It isn't easy beating the best team in the Eastern Conference in their own building. It's probably even harder beating them after you beat them by 30 the last time.
That was the gauntlet facing the Bucks in Atlanta on Monday night, and while no one would claim the Hawks had their A-game, the reality is that a below-average night from the Hawks is more than enough to beat a below-average effort from the Bucks. DeMarre Carroll was the Hawks' (surprise!) best player with 23 points (9/13 fg), eight boards and five assists, underscoring the versatility of their starting five on a night when Jeff Teague had one of his more frustrating games of the season (8 pts, 2/8 fg, 9 ast, 5 to).
Both teams registered remarkably similar numbers in terms of overall shooting, rebounding, assists and turnovers, but the Hawks got better value from deep (9/29 vs. 4/17) and ultimately blew the game open behind 67 scorching seconds from Kyle Korver. After being held scoreless in the first half, the league's preeminent marksman drilled three triples and a two in the span of just over a minute, turning a 56-51 Hawks lead midway through the third into a 67-51 cruiser. Weirdly, Korver missed his other six shots on the night, as the Bucks otherwise did a solid job hedging him on screens and forcing the Hawks to look elsewhere for points (which...they did). The Bucks narrowed the deficit to single digits multiple times late in the third and early fourth, but Atlanta outworked the Bucks for five offensive rebounds in the final period and were never seriously threatened. Atlanta didn't shoot well -- and uncharacteristically airmailed about a halfdozen jumpers -- but they didn't turn the ball over and didn't allow the Bucks anything easy offensively.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored an ultra-efficient 18 points (7/9 fg, 4/4 ft, 6 rebs, 4 ast, 1 to) to lead the Bucks, while Zaza Pachulia added a workman-like 17 points (8/10 fg) and 13 boards against his former team. Alas, other than that it was a rough night from the starters. Ersan Ilyasova had it going briefly in the third but otherwise struggled from the field for the second straight game (4/13 fg, 12 pts), while Khris Middleton missed all five of his triple attempts en route to 12 points on just 6/14 shooting.
The story wasn't any better for Michael Carter-Williams, who nearly missed the game due to his grandfather's funeral and perhaps as a result played just 21 ineffective minutes (1/6 fg, 4 pts, 5 ast, 4 to). In his place Jerryd Bayless actually played fairly well -- that's been a rarity since the all-star break -- scoring 14 on eight shots to go with five assists. Unfortunately that was about it for the bench. Jared Dudley stayed home to rest his back for Wednesday's game vs. the Bulls, while O.J. Mayo's post-injury struggles continue to mount (0/5 fg, 2 pts).
The "Giannis can shoot!" movement got a major boost tonight:
Oh hi Giannis pic.twitter.com/Aa1bqgyn7G— Mike Gartland (@ShafftyBro) March 31, 2015
But despite Giannis' impressive final scoring line, the Bucks generally struggled to get Giannis touches in the first three quarters, which made it all the more important that he hit jump shots from all over the court. The Hawks choked off the Bucks' transition game all night (zero fast break points in first half, just seven overall), and the presence of Ilyasova (high P&R) and Korver's ball-denying work in the post limited the Bucks' ability to get Giannis the ball in good spots in the halfcourt. So Giannis made the most of it with some damn impressive shooting -- off the catch, off the dribble, off the glass, a turnaround in the post...his confidence has been growing for the past couple months and tonight it was off the charts. And note where he was doing it from; normally we're used to Giannis shooting more from the top of the key, but tonight he was stretched out to the wings.
But this wasn't just a night of Giannis being a jump-shooter. Kidd had wanted to get Giannis attacking Korver earlier in the game, so in the fourth they cut out the cutesy stuff and gave us four straight Giannis clear-outs from the top of the key against Korver. Twice Giannis drew a foul driving into the paint, the third time Giannis ripped through for a layup, and the fourth time he drove and found Bayless for a wide open corner three (which he missed). They went away from it thereafter, but tough to argue with the efficiency. Now let's keep it up, eh?