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Comeback denied, Hawks succumb to Bucks despite Len’s career-night

The Hawks came close but the Bucks rallied late to get it done.

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

The (shorthanded) Atlanta Hawks fell short in their final road game of the season to the Milwaukee Bucks 115-107 on Sunday night.

Alex Len registered a new career-high with 33 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field while hitting a career-best six three-pointers while DeAndre’ Bembry added 13 points.

MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points in just 24 minutes to lead the Bucks with Khris Middleton adding 21 points.

Alex Len gives the Hawks a chance, Bucks rally late

The Hawks were up against it from the jump - no Trae Young, no John Collins, no Dewayne Dedmon, no Omari Spellman, no Alex Poythress and no Miles Plumlee. In Young’s and Collins’ place, Jaylen Adams and Isaac Humphries started

The start of the game went as you’d probably expect - the Bucks led early and the Hawks struggled from the field but the three-point shot kept them hanging around.

To be fair, the Hawks did well to hang around in this game for as long as they did. Even though the Bucks established a double-digit lead, the Hawks were able to stick with it. An 8-0 run cut the lead to seven.

A 7-0 run for the Bucks to end the third quarter pushed the Bucks lead to 15 to begin the fourth quarter and you figured that would be that.

And then began the Alex Len show.

Len had been enjoying a solid night up to that point but took off in the fourth quarter for 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the final quarter.

Len got started by exploiting a mismatch and finishes with authority at the rim despite the late rotation from D.J. Wilson:

Guarded by Brook Lopez this time, Len drives by the big-man, takes the contact, finishes the play with a dunk and draws the foul:

Again from the perimeter, Len drives by Lopez and finishes with authority at the rim to cut the Bucks lead to seven points:

Len then started to hit from the outside, his first three of the fourth quarter coming from a nice play from the Hawks where Kent Bazemore draws the extra defender from the pick-and-roll, leaving Len open for three:

The drive from Taurean Prince on this possession helps scramble the Bucks defense and the Hawks do a good job moving the ball and Len is the beneficiary as DeAndre’ Bembry gets the ball to the open Len, who hits the three despite the late closeout from Giannis:

By this stage, Len has a tied career-high of 31 points and the Hawks cut the lead to just three after this pass to DeAndre’ Bembry for the dunk:

With how poorly the Bucks were shooting from three-point range, the Hawks looked like they could’ve legitimately stolen this game but the Bucks finally began to hit some threes to duly put this game away.

The first one comes from Middleton, who gets the friendly bounce on this three-point attempt to put the Bucks back up by six points:

Middleton would strike again as he comes off of a Lopez screen and into an easy jumpshot to put the Bucks up by nine points:

This is poor from the Hawks — someone has to contest that shot at that stage of the game.

And, finally, Antetokounmpo puts the nail in the coffin with a three of his own to complete a 9-0 run for the Bucks to re-establish a 12 point lead and the game — having just gotten interesting — is over:

“That was probably a fault on our part, we should have blitzed a couple of those pick-and-rolls late in the game but more power to them, they hit some big shots,” said Alex Len of the late game stretch via Fox Sports Southeast.

As well as the Hawks did to hang around and get back into this game, you just had this feeling that as soon as the Bucks made some threes, it would be game over and that turned out to be the case.

“...Right when we get it to three they came right back down and push it right back to six,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce via Fox Sports Southeast. “You have to get over the top, you’ve got to push it over the top when you start cutting the lead and we just didn’t. As soon as we got it to where we wanted it to be they came back and answered. That’s the testament of a good team, that’s the reason they’ve got the best record in the NBA.”

For the game itself, Pierce was left to rue a few defensive lapses and the officials’ whistles but was happy with the effort of his side.

“Good night to see our guy Alex (Len) set a career-high,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “Our guys came out and competed in the second half and (I) was able to play a group down in the stretch in the fourth quarter. A couple of costly defensive mistakes, I wish we had a couple whistles not go their way in the fourth quarter but I thought our guys came out and competed and played really well. Tough game.”

Pierce was visibly unhappy with the officiating at times last night, and I’m surprised his postgame comments didn’t reflect more harshly on the officials because Pierce wasn’t too pleased.

Pierce was pleased with Alex Len, however, and believed the three-point shot was key for Len last night.

“He’s been shooting the three well for the past couple of games,” said Pierce of Len. “I think he’s had one game where he really didn’t shoot it that well but he’s pushed his average up to right around 35 or 36 percent (shooting from three) on the year for a guy who didn’t shoot threes last year, it’s unbelievable to see. It’s a testament to the work he’s put in with the staff, and that he’s put on his own. I think he’s created a new identity for himself as a 5-man.”

For the season, Len is shooting 36.4% from three, and having made six threes in his first five seasons before joining the Hawks and has now made 72 threes this season.

“The shot was falling,” said Len of his night. “My teammates had confidence in me and kept telling me ‘Keep shooting the ball, keep shooting the ball.’ It’s just so fun to play with them, I just have fun playing.”

Len’s career-high was one of a few bright spots in this game and, again, as well as the Hawks did to hang around on the road given the circumstances, this was probably the right result. Not to say the Bucks played a great game at all but they held a double-digit lead for a large chunk of the game — as well as leading wire-to-wire — and although the lead was cut to three points at the end, they looked in control for win number 60.

End of the road

This game marked not only the final game of the Hawks’ mini-road trip but also their last road game of the season.

The Hawks finished 12-29 on the road this season and have enjoyed some solid moments on the road this season. Obviously the wins haven’t been there in volume but some good wins coming against the Bulls (twice), the Pelicans and the Timberwolves in overtime.

Pierce has spoken about the Hawks being on the road and the road games being an environment for growth — it was something Pierce was looking forward to heading into the All-Star break, though, the way their schedule worked out the Hawks only had nine road games after the break.

Two losses on the road to close the season I’m sure wasn’t how Pierce wanted it to end but solid from the Hawks on the road this season under the circumstances...

Turnovers continue to surprise

Again, as has been the case of late, the Hawks’ positive turnover story has been a pleasant development to end the season. The Hawks committed just 10 turnovers in last night’s contest and limited the Bucks to just four points off of turnovers.

The only player with multiple turnovers to his name was DeAndre’ Bembry with three turnovers last night, but that is partly due to Bembry having a bit more of the ball running point off of the bench.

Over their last five games, the Hawks rank fifth in turnovers per game, averaging just 11 turns per contest.

Not a ton to add here in this space but it’s just to make note that the Hawks are righting some of their wrongs from this season to end off. They’ll still finish bottom in turnovers per contest for the season but progress is being made.

The chase for 82 goes up in smoke

Heading into this game, Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young had played every preseason game and every regular season game this season but was listed as out for this game — the first missed game for Young of his NBA career.

Now, initially, it seemed as though it was just for rest because it looked as though Young was going to play all 82 games, but if he was to sit out for a game at this stage, it would be for legitimate rest and you could understand that — he’s played in every game, he’s playing over 30 minutes a game and it’s his rookie season.

However, Young had some interesting postgame comments via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.

Based on these comments, you can imagine the talks behind the scenes between management and Young. The Hawks, prior to this game, could’ve still tied records with the Dallas Mavericks with two wins to close the season with two Dallas losses, and given the implications with the draft pick owed to Atlanta from Dallas etc. etc. it seems the front office may not have wanted to take the risk.

The Mavericks ended up winning their game against the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime, giving the Hawks sole possession of the league’s fifth worst record — I’m sure Young feels much better about it all after that fact...

Still, at least Young will be somewhat fresh and raring to go for the Hawks’ regular season finale.

The Hawks (29-52) will close their season on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena against the playoff-bound Indiana Pacers, who may still have home court advantage to play for by that point, depending on Boston’s game against Washington on Tuesday night.

Given the Wizards’ position in the standings (now in a four-way mess along with the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Pelicans), a Boston win seems likely, giving the Celtics homecourt and giving the Pacers nothing to play for on Wednesday, which could result in them resting their key players.

We’ll see what happens.

Until next time...