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Defense drops-off as Hawks drop Game 5 in Milwaukee, trail 3-2 to Bucks

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Hawks now face an elimination game at home on Saturday

Atlanta Hawks v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After a dominant Game 4 victory at State Farm Arena to set up a pivotal Game 5 in Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks were unable to take a 3-2 lead in the series as the Bucks took Game 5 on their home floor, 123-112 on Thursday night.

The Hawks were, once again, without Trae Young as they were in Game 4 and were led by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 28 points. John Collins and Danilo Gallinari both added 19 points.

For the Bucks, they were without Giannis Antetokounmpo but received the contributions that were missing in Game 4, including a playoff career-high 33 points from Brook Lopez. Khris Middleton scored 26 points, Jrue Holiday added 25 points and even Bobby Portis got in on the act with 22 points.

In many ways Game 5 was for the Bucks what Game 4 was for the Hawks — the Bucks showed they meant business immediately out of the gate, they never trailed and they received performances from their other starters in the absence of their star.

Unlike the Hawks in Game 4, however, the Bucks’ opening punch in Game 5was much more emphatic than the Hawks’, and the Bucks took a 20 point lead in the first quarter. The Hawks were forced to play catchup all night long, and while they did fight back to cut the lead to seven points at the start of the third quarter, that was as close as it got for the Hawks as the Bucks entered the fourth quarter with a 13 point lead, a lead that quickly grew to 18 points and the Hawks couldn’t fight back and make it a game.

The first quarter really was key to the defeat as the Bucks ran rampant in the paint: 28 of their 36 first quarter points came in the paint, and a lot of those looks were very easy and high percentage.

Let’s take a look at some of those looks from the Bucks and the ease in which they came.

On the Bucks’ opening offensive possession, Holiday backs Bogdanovic down in the paint and his hook above Bogdanovic at the rim is good:

Clint Capela is fending off Lopez inside here but could stand to offer a little bit of help, perhaps.

Guarded by Kevin Huerter this time on the perimeter, Holiday gets the better of Huerter off of the dribble and gets to the rim for the easy basket:

Capela’s help comes too late and Collins takes a glance to his right and sees both Capela and Lou Williams at the rim, and Williams takes his position on Lopez but I thought Capela was a little late here.

Off of a Hawks miss, the Bucks get an easy basket in transition as Lopez is already up the floor and Huerter is unable to contend with Lopez’s size and the Hawks don’t hustle back/help Huerter, and it’s a simple catch and finish for Lopez off of the outlet from Holiday:

On an offensive rebound from the Hawks, Capela is robbed of the ball and the Bucks take possession. As possession is claimed, Portis makes a darting run and outruns the Hawks to the basket, receives the ball and finishes with the dunk:

Bogdanovic is probably the one who would pick up Portis in transition here but Williams’ reach on Holiday fails and as Bogdanovic turns to face the ball, he loses his momentum as Portis carries his.

The Bucks were on the offensive glass often in the first quarter (five of them in the first) and off of a missed three from Holiday, it’s Middleton this time who takes the rebound. As he does, he leans out of the paint before leaning back in and Bogdanovic is unable to prevent the make:

Again, Capela I think is a little late on the help and Collins I think does his part as he switches onto Lopez inside but by the time it’s all worked out between Capela and Collins, Middleton is already rising and Capela is unable to get up and contest.

After the Hawks take their second timeout of the quarter after that make, both Collins and Capela were subbed out for Gallinari and Onyeka Okongwu (as well as Cam Reddish being inserted into the game for Huerter). Holiday gets the switch onto Gallinari and quickly gets into the paint before Bogdanovic can get back in front. Okongwu steps up and away from Lopez and it’s here when Holiday lobs for Lopez for the alley-oop:

Difficult one to judge for Okongwu because it seemed as though Gallinari was already a step behind and Okongwu may have been needed to step up as he ended up doing but once he does step up, there’s no one to stop Lopez once Holiday lets it go.

If the last possession was slightly hard to judge as to maybe who should be where, this one probably isn’t, as Holiday gets the edge on Bogdanovic before going between the extremely ineffective help from Gallinari and Okongwu is similarly ineffective as help as Holiday rises between the pair of them to score easily at the rim:

On the block, Portis finds himself matched with Bogdanovic, with Okongwu in close proximity. Okongwu’s ‘switch’ you’d probably say is Holiday on the perimeter and while Okongwu is watching the Portis-Bogdanovic matchup, he’s not really offering a ton of help and when Holiday makes the cut Okongwu is blind to it and misses it. Gallinari offers some resistance with contact but not a ton, and Holiday absorbs the contact and makes the shot:

Holiday, again, causes issues as he misdirects Dunn in the corner and then further confusion is created between Okongwu and Gallinari as Okongwu reacts to Holiday while Gallinari takes an initial glance at Lopez on the perimeter and then a second glance as the realization kicks in that Lopez is now open and Gallinari cannot react in time and Lopez is found on the cut by Holiday for the dunk:

I’ve watched this clip over and over and I still can’t quite wrap my head around who should have done what, but either way it was easy for the Bucks to score at the rim.

The Bucks basically run the same play — a Bryn Forbes screen, Holiday attacks from the wing — and the result is the same, a Lopez dunk:

While you could justify Okongwu rotating as he did last possession, maybe less so this time as Huerter switched onto Holiday and seemed as though he had it covered at the rim for a solid contest and Okongwu probably doesn’t need to be there, and when the pass is made it’s easy for Lopez who is free.

A poor first quarter set the Hawks up for failure for the rest of the game, a 20 point lead too much to recover from in the end.

“I don’t know why we came out flat, but we did and it hurt us tonight,” said Collins.

“It’s hard to chase the 20-point lead the whole game,” added Bogdanovic. “It takes a lot of energy.”

Offensively there’s no doubt the Hawks struggled in the first quarter, shooting 6-of-22 but their offense, in general, did recover.

The Hawks shot 51% from the field after the first quarter and ended up with shooting 45% from the field on the game — a very solid percentage given that first quarter before posting an offensive rating of 117.9. In fact, after that first quarter, the Hawks posted an offensive rating of 126.8 and a defensive rating of 120.8 for a net rating of 5.6 after that first quarter, so the Hawks did actually recover well offensively.

Defensively was where the Hawks were let down — the Hawks had a defensive rating of 150 in the first quarter, a 128 defensive rating for the game and the Bucks scored 123 points on 50% shooting from the field.

Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan was pretty blunt in his postgame assessment of the Hawks’ defense in the opening quarter.

“They were more physical,” said McMillan. “They hit us in the mouth, and we just did not recover from that. They were aggressive. 28 points in the paint in the first quarter. No defense on the ball, no defense off the ball, weak side help was not there. They were the more physical, more aggressive team from start to finish tonight.”

“Man, I really feel like we just got hit first honestly,” added Collins. “Whatever you want to say, we weren’t ready to play at that level or just not ready to go. I feel like they just hit us first. It’s hard to play from behind against a playoff team away, missing a couple guys, missing one of our guys, too, as well. No excuses, we definitely have to come out play better. I feel like we still could have won that game, but I think the biggest difference is letting them get out early and hard to play from there.”

The Bucks scored 28 of their 36 first quarter points in the paint before scoring 66 in total and shooting an extremely high percentage at the rim for the game itself.

“We didn’t do a good job with that tonight,” said Gallinari. “They definitely got us in the paint. They scored way too much in the paint. We need to do a better job of that, especially the start of the game, first half. They were just going in and crashing the boards. They were way better than us in the paint, like you said. So if we want to win a game, we need to definitely get better with that.

McMillan could offer no explanation postgame on the Hawks’ interior defense before outlining the pattern behind this series and the team who starts the game well, throws that first punch.

“I can’t (explain it), I can’t,” said McMillan when asked how he would explain the Hawks’ lack of defense inside the paint. “What I said to our guys before the game, the team that has been the more aggressive team to start the game has won every game in this series. This was a very similar game to the game that we played here, where they came out very aggressive after losing their game. We came out aggressive after dropping a game at home and a very similar game. We knew that they were going to come with that sense of urgency tonight. They were going to continue to attack even without Giannis in the lineup. That’s just how they play. We knew that they would look to go to Lopez more, and they did. They just dominated the paint tonight.”

“They attacked the paint,” McMillan would later go on to say. “If Giannis is in the game, he attacks the paint. Tonight all of them were attacking the paint. It was Jrue, it was Middleton, Lopez post-up, seal. They attack the paint. That’s their game. They want to play from the inside out, and if you don’t guard the paint, they will punish you in the paint. If you take away the paint, they kick it out for threes. That’s their game.”

“Our last game in Atlanta was our best game of guarding the paint — only 44 points in the paint,” McMillan added. “All the games before that, I think they had 66, 57, 58 points in the paint, and tonight they finished with 66 points in the paint. Again, we did not do a good job of defending the ball, and our weak side did not do a good job of coming over and giving help.”

The Bucks shot 9-of-29 from three but they didn’t need to shoot well from outside the arc because their shooting inside was so incredibly high, but McMillan, again, highlighting his disappointment of a lack of help defense.

Later, he was asked if he thought the Hawks were ‘just soft’ last night.

“I said what I said,” McMillan responded. “You can use whatever term you want on that. They were the more physical team tonight, they were the more aggressive team tonight. Again, we did not do a good job of guarding the ball, guarding the paint, rebounding the basketball, and with that punch early, they really just established their game tonight.”

The key to the Hawks extending their season in Game 6 on Saturday and reducing the Bucks’ advantage in the paint? McMillan’s answer was simple.

“Guard. It’s as simple as— this is not complicated,” said McMillan. “We guarded last game. We’ve got to guard the ball. We have to be the aggressors. That’s what this game is all about, being able to do that in two of our games to win. That’s what it comes down to. You’ve got to guard. You’ve got to put the ball in the basket. There’s no tricks or anything that’s needed. You’ve got to be the aggressors. You’ve got to be the team that executes for 48 minutes and do what they did tonight. We’ve done that before. So we know exactly where we are.”

Holiday proved a massive thorn in the Hawks’ side in the first quarter, he gave Bogdanovic a lot of difficulty. The Bucks, to be fair, received big games from their starters (as well as Portis who stepped into the lineup) when they needed them most and deserve credit for forcing the issue immediately, a wire-to-wire win was what they ultimately deserved.

Arguably, Portis outplayed the entire Hawks team in Game 5: his energy was infectious, his presence seldom missed on the court in Game 5.

“Bobby is a very skilled guy, great player in his own right,” said Collins postgame. “He had a great game today. I feel like more than anything it’s his intensity, his passion for the game. He plays the game hard. I feel like it gives the team a spark and energy. So kudos to him.”

Plenty of negatives defensively, but even when asked about positives from the game, McMillan came back to the Bucks’ first quarter.

“Not right now,” said McMillan when asked about positives. “I’ll have to look at video and look this game over and try to find something. But the start, we knew that this is one of the top teams in the league as far as how they start the first and third quarter. That was part of the game plan, that we needed to get off to good starts against this team at the start of these playoffs. We didn’t again tonight. They pretty much just dominated that first quarter, 36 points in the quarter, 28 points in the paint. I think they had seven offensive rebounds. That’s just totally getting dominated. They established what they were going to try to do tonight, and we never really recovered from that.”

McMillan isn’t too far from the truth, because there really weren’t a ton of positives. That said, if you remove the first quarter, the Hawks played an OK game. Defensively, not great, but offensively it wasn’t too bad — and we ran through some of the numbers from after the first quarter where the Hawks had a better net rating than the Bucks for the final three quarters.

Bogdanovic played a solid game offensively, scoring 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field and 7-of-16 from three. After a strong Game 4, Bogdanovic continues to look a little better on that knee, reflected by his improved shooting performances these last two games.

“When Bogi hits shots, it’s a game changer, just flat out,” said Collins of Bogdanovic. “We love having him on the court. Obviously when he’s making shots as well, he’s a sniper, and he helps us out a lot.

After Game 4, Bogdanovic didn’t want to get drawn too much on his knee and when asked about it again after Game 5, his response was brief.

“Same. You know my answer is the same,” said Bogdanovic when asked about his knee.

When McMillan was asked about Bogdanovic, he did not mention Bogdanovic at all but came back to the team, the first quarter and how the Hawks did not perform in Game 5.

“It’s just that we as a team, as a group, didn’t play well,” said McMillan when asked if Bogdanovic stepped up in Young’s absence. “Again, it started at the beginning of the game. Basically, I don’t know how many misses they had in that first quarter, but even on the misses, they rebounded the ball. They beat us to the glass. So they just dominated that first quarter with attacking the paint. Basically, we as a group did not play well enough tonight.

McMillan really wasn’t pleased postgame, clearly wanting to make his point.

It’s hard to disagree with him, because the Hawks should have come out of the gates with a bit more intensity. Say what you will about the Bucks’ defense — they were impressive, they created turnovers, they made life difficult for the Hawks. But defensively, for the Hawks to come out as flat and as poor as that will be a huge disappointment to them when they look back at the film. The Bucks scored with utter ease in the first quarter. In a situation where the winning team takes the other team into an elimination game for Game 6, the Hawks really fell short of the occasion to start the game and paid a high price.

Now, for the first time this postseason, the Hawks face elimination while trailing in a series (Game 7 against the Sixers being the only elimination game they’ve played in the postseason).

“I expect us to respond,” said McMillan. “It’s do or die now.”

“Basically, it is a must-win game for us,” added McMillan. “That’s what it comes down to. That’s what this game means if you drop it, as we did tonight, and it’s must win for us. It’s a one-game season for us. So we know what we have to do. We’ve got to get back home and get ourselves ready to take care of business at home.”

Again, the status of both Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be vital heading into Game 6, with McMillan believing Young will likely be a game-time decision once again.

“He felt a little better, but not good enough to play,” said McMillan of Young. “He will, I’m assuming, still be a game-time decision on Saturday.”


The Hawks (trailing 3-2) are back in action at State Farm Arena on Saturday night in an elimination game where their season is on the line.

Should be a thrilling affair back in Atlanta.

Until next time...