Trae Young led the Hawks with 32 points and 12 assists with Dejounte Murray adding 30 points.
For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and Damian Lillard added 25 points.
Playing at Milwaukee at the end of a five-game road trip is not the simplest of tasks, but the Hawks rose to the occasion and kept this contest tight throughout. A 42-point Milwaukee first quarter was kept in check with a 37-point effort from the Hawks, and while the Bucks maintained their lead throughout the second quarter, the Hawks — thanks to 20 and 18 first half efforts from Young and Murray — hung with the hosts, and in the third quarter even took a narrow lead.
Despite what the final score may suggest, the fourth quarter reflected the three quarters for much of its duration. The Bucks only pulled away late by way of a 13-2 run to put them up by 14 points before a consolation three from Saddiq Bey brought it back to the finishing margin of 11 points.
I was hoping to show you that 13-2 run but, annoyingly, the video isn’t available... Alas, we’ll do our best with what we have.
It begins with the Bucks moving the ball to the corner, where Malik Beasley gets Young off his feet and steps into a floater to give the Bucks a seven point lead. Clint Capela was a little late to rotate but a good floater from Beasley.
In reply, Young gets a pick-and-roll switch onto Khris Middleton, attacks, but the rotation from Brook Lopez (having just been blocked on a previous possession) and contact from Middleton forces and awkward shot and Capela’s attempts to save the ball sail out of bounds.
The Bucks come again with a great play, with Lillard receiving a double screen from Middleton and Lopez, the Middleton screen taking Murray out of the equation on Lillard. Capela is forced to rotate onto Lillard on the perimeter — which is always dicing with danger — and gets the give-and-go with Antetokounmpo to shed Capela and with Hunter shadowing Lopez on the roll (as he absolutely needs to) it allows Lillard and easy path for the dunk:
The Hawks elect to keep pressing and not call a timeout, and Murray gets into the lane after a pick-and-roll with Capela, but the runner is contested well by Lopez and the shot is missed — as is the attempt to keep the ball in play. In response, Lillard executes the pick-and-roll with Antetokounmpo, forcing the rotation from Capela leaving Lopez in position underneath the rim. And while De’Andre Hunter attempts to recover the ball. Lopez is able to dig it out and adjust to score at the rim, giving the Bucks an 11-point lead and their largest of the night.
A step-back three from Young is missed and with under 30 seconds remaining the game is very much over now, the Bucks swinging the ball over a beaten Atlanta side to Beasley in the corner for the three to cap off the run.
In the end, the Hawks shot 29% in the fourth quarter and despite having it going at various stages of the game. Neither Young (0-of-5), Murray (2-of-5), nor Bogdan Bogdanovic (1-of-5) could find their rhythm from earlier in the game, with Bey’s eight points leading the way in the fourth. Hunter couldn’t find his form after the first quarter, and that’s effectively it for the Hawks’ scorers. The Bucks, in contrast, shot 60% in the final period.
“Good effort, did all the really good things through the course of the game (but) didn’t finish well and it showed at the end,” said Hawks head coach Quin Snyder.
“They’re a tough team and coming down to the wire it only takes a few plays for things not to go your way,” added Young. A couple of shots not go in, them come down and have a couple of plays that go their way and the lead can spread from one to seven real quick. I think that’s what happened late in the game, it’s hard to come back against a good team like that when you give them the lead like that late in the game. We’ll learn from it.”
Of the final run, Snyder described the multiple facets to it: between Lillard excelling, the Hawks’ offense and how conceding baskets and taking the ball out from under the rim put pressure on their offense.
“There [are] multipliers,” said Snyder of the 13-2 run. “There’s a couple of clean looks we didn’t make. Dame did some things even when we guarded well. Then when we’re taking the ball out of the net, it just puts more pressure on us to have offensive possessions that we can get to the line, we can get an offensive rebound where we don’t have to rely on making a shot.”
“We were easier to guard during that stretch,” added Snyder of the run. “Like I said, we didn’t get to the line. We had tough shots, I thought they got better shots than we did that last four minutes. Sometimes those add up to an offensive rebound, free throws, slows the game down, sets your defense. They’re a mature team. We need to keep learning how to do that, particularly late in the game. We’ve done that, we’ve absolutely done that, we just didn’t do that tonight.”
The Hawks had put themselves in the bonus with over five minutes to go in the fourth but inside the last five minutes never got back to the free throw line. They did still edge the Bucks at the line (16 makes to the Bucks’ 12) but this did feel like a missed opportunity for the Hawks.
In addition in the fourth, the Hawks deployed both Capela and Okongwu together in the fourth. Snyder was asked about this postgame and said that matchup and availability of minutes dictate when the Hawks can roll out this lineup.
“Defensively, playing Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll forces you to be up on the floor, and so our backline is bigger,” said Snyder of playing Capela and Okongwu. “Usually it’s one of them that’s up in pick-and-roll defense and it allows — even if Lopez is spaced — we can invert and we have more protection at the rim with more size. When our backline is smaller than that it’s more difficult. It’s finding minutes for those guys to play together. There’s certain times in the game where that allows itself and there’s certain matchups where it pays dividends defensively. Tonight was one of those nights.”
The two-man lineup of Capela and Okongwu have played just 15 minutes together (the only two-man lineups for the Hawks that have played fewer minutes are Trent Forrest-Bruno Fernando and Trent Forrest-Garrison Mathews) and are a -10 in those minutes but there were some positive flashes of this pairing last night, and with Jalen Johnson out for the foreseeable future it could be something we see more of, depending on the matchup
Despite Capela’s 4-of-13 shooting, he grabbed 17 rebounds and eight offensive rebounds. The field goal percentage is a little misleading given that Capela missed a number of bunnies for chances he alone created but really stepped up defensively and enjoyed this fine play on both ends with the block on one and the dunk at the other:
CLINT DOING WORK ON BOTH ENDS pic.twitter.com/7Fprqlg44u— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) December 3, 2023
The Hawks have struggled at times on the glass with Johnson going down but while the Bucks edged the rebounding battle 44-40, their second chance scoring was limited with just eight offensive rebounds compared to the Hawks’ 15.
“He played really great for us,” said Young of Capela. “It always sucks not being able to celebrate certain performances like that, especially when he rebounded the way he did, battled all night with the other bigs in the game. It’s tough with Jalen being out, we lose a lot of rebounding and size, teams are going to be crashing the glass even more on us. We’ve got to help Clint, he did a really good job helping us and cleaning up a lot of the boards for us tonight.”
Despite cooling off at an unfortunate time in the fourth quarter, Young and Murray had it going in this game. Young scored 32 points on 13-of-28 shooting and 5-of-13 from three, with Murray scoring 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting on 4-of-6 shooting.
With Lopez on the court the Bucks play a lot of drop coverage. Lopez is one of the league leader in shots blocked and with his size he can contest well too, affording him the luxury to drop back and then step up to challenge shots in the lane. However, this drop in coverage works to the strengths of Murray’s mid-range game and Young’s floater game, both of which were in fine supply last night.
“We just know the type of defense they bring,” said Young of he and Murray’s success. “With Brook in there, he’s usually in drop (coverage), usually at the rim and just trying to contest shots late. We knew what kind of defense they’d be in.”
For the game, the Hawks shot 44.6% from the field and this would be fine if the Bucks hadn’t shot 59.6% from the field themselves. Their damage was done in transition where they scored 21 points, contributing to 60 points in the paint. In the first half especially, the Bucks caught the Hawks napping setting up their defense and punished them for it and getting to the rim with ease.
All things considered, the Hawks put up a good effort here, just falling away at the end to one of the NBA’s better teams. At the end of a five-game road trip, you can’t ask for a ton more. On the night it was certainly winnable, and had Young, Murray and Bogdanovic not combined for 3-of-15 in the fourth who knows which way it could have gone.
For the trip as a whole, the Hawks went 2-3. In short, they won the games they were supposed to in Washington and San Antonio, and lost the games you might have expected them to in Boston, Cleveland and Milwaukee. It’s been quite a trip, and the Hawks are ready to return to Atlanta.
“This was a long road trip, I know everyone is ready to get back home,” said Young postgame.
However, they may get used to the road for another while yet — they may return to Atlanta now, but six of their nine games are back on the road.
The Hawks (9-10) return to Atlanta where they have a number of days to recover while the In-Season Tournament knockout rounds take place. Their next game takes place on Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets (10-9) who will similarly enjoy the same time off having just knocked off the hottest team in the NBA, the Orlando Magic, with 42 points from Mikal Bridges (26 of those in the first quarter), who was excellent against the Hawks in their last meeting.
Should be a fun contest, until next time...