Playing in the second game of a back-to-back, the Atlanta Hawks managed a 107-100 win on Wednesday night over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Without the services of Dwight Howard and Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta used a bench-led 19-0 run to build a lead that Milwaukee would never overcome.
“It was a good team win,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The bench continues to be a huge bright spot. Very impactful on both ends of the court. First half, (they) were kinda able to flip the game in the second quarter.”
The Hawks won the second quarter by a margin of 31-9. Starting the period 0-11, the Bucks shot just 3-27 from the field to finish with the fewest points in a quarter by a Hawks’ opponent this season. Despite shooting just 4-of-18 from deep and 46 percent from the field in the half, Atlanta held a 52-35 lead going into halftime without two key players.
“I thought we were moving the ball and getting great looks,” Budenholzer said about the second quarter. “It gave us great energy. We picked up our defense and we played better ‘D.’ We were able to get a bunch of stops and hold them to nine points. Anytime you have a nine-point (defensive) quarter and the ball is hopping around, those are big quarters. Those change games.”
Paul Millsap, who finished with 21 points (8-of-11 shooting) and eight rebounds continued on the bench’s play in the second quarter:
“Our bench did a great job. They came in the game and really pushed the lead out for us. I think we held them to nine points. The defense was amazing. The second group came in and moved the basketball ... we played how we’re supposed to play.”
The dominance in the second quarter continued an interesting trend for the Hawks. Through 11 games, Atlanta holds an NBA-best plus-5.4 point differential in the period. The main factor has been the defense -- allowing just 23.4 points and a 40.2 percent mark from the field by opponents.
That success in the second quarter hasn’t translated well past halftime, as Atlanta has struggled in third quarters this season with a minus-1.7 point differential. Opponents are averaging a gaudy 29.1 points in the period, and Milwaukee continued that pattern with 35 points on Wednesday.
“They did a great job (coming back) but we have to be better in the second half, to be honest with you,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “Giving up 30 points in each quarter is unacceptable. You have to give them credit. They knocked down shots. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo are going to do what they have to do to keep their team in it. Credit them for making it a tough one on us, but I’m happy we pulled it out. Back-to-back, so you take the wins.”
Parker and Antetokounmpo changed the game quickly in the third and fourth quarter with dominant play inside against an Atlanta team missing two of its best defenders. They combined for 49 points and 23 rebounds on the night.
“Milwaukee was really good,” Budenholzer said on the Bucks near-comeback. “Individually, Antetokounmpo and Parker ... they played really, really high-level basketball. Just a good team win.
A key bright spot on the night was Taurean Prince. With Sefolosha out, the rookie played his first meaningful rotation minutes. Finishing with eight points, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one assist in 19 minutes, Prince impressed in his time on the court. Tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo during some of his minutes, Prince stayed active and finished as a plus-8 on the night.
“I thought Taurean was great,” Budenholzer said. “Just the physicality he plays with, the aggressiveness he plays with ... he really gave us a big boost on both ends of the court.”
Now with six consecutive wins, the Hawks will enjoy a day off on Thursday before traveling to Charlotte for a showdown with the 7-3 Hornets on Friday night. Outside of Cleveland, the Hornets will likely be the second stiffest test for Atlanta so far this season. The status of Howard and Sefolosha going into the game will be something to keep an eye on, so stay tuned.