With the season winding down and Milwaukee almost certainly having the number one seed in the playoffs locked up, this game wasn’t all that important for either team and it showed. The Bucks have recently gotten banged up and are actively working at getting ready for the much more important playoffs so Coach Bud had a very different and innovative plan in store for Sunday’s matinee in Atlanta. It was a game plan like nothing we had seen before since Bud took over the team and it nearly worked, falling to the Hawks on a buzzer beater in overtime, 136-135.
From the very beginning, this was no ordinary game by any means. To go along with the injured Bucks who have been out for awhile like Malcolm Brogdon, Giannis and Khris joined that group of unavailable players for this matchup. Not only were three of the normal five starters out, but Coach Bud and his staff decided the Eric Bledsoe would start on the bench too. This left the starters to be Tim Frazier (first start), Sterling Brown (fourth start), DJ Wilson (first start), Bonzie Colson (first start), and normal starter Brook Lopez. Frazier and Colson had barely seen the floor thus far this season, let alone get the start. This made for an intriguing matchup despite the lack of star power or pressure on the game.
After Brook won the tip like he always does, Sterling got his first three to go followed by a DJ Wilson dunk and a Lopez three. It was reassuring to see the players who get their fair share of minutes get the scoring started rather than having the unexperienced players playing a major role. In the first two and a half minutes, Milwaukee couldn’t miss and they were up 14-4 just like that. Of note, Coach Bud opted to go with a 2-3 zone defense instead of their usual man-to-man. It proved to be effective immediately because just five minutes into the game Milwaukee had already gone on two separate 8-0 runs to build a double-digit lead early.
At the first TV timeout with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter, Milwaukee had already built a 29-9 lead. Sterling was 3-3 from deep with 11 points and as a team were 7-10 from three in the first few minutes. This was outright the best first six minutes of a game the Bucks have had all season, including the 50-point quarter. George Hill entered the game after the timeout to replace Sterling and hit is own three immediately to give the Bucks a whole 22-point lead. The rest of the quarter was relatively even and Milwaukee held a 43-26 lead after twelve minutes despite only one regular starter seeing the floor.
The second quarter started slow for the Bucks and Atlanta was on a 10-0 run between the first and second quarters. Brook broke that streak with his usual deep three and the lead was back to sixteen. However, the Hawks got hot and shrunk the lead to nine with over eight minutes left in the half. Deandre Bembry was leading the way for Atlanta with 11 points on 4-6 from the field to this point. Coach Bud obviously took a timeout to organize his young guys who were stepping into major roles.
The Hawks remained red hot out of the timeout and scored eight points in the next sixty second to pull within five. Hill hit a three on the following possession but Kevin Huerter answered right back with a three of his own. This game had turned from a first quarter blowout to a second quarter battle very quickly, something Bucks’ fans definitely didn’t want to see given the restrictions on their lineup. Anyone can play well when the whole team is hitting shots but it’s a totally different game when you need to persevere through a cold streak.
The energy for the Hawks’ players on the floor was at an all-time high in the closing minutes of the second quarter as they were screaming at every single play that went right. When you’re in your home court you can get away with stuff like that and, in turn, get the crowd into it. The lead for Milwaukee hovered around three for a majority of the final five minutes of the half. The Bucks barely held onto their lead in a very high scoring first half, up 71-68. Bonzie Colson already achieved career highs in points and rebounds with 11 each. Sterling was the team leader in points with 14 on 4-4 from deep. Each team had 13 made threes in the first half, on pace for franchise records.
The second half began with a three from John Collins to tie the game up for the first time since it was 0-0. Alex Lin followed that up with a three of his own and Atlanta had their first lead of the game just like that. A minute later, a DJ three put the Bucks back up and the back and forth had officially begun. It was clear that Atlanta had a better plan to attack Milwaukee’s zone defense this half by driving and drawing a couple of defenders before they find the open kick out man. Sound familiar?
John Collins got amped up after a block on Wilson. He ran the full length of the court and tried to posterize Colson but instead drew the foul. Luckily for Milwaukee it was time for a TV timeout before things got out of hand. Tim Frazier solidified his first tripe-double with the Bucks early in the third with 13/10. His three out of the timeout tied the game up again at 81 with seven minutes left in the quarter. However, the Hawks got hot from deep again and started to build a lead in the following minutes.
The lead got as high as eight for Atlanta behind hot shooting from Trae Young and Bembry but their youth showed when they made some lazy turnovers and left gaps in their defense that allowed Milwaukee to cut the lead to four with two and a half minutes left in the third. George Hill and Pat Connaughton were the main duo that kept the Bucks within striking distance in the closing minutes of the third. A combination of dunks and threes left them down 98-97 with one quarter to play.
The fourth quarter began with a pair of free throws from Brook Lopez under the duress of a half filled State Farm Arena. Both teams cracked the 100-point mark in the first two minutes and were pushing 100 total threes attempted for the game. Milwaukee adjusted their defense and allowed less open three looks and more layup opportunities that Lopez had the ability to alter. This game plan worked very well for the first few minutes as the Bucks had the opportunity to build their own lead.
An 8-0 Milwaukee run was stopped on a layup from Collins but Brook answered quickly with a layup of his own. In the first few minutes of the quarter Brook was showing the most paint dominance he had shown in recent memory. Atlanta was quickly finding out that they didn’t have a good player to match Lopez who had eight points in the first five minutes of the final quarter. The lead was up to seven, the highest since the second quarter for the Bucks, going into the second to last TV timeout.
Out of the break, Pat got an and-1 to go and Milwaukee got back to their double-digit lead. It didn’t last long after Huerter hit a three followed by a Devante Davis dunk. Just as you thought the Bucks might be able to close this one out with ease, Atlanta made it a game again. Sterling Brown became the go-to scorer for Milwaukee as he seemed to be the only one who could finish a layup through traffic. His second consecutive layup gave the Bucks a five point lead with a minutes to go. Atlanta fired back with a layup from Alex Len and a couple of free throws from Bembry to make the deficit just one point.
Sterling played point on the next possession and got himself an open layup but missed. Lurking in the shadows was Connaughton who put back the miss with a slam which forced an Atlanta timeout, down three with thirty seconds to go. Collins missed a three from the corner but big man Len hit one from the top of the key to tie it up. Sterling had a shot from the elbow to win it up missed and the two teams were on their way to overtime.
Brook won the tip again to start the overtime period which led to a put back layup from Frazier who had played every single minute of Sunday’s game. Len missed a three on the other end and picked up a foul on a layup attempt from Lopez shortly after. In the first 90 seconds of overtime, Milwaukee had made it a two possession game. Anderson fired back with a corner three and just like that the lead was one. The lead was up to three when Collins got an and-1 to go but missed the free throw. That proved to be a big miss when Ersan Ilyasova hit his first three to push the lead back to four.
With a minute and a half left in overtime, Bembry went to the line to shoot a pair and hit one of two. Ilyasova made a layup on the other end on a pass from Frazier to keep the gap five. After a quick timeout, play resumed and Collins got an easy dunk within ten seconds. The next Hawks’ possession ended in a dunk from Len and with 33 seconds to go the lead was one again. Sterling missed a layup and Young hit a floater with 6.6 seconds left to give Atlanta a one point lead.
Coach Bud took his last timeout to call a set play. The play didn’t seem to go the way it was drawn up but nevertheless Sterling got himself an open layup with 1.1 seconds remaining to take the single point lead. Atlanta called their last timeout in an effort to draw up one final play for the win. The play resulted in Huerter pass to the rim to Bembry at the rim which was pushed out by Lopez. The ball went to Trae Young in the air and he hit a little floater to win the game at the buzzer, 136-135
Sterling Brown had a career high 27/9/3, going 5-10 from deep in 33 minutes.
Bonzie Colson also had career highs in points and rebounds with 15/16/2 in 41 minutes.
Tim Frazier played the entire 53 minutes and racked up a stat line of 20/7/15 on 8-17 shooting.
George Hill had 18/6/1 on 7-15 from the field.
This was the fifth of six NBA games this season that were planned to be live streamed at primetime in India which explained the early start time on Sunday. This was just an obscure game from the start. While the Hawks were missing a couple contributors including Dewayne Dedmon, the Bucks were cut down to the bare bones of the roster. No Giannis, no Khris, no Eric, no Malcolm, no Nikola, no Tony, etc. Only eight players saw the floor for Milwaukee and three of their starters hadn’t started all season. Brook was the only normal starter in their for Milwaukee and they still almost pulled out a win against a recently tough Atlanta team. While Atlanta is in the running for the top spot in the upcoming NBA draft, they have shown new energy recently behind the much improved performances by Trae Young along with John Collins.
Milwaukee’s bench players nearly squeaked out a win on the first day of a back-to-back but instead fall to 57-20 on the season with just five games remaining. Nothing has really changed in terms of playoffs, as Toronto still remains three games behind the Bucks and with the tie breaker in favor of Milwaukee it’s basically a four game lead with only five to play. Toronto would have to win out and Milwaukee could only win one to lose the top seed in the NBA which is incredibly unlikely considering Giannis and Khris won’t be sitting out the rest of the regular season. This game is nothing to worry about, it’s just frustrating because the game was their for the taking but Trae Young just had to hit what was honestly a mostly lucky shot.
Milwaukee has the opportunity tomorrow to bounce back and get one step closer to 60 wins when they face the Nets in Brooklyn at 6:30 p.m.