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Bucks take 2-1 series lead behind Middleton’s fourth quarter heroics

A tough Game 3 loss to swallow for the home team.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in heartbreaking fashion Sunday evening in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, unable to close out a win despite leading 95-88 with 7:32 left in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee took home the 113-102 win behind 38 points from Khris Middleton (20 in the fourth).

“Middleton got hot and made some tough shots,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan. “We had open looks in that fourth quarter and just didn’t knock down those shots.”

The Hawks suffered some tough luck to say the least when Trae Young had to go to the locker room with an ankle issue after stepping on an official’s foot late in the third quarter when backpedaling towards the end of a possession near the sideline.

“I didn’t see him. I don’t know the rule,” said Young. “I don’t know if he’s supposed to give me at least step out of bounds. I don’t know what it is. But, no, I didn’t see him, obviously.”

He returned in the fourth, but wasn’t moving particularly well and had just three of his team-high 35 points after coming back from the locker room.

“It’s sore right now. It’s hurting. It’s frustrating,” said Young after the loss. “I got some treatment on it. I’m going to go get some more in the morning. That’s all I can do right now,” the star guard continued.

Young also noted that he’s getting an MRI in the morning as well.

“No, he was a little sore,” said McMillan when asked if he thought Young was moving normally after returning to the game. Late in the fourth, McMillan pulled Young and never re-inserted him, and he was asked about that as well.

“I think, when he returned to the floor, he was obviously limping on that,” said McMillan. “When I subbed him, we decided just keep him out.”

The Hawks turned defense to offense out of the gates, leading 7-0 in the opening moments after forcing three early Milwaukee turnovers.

Atlanta started the game on a 25-10 run on their way to making 6-of-13 three-pointers as a team in the opening quarter.

Young led all scorers with 14 first-quarter points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, scoring from any and all ranges.

Milwaukee would come back however, finishing the period on a 15-5 run to cut the deficit to just five heading into the second quarter.

The Bucks dominated in the paint yet again in the first, totaling 20 points in that area in the opening 12 minutes. Despite going 0-for-5 from three in the quarter, they worked their way right back into the contest going to the basket.

Milwaukee would win the second quarter 29-24, leaving the teams tied at 56 at the break. The Bucks had 14 more points in the paint in the second, and shot nine free throws in the period. They made 3-of-9 triples in the quarter, including a big one from Pat Connaughton that tied the game with 12 seconds left in the half.

The Bucks were 17-for-28 (60.7%) in the paint in the first half, with Giannis Antetokounmpo totaling 16 points and seven rebounds, continuing to control the interior area in this series.

Atlanta, on the reverse, was 10-of-22 (45.45%) from three in the half, with just 18 points (9-of-17 from the floor) in the paint. Milwaukee continued to be the more physical team in the series, clawing back into the game despite getting outscored 30-9 from behind the arc in the opening half.

Young exploded for 15 points in the third quarter, helping propel the Hawks to a slim 85-83 lead heading into the fourth quarter. He was 2-of-4 from the three-point line and 5-of-6 on free throws in the third before rolling the ankle.

A big blow to the Hawks early in the third was John Collins picking up his fourth foul attempting to finish at the rim. He picked up the foul at the 11:11 mark in the third and not appear until the 8:25 mark in the fourth.

The Hawks actually started the fourth quarter off well without Young, with Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari helping keep the offense afloat.

In one of the more fun plays of the game, Williams hit Onyeka Okongwu with a perfect lob in transition for a thunderous alley-oop.

Atlanta led 95-88 with 7:32 remaining in the final period following Okongwu’s second basket of the quarter, a soft floater from the middle of the lane.

From here, the Bucks went on an 15-3 run to take the lead, with Middleton beginning to heat up with three three-pointers, and 11 total points in a 1:59 span during the run.

“Their defense picked up,” said McMillan of the fourth quarter. “I thought we were able to get some open looks with some of our best shooters shooting the ball. It was just the ball didn’t fall for us.”

“They just closed better than we did,” said Kevin Huerter after the game. “17 points in the fourth. I think for the most part we got good looks and tried to attack matchups like we have in the past, and just weren’t as successful at it.”

It was a powerful 25-7 run overall by Milwaukee over the final 7:13 that allowed them close out the crucial 113-102 Game 3 win, taking a 2-1 series lead in the process. The Hawks scored just two points from 5:54 to 1:24 in the final period, struggling to generate offense with Young playing on a bum wheel.

“It was really my blow-by speed,” said Young of how the injury effected him when he returned in the fourth quarter. “That’s a big part of my game, my ability to blow by anybody. When you’re on the left side and you’re trying to blow by, you’ve got to use your right foot. So my left hand pass to Bogi — I was going down the left side, it was in a lot of pain going back.”

Young had just four shot attempts and three points in the fourth while battling the sore ankle, posting a -15 plus-minus across nearly eight fourth-quarter minutes.

“I feel like there was a stretch where guys got good looks,” said Huerter of the Hawks’ fourth-quarter scoring drought. “My transition three, Bogi and I think Gallo might have had one. Shots didn’t fall, and Middleton obviously got it going on the other end.”

Middleton alone outscored Atlanta 20-17 in the fourth, as he put on an outstanding shooting display down the stretch. He finished the evening with a game-high 38 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the win, notching his 10th 30+ point, 10+ rebound game of the postseason.

He was aggressive going downhill as usual, shooting 13-for-21 from the field and getting to the free throw line 13 times, though he made just six of those free throws. He continues to be a matchup nightmare for the Hawks.

Atlanta did hold Jrue Holiday down in this game, as he totaled just six points in nearly 42 minutes of action. He did have 12 assists, but given that Young had 32 points before going out with the injury, this was not Holiday’s best performance of the series.

One positive for the Hawks is that Bogdan Bogdanovic appeared to be moving much better in Game 3 than he had been previously, logging a series high 35 minutes. He shot just 3-of-16 from the floor, but appeared to be feeling much better.

“He’s getting better,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “Tonight he ended up playing 35 minutes. So health-wise, he’s getting better. His shot has not fallen for him, but he’s a guy who I believe that next shot is going down,” McMillan continued. “He has some wide-open looks that I’m willing to trust that he’s going to knock those shots down.”

Gallinari had 18 points in nearly 36 minutes off the bench in the loss, which was second among all Hawks. Collins played just 23 minutes after getting into early foul trouble, scoring 13 points to go along with eight rebounds to go with those five fouls. Huerter had 11 points, a team-high seven assists and four rebounds.

Cam Reddish did not appear in this game after playing 17 minutes in Game 2, as McMillan stuck with Solomon Hill in the reserve wing role. Young battled his way though 39 minutes, posting 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field and 6-of-14 from three-point range.

With Young set for an MRI Monday morning, more will be known about his status for Game 4 hopefully at some point tomorrow afternoon. It could be likely, however, that he is a game-time decision for Game 4 as he continues to receive treatment over the next couple of days.

The Hawks and Bucks will battle again from Atlanta on Tuesday night for Game 4, with the Hawks desperate for a win to avoid going down 3-1 before heading back to Milwaukee for Game 5.