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Hawks push Bucks before falling short, 115-107

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As the Atlanta Hawks continue to approach the finish line, they hit the road one last time for a trip to Milwaukee to face off with the East-leading Bucks and former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. In the end, the Hawks weren’t able to escape with an upset victory but, to the team’s credit, they were competitive for 48 minutes on the way to a 115-107 loss.

Lloyd Pierce’s team found itself shorthanded with a laundry list of players out on Sunday evening. This group was headlined by John Collins and Trae Young, forcing Jaylen Adams and Issac Humphries into starting duty.

The game started out pretty rough for the Hawks, as you might expect with the Bucks at nearly full strength. Khris Middleton scored the first two buckets of the game and an opening 10-0 run was topped off by two Giannis Antetokounmpo layups and an Eric Bledsoe shot under the basket.

Kevin Huerter finally stopped the bleeding with a nice shot inside the lane and Taurean Prince backed that up with a three-pointer to cut the lead in half, but the Bucks quickly stomped back onto the accelerator with a quick four points in the paint.

As the quarter continued, the Hawks did their absolute best to hang around with the personnel they had access to, and did fairly well thanks to Alex Len’s ability to knock down three-pointers.

Atypical to what Atlanta normally tries to do, the Hawks were trying to sludge up the game late in the first quarter to prevent any gigantic runs and this strategy worked pretty well as the Hawks found themselves down just 28-21 after the first.

The second quarter opened up slowly after Atlanta was able to possess the ball for most of the opening two minutes after two offensive rebounds and a turnover by the Bucks. Just two points came out of this stretch for Atlanta, and the Hawks would live to regret it as Milwaukee turned on the fire hose after that with an 8-0 run that carried the lead into double digits.

Once again, the Hawks turned to the three-point shot for help staying in the conversation after Adams and Humphries knocked down consecutive shots from distance. Then, the first half closed with both teams combining for just eight points over the final 6:22, which really was a big lift for the Hawks in a way, simply because it gave them a chance to not go into the locker room down 20.

When all was said and done, Atlanta found themselves down 54-45 with at least a chance on their minds going into the second half.

The third quarter was a strange one as it felt like the Hawks played pretty well early on, but they actually lost ground on the Bucks. Humphries opened the scoring for Atlanta with a corner three before a personal run from Len who had two dunks and a three over the course of two minutes in the middle of the third.

However, as the quarter droned on, you could feel the Hawks slipping away, as the Bucks began getting to the free throw line consistently, building a lead with the clock stopped. Atlanta expended a ton of energy mounting a 10-0 run late, but Milwaukee still found themselves up 85-72 after three.

The Hawks came out into the fourth playing with much more effort on the defensive end which was immediately noticeable as the Bucks could manage just 6 points in the opening four minutes. Atlanta took full advantage of this one lull in the action and went on their big run fueled by Len and Huerter.

Len was particularly great in the fourth, as he rattled off 10 of the Hawks’ first 18 points of the period. After his fifth (!) three-pointer of the day, with just over six minutes remaining, Atlanta found themselves down just 8 points. Then just a minute later, Len hit his sixth shot of the game from distance to tie his career high in points scored, as well as setting a new career high in threes made during a single game.

The Bucks could not buy a shot during this stretch and Len’s floor spacing was able to create wide open shots for his teammates. Prince took advantage with a wide open three-pointer to cut the lead down to three with just under four and a half minutes to go.

Unfortunately, from that point forward, the Bucks finally began to turn it on, featuring Khris Middleton’s ability to shoot threes. The veteran wing hit two quick ones that took the lead back to nine points. Then, Milwaukee essentially polished things off with a made three by Antetokounmpo, which broke the Hawks back.

Alex Len led the way for the Hawks with a career-high 33 points, including a career-best six threes. Kent Bazemore chipped in with a quiet 12 points and DeAndre’ Bembry added 12 more.

Milwaukee was led in scoring by Antetokounmpo who poured in 30 points in just 25 minutes. Khris Middleton added 21 points in the win for the Bucks.

The Hawks will be back at it for one last time this season on Wednesday night in Atlanta looking for their 30th win of the season against the Indiana Pacers. Stay tuned.