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Hawks unable to stop Bucks’ charge as road trip ends in defeat

The Hawks responded in the second half but it wasn’t enough.

Atlanta Hawks v Milwaukee Bucks

The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their three game road-trip with a 124-115 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 27 points and 11 assists, while De’Andre Hunter added 17 points. For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in 43 points, while Kris Middleton and Bobby Portis both added 23 points.

On the road in Milwaukee: always a difficult spot these days and the Hawks haven’t always had fortune at Fiserv Forum. A happening that has occurred before on the road in Milwaukee has been the Bucks swing hard at the Hawks in the first quarter and last night was no exception as the champions scored 37 first-quarter points.

Antetokounmpo was responsible for 17 of those points as the Hawks struggled to contain both him and Bucks inside the paint (18 first quarter paint points for the Bucks).

Antetokounmpo was able to get in behind on a couple of occasions in the first quarter, the first one coming off of a pick-and-roll and an unfortunately timed switch between Kevin Huerter and John Collins with Clint Capela stepping up to the ball-handler:

Working off the ball this time, Antetokounmpo makes use of the Grayson Allen screen to get the slip on Onyeka Okongwu, and Collins isn’t able to prevent the alley-oop as the help defender:

Antetokounmpo got to the free throw line on nine occasions in the first quarter — finding themselves in the bonus mid-way through the first quarter — drawing a number of fouls in the first quarter alone that led to free throws.

Here, Collins is called for the blocking foul on this drive, leading to Antetokounmpo getting to the free throw line:

Initially it looked like this might have been a bad call but the replay showed Collins wasn’t quite set.

However, when it came to this foul call Antetokounmpo received when guarded by Danilo Gallinari, it was a little more clear:

Gallinari isn’t quite set but Antetokounmpo has come barreling into him here and there’s a lot of contact. A theme of last night was Antetokounmpo receiving a favorable whistle at times (this may come up later).

And, of course, there were just those plays where Antetokounmpo was just unstoppable as he put pressure on the rim:

Difficult for the Hawks to contain Antetokounmpo when Capela picked up his second foul with 9:21 remaining in the first quarter: just part-and-parcel with Antetokounmpo — he was very strong in that first quarter (and for the entire game).

The Hawks quickly found themselves trailing by 18 points in the early exchanges of the second quarter after a quick burst from the Bucks but the Hawks made one of a few solid comebacks in this game and behind Huerter’s back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to eight points with 4:38 but the Bucks quickly ran this lead out to 17 points, undoing all their good work.

In fact the Bucks pushed their lead back up to 17 in little over a minute and a half.

Middleton got them started as he steps into this three-pointer:

You can see Gallinari point to Middleton, likely telling Bogdan Bogdanovic to stay in front of him rather than drop-back after the pick-and-roll.

On the pick-and-roll between Middleton and Portis, Gallinari helps somewhat on the Middleton drive-threat after the screen and when Middleton fires the ball out to Portis, and the late Gallinari contest on Portis isn’t enough as he hits the three:

A similar story on the Bucks’ next possession, but this time it’s Capela instead of Gallinari. The result is the same as Portis hits another three:

Middleton and Portis dominated proceedings for the Bucks in the second quarter — Middleton scoring 13 points in the second, Portis hitting four threes en route to 14 second quarter points.

A 32-25 third quarter in favor of the Hawks saw them reduce the deficit and the story for the second half for the Hawks was they rallied on multiple occasions to bring the Bucks’ lead back to five/six points but every time they did the Bucks would hit a big shot and go on a run to either bring the lead back up to nine or so points, or more.

That said, there were some key plays in the fourth quarter that prevented the Hawks from getting closer.

This play might be the big one as the Hawks trail by six points with just under four minutes remaining and, guarded by Antetokounmpo, Young backs out to the three-point line and takes the long three which is missed:

Down six points with just under 2:30 to go, Young’s dribble is halted and the ball is pried away from his grasp by Portis, returning possession to the Bucks:

Following that play came this wild no-call as Antetokounmpo barrels into Capela with no call being made either side of things:

Capela and Hawks head coach Nate McMillan were incensed, and rightly so — a key moment in this game that allowed the Bucks to take an eight point lead.

Not long after this, Hunter is called for an offensive foul on this drive, leading to an angry confrontation by McMillan to the officials and receives two technical fouls for his troubles and tossed from the game:

Now, to be fair, this was an offensive foul on Hunter — you can see the push-off, it’s the correct call. The reaction to it though was the culmination of a night-long struggle against the officials’ calls/no-calls/poor calls on Antetokounmpo’s drives and with the one against Capela still fresh in their minds, McMillan had had enough. It’s not that this wasn’t an offensive foul, it’s the fact Antetokounmpo wasn’t called for a number of plays similar to that.

Capela said postgame it was “Either him or me,” that was going to end up ejected after the Antetokoumnpo play, but the Hunter call was the rancid icing on the top of an awful cake.

“I thought De’Andre’s play was the same play as Giannis had done a couple of times in this game,” said McMillan postgame. “The result was a foul on De’Andre and I thought Giannis, twice, on a couple of our guys drove through.”

“It was obviously a tough game,” added Huerter. “A lot of calls in the course of the game we felt could have gone differently. I’m not going to talk about the referees. We almost gave ourselves a chance to be in that game, cut it to five. We just couldn’t get it back and take the lead.”

The Hawks wanted to put themselves in a position to take charges on Antetokounmpo and put themselves in position to draw those charges last night, even if the whistle did not reflect it.

“You’ve got to square your shoulders,” explained McMillan. “He (Giannis) does a good job of getting downhill. You have to load to him and not allow him to get that momentum and try keep a body in front of him. In the past we’ve done a pretty good job of defending that and taking charges. You can take charges on his style of play. We didn’t get a couple of those calls tonight and they basically bullied us in the paint and dominated the paint.”

Antetokounmpo finished with 43 points (24 of them in the paint) on 15-of-22 from the field and 12-of-17 from the free throw line. The Bucks, as a team, scored 62 points in the paint and 18 second chance points. Conversely, the Hawks scored 46 points in the paint and four second chance points as they struggled getting inside at times.

“We’ve just got to show fight,” said McMillan. “We’ve got to scrap. We can’t play back on our heels. We’ve got to show fight when we take the floor in these remaining games. The first half they dominated attacking the paint. Offensively we weren’t able to get too much going. We gave up 68 points in that first half. We really never established our defense in that first half. We’ve got to show more fight than what we showed.”

The Hawks, again, did show a spirited showing in the second half — Young finding his feet in the second half, scoring 20 points — but they were always chasing this game, were down double-digits early and left themselves too much to do against a championship team.

“I don’t think our energy to start the game was great,” said Huerter. “They jumped on us; that’s a team that jumps on every body — feels like they’ve been doing that all year.”

“We dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t climb out of it,” Huerter went on to say. “Start of that first quarter, I think we were down around 15 to start the game and when you’re playing behind the rest of the game you’ve got to be pretty good. Against a team like that, a championship team, you can’t expect to dig yourself a hole and be successful.”

Huerter himself returned to the court after a one-game absence due to left shoulder soreness and enjoyed a strong game, scoring 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 4-of-7 from three — including a spell in the second quarter that saw the Hawks cut the Bucks’ lead to eight points, before it ballooned again as we looked at.

Young shot a solid 8-of-15 from the field after a difficult shooting night in Detroit on Monday but a surprising number of shots in total — only on three occasions this season has Young shot fewer than 15 field goal attempts in a game.

It was Collins who bore the brunt of the Hawks’ struggles last night, scoring two points on 0-of-9 shooting from the field.

Collins’ shot selection wasn’t great last night and I think he tried a little too hard at times to get something going:

Collins just took a number of contested shots that seemed to have little chance of going in:

Collins played just seven minutes in the second half as McMillan went with Gallinari alongside Capela — once the latter was brought back off the bench after picking up his fifth foul very early in the third quarter.

“I liked the lineup that was out there,” said McMillan when asked about Collins’ long absence. “I thought Gallo — that small unit with Gallo and Clint — was giving us some things so I stayed with that rotation.”

Collins has been extremely efficient for most of the season, so this represents just one of those nights in the NBA where it just doesn’t happen for whatever reason on a given night — nothing huge to look into, just one of those games.

The Hawks finish their mini road-trip 1-2 — really should have been 2-1 had they not fallen as they did in Detroit but alas... Aside from that first quarter the Hawks played well in this spot but also worth noting the Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back — albeit against the OKC Thunder. As Huerter said, they just dug too deep a hole too early and never recovered.

The Hawks (31-34) are back in action on Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers (35-33) at State Farm Arena.

Until next time...