Close, but no cigar...again.
Though the game was competitive throughout the entire night, the Bucks' best basketball was again played earlier rather than later, as a strong fourth quarter surge from the Atlanta Hawks gave them just enough separation to come away with a comeback 102-97 victory over Milwaukee at Philips Arena.
The Bucks again started out hot with 55 percent shooting in a 30-point first quarter, which was actually a slight decrease from the 88 percent they shot in the first quarter in Minneapolis two days earlier. However, much like Tuesday, Milwaukee cooled off considerably thereafter--most notably during the third quarter when Milwaukee made all of four baskets--and didn't have enough savvy to fight through their those stretches to pull out a solid road victory. Atlanta was able to pull ahead late on the backs of Kyle Korver (15 points--12 in the fourth quarter) and (ex-Buck, kind of) Jeff Teague (22p/8a) while being kept afloat by Paul Millsap early on (17p/8r/4a).
The Bucks didn't really go through a stretch of totally lethargic basketball like in these teams' last match-up (winning the majority of the stategories), but when they did stall or break character, Atlanta was able to capitalize. The biggest advantage Atlanta had in pulling away was from behind the arc, where they made 13 three-pointers compared to Milwaukee's, ahem, three.
- Ersan Ilyasova returned from a sore ankle had a pretty solid performance on offense, scoring 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass. Ersan was pretty active within the offense, but on defense he was, uh. Um.. OH GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING ERS? (Vine courtesy of our pal KL Chouinard over at Bucksketball).
Still, 22 point Ersan with some hilarious defensive Vines is better than disappearing Hobo Ersan. I think. I don't know. I can't remember.
- Brandon Knight joined Ersan in the 20 point scorers' club, followed by John Henson and Jeff Adrien, who each had 12. As usual, Knight was at his best attacking off the bounce to his preferred right hand, piling up his 20 points on just 13 shots and without a turnover. Still, he left something to be desired in the playmaking department at times and couldn't keep the Bucks afloat on his own down the stretch.
- Speaking of John Henson, 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes isn't too shabby. Still, at this point in the season, and with a tough decision looming for the Bucks if Joel Embiid becomes their draft selection, doesn't it make total sense to play Henson as much as possible to get the most fair assessment of his value going forward? There are only 17 games remaining this season, so let me ask you this: how much more do you feel you know about Henson than you did last season or even this summer? Is that a cause for concern or just unfortunate circumstances influencing performance?
- Though he hasn't been connecting on them consistently, I personally liked seeing Giannis take four threes tonight. He hit his first and missed his subsequent three, but two of the others rimmed out and he's generally doing a good job of getting his feet set and not forcing the issue too blatantly (though he does seem to get an itchier trigger finger after making his first). Though sticking around the perimeter seems like a waste of Giannis' skill set, I look at his uptick in attempts in the same light as I do for Nate Wolters. It's a sign of confidence within the offense more than anything, in my opinion. There's a very real chance I am wrong here, but I look forward to Giannis working on turning that confidence into a game plan this offseason and seeing what he comes out with next season. This process is just in its baby step phase though, so we'll have to be just a little more patient.
Fortunately, it wasn't just a night of jacking threes for Giannis. His passing skills were on full display with a career-best-tying five dimes and no turnovers, including a pick-and-roll dump-off to new favorite target Jeff Adrien and a blind wrap-around from the baseline to Ersan that relied on every inch of his 7'3" wingspan. Defensively, he also did some of his best screen-fighting of the season in helping limit Korver to just a single shot in the first half, an encouraging sign for a guy who has often struggled with chasing guards around the perimeter.
- At 13-52, the Bucks still hold a 2.5 game ''lead'' over the Sixers for worst record in the league. After a relatively soft portion of their schedule, the Bucks' next little stretch gets a little more difficult. Don't believe me? Here:
@ericbuenning @ NYK, vs. CHA, @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ LAC— Willie Armstrong (@CanadaBucks) March 14, 2014
Uh-oh. After this run of difficult games, the Bucks will only have 12 games remaining. Will their ''lead'' look any different at the end of the road trip?