The Atlanta Hawks often rely on perimeter shooting to lead the way on the offensive end. On Friday night, that trend certainly did not come to light, but the Hawks managed to escape with a comfortable home win on the basis of strong defense, and with that, the Milwaukee Bucks went home with a 101-90 defeat.
Paul Millsap set the tone for the evening, scoring the first six points of the night for Atlanta, but Atlanta couldn't really separate from the visitors. A sequence that involved a four-point play from Tim Hardaway Jr. and a flying dunk from Al Horford pushed the lead to 29-19 near the end of the opening period, but the Bucks stuck close for the most part despite 9 assists in the first 12 minutes from the home team.
Milwaukee then put together their biggest run of the first half midway through the second period, churning through a 12-4 spurt to slash Atlanta's lead to just one point at 42-41 with 4:35 to play before halftime. From there, the Hawks turned things back up a bit, especially on the defensive end, but not even a 10-point, 9-rebound half from Millsap could overcome lackluster shooting (40% FG, 4-18 from three) for Atlanta. Fortunately, the defense was stellar and that allowed Mike Budenholzer's team to hold a 51-46 advantage.
Though the third quarter began in an inauspicious way, the Hawks found their stride a bit in the latter stages. An 8-0 run (however slow it was to form) pushed Atlanta's lead back to 73-64, and even with a recovery from Milwaukee, the Hawks maintained a working margin throughout the quarter thanks to quality defensive effort.
Horrid perimeter shooting would, in fact, allow the Bucks to hang around, and that manifested itself in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee climbed within two at 79-77 as Atlanta's shooting drought continued (4 of 27 from three at this point), but fortunately, Jeff Teague came to the rescue. Teague scored eight straights, including back-to-back three-point plays, to buoy an 11-4 spurt, and with that, the Bucks were back in a nine-point hole with less than six minutes remaining.
From there, the lead would be safe for the duration, as the Hawks pushed the advantage to as many as 12 points before cruising to the 101-90 final margin. In some ways, it was highly encouraging that Atlanta was able to win somewhat comfortably while violently struggling from the outside (5 for 32 from three in the game), and the defensive performance was quite strong, even with the caveat of Milwaukee's perimeter weaknesses on that end.
The Hawks avoided what would have been an ugly season series sweep at the hands of the Bucks and, in the same breath, kept control of the number three seed in the East for another day. On to Detroit for a quick back-to-back against the Pistons.