34 points on 13-of-22 shooting.
Giannis is just a matchup nightmare for the Hawks, even with Paul Millsap let alone without. He just proved himself too strong, quick and long for the Hawks to defend consistently and he even made a few jump shots, though he was left wide open for a few of those.
“…He was on fire, especially in the first half. He was making shots. There wasn’t a whole lot we could have down differently on him or on defense period.”
— Thabo Sefolosha
For the four game season series, Giannis averaged 27 points on 54% shooting. He proved impossible to stop, bar foul trouble.
Lack of help for Big-3 and lack of bench help
This is obviously to be expected when you’re missing two starters, but it continues to be an issue so I’m going to continue to highlight it.
Dennis Schröder, THJ and Dwight all had decent games on the offensive end but they didn’t get a whole lot of help. In fact, outside those three players, no other Hawk scored in double digits. Ilyasova scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, Sefolosha scored three points on 0-of-3 shooting and the bench combined for 12 points. TWELVE points. The Bucks’ bench, meanwhile scored 31 points led by Greg Monroe’s 14 points.. Obviously, the fact that THJ and Ilyasova have to start in place of the injured Millsap and Bazemore hurts the bench but 12 points is just not good enough. The Hawks’ lack of depth has killed them in this stretch.
Turnovers also proved costly for the Hawks as they coughed the ball up 17 times leading to 23 Milwaukee points. The Bucks, meanwhile, committed just eight turnovers leading to 10 Atlanta points. Dennis Schröder “led” the Hawks with four turnovers.
The Hawks (37-35) return home ahead of Sunday’s matinee matchup against the Brooklyn Nets at Philips Arena.
Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
Bucks quotes: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Charles F. Gardener