The Hawks secured one of their top victories of the season against one of the NBA’s top teams
Bogdan Bogdanovic tied his season-high with 32 points while Kevin Huerter added 20 points. For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points, Kris Middleton added 23 points.
With Trae Young’s continued absence due to an ankle injury, the Bucks were decent favorites heading into Sunday night’s fixture, despite being on the second night of a back-to-back. The Hawks were at least boosted by the return of Clint Capela, who missed the Hawks’ Friday night victory over the Heat.
The Hawks could probably consider themselves fortunate to be trailing by just eight points at the half following a 8-of-24 second quarter, and a half where the Hawks did not shoot a single free throw — the first time since Apr. 1, 2018 when the Hawks went a whole half without attempting a single free throw. The Bucks did establish a double-digit lead but they never ran away from the Hawks, leading by a maximum of just 11 points.
While the Hawks cut the lead in the third quarter, the Bucks ran it back to the eight heading into the fourth quarter before Kris Middleton quickly re-established the Bucks’ double-digit lead.
The Hawks then reeled off a 9-2 run to, leading Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer to call a timeout with 8:46 remaining, giving the Hawks plenty of time to potentially their charge. Kris Middleton responded out of the timeout to edge the Bucks’ lead back to five points, and it’s from here where the Hawks took off on their run.
It actually starts with the Bucks missing a good opportunity inside as Antetokounmpo can’t hit over Bogdanovic inside:
The Hawks made sure to take advantage as Bogdanovic hits the three-pointer as Clint Capela frees up the space for Bogdanovic to let it fly:
Coming the other way, a Brook Lopez screen initially separates Solomon Hill from Middleton but Bogdanovic does a great job helping and contesting in Hill’s stead as Middleton rises into the mid-range jumper, which Middleton misses:
Bogdanovic, again, is heavily involved as he probes before exchanging a give-and-give-back with Danilo Gallinari before his drive attracts four Bucks defenders before making a great read and pass to Lou Williams in the corner, giving the Hawks their first lead since the second quarter:
The Hawks’ lead was initially short-lived as Lopez scores the ‘and-1’ to give the Bucks the lead again but quickly retook the lead as Williams hits a step-back three on Donte DiVincenzo:
After a Giannis layup gives the Bucks the lead again, the Hawks retake it with their third consecutive three-pointer as Williams gets DiVicenzo off of his feet before shifting the ball to Bogdanovic who hits the three despite the closeout from Jrue Holiday:
Capela had the tough assignment of guarding Giannis last night and does a great job contesting the shot inside from the reigning MVP which rims out:
After splitting a pair of free throws, Williams continues his fourth quarter ignition as he comes off of the double-screen going to his left and rises into the three-pointer:
After a split pair of free throws from Giannis, Williams comes off of the screen, shifts the gears and finds Bogdanovic in the corner for the Hawks’ sixth straight three:
The Bucks attempt to reply with Giannis, who looks to back down Hill. Capela anticipates the pass to Bobby Portis near the rim and gets his hands on the pass and is credited with the steal:
The Hawks come the other way as Williams rejects the screen and drives to the rim, evading all of the Bucks’ challenges to thwart him, pushing the Hawks’ lead to double-digits and a Bucks timeout:
The two sides exchanged baskets from this point forward and the Hawks eventually secured a seven point victory but that was the run that turned this game on its head and turned what looked like a schedule loss into an unlikely victory.
The Hawks have struggled against the Bucks in recent history, often proving to be a game where the Hawks are convincingly beaten. On other occasions, the Bucks stretch away even in the first half as their class shows but the Hawks did a great job hanging around in this game to give themselves a chance to make a run and stay in the game — the Bucks lead never stretching beyond 11, beyond where one more Bucks run kicks the game out of the Hawks’ stretch.
“We talk about it all the time,” said Hawks interim head coach McMillan of the Hawks’ poise to keep themselves within touching distance. “The fourth quarter, making the adjustment, staying calm. we talk about being clear about what we needed to do. We were down eight at the start of the fourth and we just needed to stay connected and play a 48 minute game. We had a big fourth quarter, the ball started to fall for us. Defensively, we were able to get stops and get control of this game. You’re starting to see the growth of this team. We’re going to have to continue to show that growth and play that type of basketball because that’s where we’re going. Tomorrow night is going to be a tough game and we’ve got Philadelphia twice coming up this week. That pressure situation, being calm in situations like that, understanding what you need to do and executing is another sign of these guys’ growth.”
A 41-26 fourth quarter in favor of the Hawks, spearheaded by Williams and Bogdanovic, who combined for 27 points in the fourth quarter alone.
Bogdanovic was a steady presence throughout but it was Williams’ burst that began to change the course of the fourth quarter. Up until the fourth quarter, Williams was 0-of-7 from the and was not having a good time of things — he was not playing well through three quarters and then, not for the first time with the Hawks, he ignited in the fourth quarter.
Williams scored 15 fourth quarter points, shooting 5-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from behind the arc as well as dishing four fourth quarter assists, and it was this balance of play that pleased McMillan.
“That’s what you expect from veteran players,” said McMillan of Williams. “They have a bad first half or the ball doesn’t fall for them in the first half, they know that it’s the second half and they find a way to get themselves going. He’s a veteran player, he’s a proven scorer. What I really liked, not only was he knocking down shots but he settled us down in that fourth quarter. We were down eight points the start of the quarter, he was running the point guard position for us. He did a good job of initiating the offense, not only scoring but assisting, getting the ball to Bogi and some of our other guys. Just did a great job of running the fourth quarter for us. That’s what veteran players do and guys like Lou are capable of getting hot and we needed him to do so.”
It’s cliché, but when one shot drops it can pave the way for the rest to begin to fall too.
“My confidence never wavers,” said Williams. “I’ll go 0-of-20 before I stop shooting and allowing myself an opportunity to do positive things for the team … for scorers like me, when one drops we feel we can make 10 in a row as fast as we miss 10 in a row.”
While Young has been absent, Bogdanovic has been the Hawks’ go-to scorer and his 12 fourth quarter points were every bit as important Williams’ contributions. For the game, Bogdanovic was efficient and effective, scoring 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 from three.
Ever since Bogdanovic returned from injury and found his feet, he and the Hawks haven’t looked back ever since — he has been on a different level for the Hawks,
“I think that’s why they brought him here, because they felt he could provide this type of production for the team,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “Kind of got off to a slow start where he was coming off of the bench and wasn’t able to get a rhythm, went down with an injury, came back and wanted to try and get him back in that starting lineup where we felt he should be. He’s been able to find a rhythm, we’ve been able to make some adjustments by adding some things for him and you’re just seeing a guy who’s playing really good basketball. This is the reason the organization went out and signed him, to bring in a veteran that could bring this type of production.”
Williams and Bogdanovic were not the only ones to excel last night offensively.
John Collins was an efficient 7-of-12 from the field on his way to 18 points, Gallinari added 15 points off of the bench, while Kevin Huerter added 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Huerter and Bogdanovic were particularly important in the first half, combining for 27 of the Hawks’ 43 first half points.
“I think we’re a deep basketball team,” said Williams. “We have a lot of talented guys, a lot of interchangeable parts, guys that can play a lot of different positions and do different things on the basketball court so even when we have guys out of the lineup it gives other guys an opportunity to step in and play a bigger part. Everybody has confidence in that locker-room in their abilities to do what needs to be done for the team and it shows. I think coach Nate has a done a good job of instilling that in this group.”
“I feel like we are really capable of having a lot of guys go off every single night,” added Bogdanovic.
One of the more interesting aspects of this game was Atlanta’s free throw story, where they did not attempt a single free throw in the first half. In both the third and fourth quarter, the Hawks worked themselves into the bonus in with a lot of time on the clock in each quarter respectively, eventually equalling the Bucks exactly in free throws made and attempted: 18-of-23 from the line.
McMillan credited this turnaround to a change in the Hawks’ aggression in the second half.
“I did have a conversation, not with the officiating crew but with our team,” said McMillan about the officiating. “I thought we needed to be more aggressive, attacking the basket. I thought we settled in that first half and we had zero free throw attempts. The aggressive play I think forced the officials to have to call fouls, and we were able to get to the free throw line 23 times in the second half. The change in officiating I think was due to the change of our style of play. We weren’t settling for long threes, quick threes, we were attacking the basket in the second half and putting pressure on their defense to defend us.”
The officiating in the first half of this game… was interesting. There were not a lot of calls made, and that went for both teams. I thought the Hawks were attacking the rim in the first half, to be fair to them, but the officials didn’t want to call a ton. I think McMillan’s answer somewhat reflects his reluctance to discuss the officiating (which a lot of coaches prefer to do, lest they get fined) but the Hawks certainly did attack more in the second half and certainly found themselves at the free throw line a lot more frequently in the second half.
Atlanta’s victory over the Heat is potentially the better win of the two (given the absence of Capela) but this was without question of the Hawks’ best wins of the season, certainly in a spot where the Hawks would not have been expected to win.
“I always think we have a chance (to win) if we play the game the right way,” said McMillan. “Tonight, we played the game the right way, we played for 48 minutes. We got very aggressive in the game. I thought the first half, I thought we settled, we had no free throw attempts and in the second half we got aggressive, started attacking the basket and we shoot 23 free throws. Those are the things you need to do, make adjustments in the second half and I thought our guys did a good job of that.”
Speaking of Capela, he was tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo after returning from a back injury (playing 34 minutes), while Collins guarded Lopez. While Giannis scored an efficient 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting, Capela’s contributions defensively on Antetokounmpo should not be understated. On a number of occasions, Capela deterred Antetokounmpo from either attacking the rim for a layup/dunk or contested a shot at the rim. Had it not been for Capela, Antetokounmpo would’ve surely scored many more than 31 points.
While Capela tied a season-low six points, this is one of the toughest matchups on both sides of the ball (regardless whether Capela is guarding Antetokounmpo or Lopez) and there certainly seemed to be an emphasis defensively for Capela last night more than offensively (though, some of that could also be attributed to Capela working his way back from his fall). That said, Capela grabbed another 14 rebounds and was a game-high plus-16 on the game — a fair reflection of the work and contribution Capela had on last night’s game.
All-in-all, an incredible fourth quarter from the Hawks to turn this game around in a spot no one had them winning. It really was one of their best performances of the season and how they continue to do what they’re doing without Trae Young, without De’Andre and so on. They continue to keep the pressure and on the New York Knicks for the No. 4 seed and are putting a small bit of distance (two games) between themselves and the dreaded No. 6 seed/play-in spots, as the Celtics lost to the Hornets on Sunday while the Heat sit on the same record as the Celtics (32-29): also two games back of the Hawks and Knicks.
However, the Hawks are back in action on Monday in a spot where they should be favored to win, against the Detroit Pistons on the road, and this victory against the Bucks would be lessened somewhat if the Hawks were to fall to the 18-43 Pistons tonight, and the Hawks are aware of that, as McMillan alluded to tonight’s game being a ‘tough game.’
The second night of a back-to-back against a team that the Hawks will be favored to win will prove another good test for this team.
Should be interesting.
Until next time…