The Bucks traveled to Atlanta on Wednesday night, a city that Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer knows all too well. The reigning Coach of the Year returned to the site where he won the same award in 2015 and found a way to get a win in one of the most up and down games of the Bucks young season. Led by big second halves by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee closed out the game against the Hawks, the league’s youngest team with the worst defense, 135-127.
Milwaukee is still without secondary scorer Khris Middleton and his absence becomes more evident with every game. Young guard Donte DiVincenzo is doing a fine job filling his spot in the starting five but he doesn’t have the ability to create shots for himself hit threes like Kha$h can. Pair that with the Bucks consistent inability to guard the perimeter well and we get the same result we’ve had since Khris went down. Any first-half lead is dwindled by the opponent catching fire from deep and Milwaukee not being able to match the threes like they are used to.
So, in a game against a team that shouldn’t even sniff a win, the Bucks allow inexperienced teams to fight back and gain confidence which is the only thing that can push a team like the Hawks over a title contender like the Bucks. Luckily, Milwaukee can always rely on Giannis and boy did they need to more than ever.
Giannis finished a team-high +17 in his 30 minutes and racked up 33/11/4 with a block and steal on 12-17 shooting. He even had 17 points in the third quarter alone to build a Milwaukee lead. I know it can feel less impressive each time he puts up these numbers because it’s every single game, but watching it brings back all the appreciation. Nearly every time Giannis took a seat on the bench, the Hawks shrunk the gap. The most important example of this came in the closing minutes when the game seemed out of reach for Atlanta.
Giannis was sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter with the hopes of not having to return to the game. Donte drove the ball up the right side and tried to dunk over Jabari Parker but instead was given FTs to put the Bucks up 126-110 with 3:01 left on the clock. A team as good as Milwaukee should close this game out with ease 10 times out of 10.
The following sequence of events happened in the blink of an eye. Atlanta’s first-round draft pick Cam Reddish hit a three followed by a Bledsoe turnover and a Jabari Parker dunk. Bledsoe again turned it over and former Buck Parker again got two points out of it. Donte gets the chance for a wide-open layup on the other end but blows it and it leads to a layup from Deandre’ Bembry. With 2:10 left on the clock, Coach Bud has no choice but to call a timeout and get Giannis back in with the lead down to 126-119.
The very first possession out of the break? Giannis finds Sterling Brown alone in the corner for a three to push the lead back to ten and that was the end of the Hawks chances. With Giannis’ defensive ability, Atlanta had no path to victory. It can’t be overstated how important the Greek Freak is to this team even outside of the insane stats he puts up every game.
While Giannis has the whole team on his back with Khris out, Eric Bledsoe has noticeably tried to extend his impact. He has always been a pesky defender, but his offensive intensity has gone up a few notches in Middleton’s absence and it was evident when Bled scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone Wednesday night in Atlanta. He finished with 28/7/5 and only six fouls could take him out of the game.
The Hawks were led by young stars Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter, who combined for 52 points on 16-34 from the field and 4-8 from three. As a team, Atlanta shot 45% from three. What works in the Hawks favor in a game like this is they have no expectations of winning so there is no pressure to be perfect. They have the ability to try and make plays and that’s what kept them in the game.
The Bucks have a quick turn around from this one, heading back to Fiserv Forum for a Thursday night game against the Portland Trail Blazers. I’m sure they are eager to play in front of the home crowd again as seven of their last eight games were on the road. Portland will be without Damian Lillard but will have veteran star Carmelo Anthony available.
Tip for tonight’s game is set for 7:00 p.m. CT.