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Bucks vs. Hawks Final Score: Atlanta handles Milwaukee 111-98

With a handful of momentum and a pocket full of dreams, the Bucks come up empty deep in the heart of Georgia.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Afternoon games are a major change of pace for NBA teams, and it’s not uncommon for early tip-offs to be sloppy slugfests. Today’s matchup against Atlanta, however, featured more than its fair share of hot shooting, slick passing, and authoritative dunking, as the Hawks bested the Bucks 111-98.

Milwaukee jumped out to a 20-9 lead by keeping the ball moving on offense (all five starters had a field goal to start) while using their length to force the Hawks into virtually-unavoidable turnovers. Mike Muscala later turned his ankle while defending a baseline Beasley drive, cutting down on Atlanta's frontcourt depth. Greg Monroe recognized the advantage he had against Kris Humphries and went into attack mode, with mixed results.

The Hawks eventually took control of the game, in no small part because the Bucks offense basically died in the second quarter, when Kidd deployed a Delly/Brogdon-JET-Vaughn three-guard lineup and Plumlee alongside Giannis. Whatever the objective was, scoring points wasn't one of them, as Atlanta started to pull away and eventually took a 50-40 lead after six minutes. The three-guard lineup simply didn’t stretch Atlanta’s defensive rotations outside of their comfort zone, and Giannis didn’t take charge or demand the ball. The Bucks didn’t lose as much ground on the scoreboard (Atlanta led by 7 at the half), but the momentum was firmly in Atlanta’s favor.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker came out strong in the third and continually took it to the basket to lead a 9-0 Bucks run and tie the game at 60-60. Of course, Atlanta remained on-point on offense and eventually reopened and generally maintained ten-point lead. From that point on, the Bucks simply never could catch up to Atlanta’s energetic defense or quick-hitting ball movement. There was always an ill-timed turnover or foul call that robbed the Bucks of any chance of regaining momentum, and Atlanta didn’t make nearly enough mistakes to give the game away.

If there was any doubt that Giannis was all the way back from his illness, his stat line (33 points on 13/22 shooting, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) should finish them off. Giannis routinely dove headfirst towards the basket and manufactured clean looks to get his shots, and generally was the only Buck to show up from start to finish. Jabari Parker was strangely deferential in the game (8 points on 4/9 shooting, 10 rebounds, 9 assists), but was generally fairly active on both ends of the floor as he came reasonably close to his first career triple-double.

Somebody around here mentioned how outlier scoring games were a trend worth watching, and today’s game was no exception. While the Hawks were led by Kent Bazemore (24 points, 9.8 ppg average) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (20 points, 6.0 ppg average), the tone was largely set by Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, who threw their weight around and used their physical strength to make life in the lane hard on the Bucks. On the flip side, no Buck outside of Giannis was able to get much going offensively, and when Jabari can’t even score half of his season average, the team is going to struggle mightily.

As we mentioned in today’s preview, this game subtly meant a lot to the Atlanta Hawks. They made some serious moves over the summer to remain relevant, but given some of the moves they’ve made recently and other rumors surrounding their roster, their long-term strategy is very much up in the air. The Bucks, on the other hand, are riding high on a wave of exceeded expectations, and are enjoying any near-term success as a bonus to their long-term outlook.

Winning against the Bucks helps solidify the Hawks position as we move towards the post-season. While their overall records are somewhat similar, Atlanta leads the season series 3-0 and can definitively regard the Bucks as a team they can handle moving forward. The Bucks, falling to 20-19, are still treading water as a 50/50 team, but can take some measure comfort in the knowledge that this season doesn’t matter nearly as much as next season.

That being said, the frustration of losing an eminently-winnable game is very real, and the lessons that need to be taken from it are also very real. Shooting fewer than 20 threes in another game is a troubling occurrence, as scoring points in the paint doesn’t mean much if you can’t score more points overall than the opponent.

Thoughts & Tidbits

Dennis Schröder doesn't need a screen to get to the basket, but Atlanta screened for him often in the first half, which allowed the Bucks' help defender to narrow down driving and passing lanes. One would have thought that giving Schröder more opportunities to isolate against slower defenders may have created more advantages for home team, but I wasn’t complaining.

Rashad Vaughn saw some surprising first-half run and hit two jumpers, including a 3 that took forever to go up because of the space that he had.

Both teams were red-hot in the opening period (tied 36-36), with ATL making 63% of their field goals and MIL hitting 60%.

Giannis short-armed a Dirk stepback so badly that Dwight Howard simply went up and grabbed it…before it hit the rim, resulting in a goaltend.

On the other hand, Giannis did not have his first foul until 8:11 left in the third quarter. I would take an L on every game of the rest of this season if it meant that Giannis was 100% over his early foul trouble problems.

Like we mentioned earlier, Jabari had six shots in the first half. That is not enough shots.

Bazemore got knocked for a T after disputing a charging call that MIGHT have been a flop, which could have been payback for an obvious flop earlier in the game. However, the boo-birds may have gotten to Matthew Dellavedova (who were on him all game), who missed the foul shot.

I think John Henson had a dunk at the end of the third quarter, but beyond that I can’t think of any other contributions he made that actually helped the Bucks. Passes were fumbled, rebounds were bobbled, unnecessary fouls were committed, and it made me pine for Miles Plumlee again. Kidd may have felt similarly when he gave Plumlee some second quarter run, but he didn’t make much of an impact as part of a strange and completely ineffective lineup also featuring Delly, Jason Terry and Vaughn.

The Bucks return to Milwaukee tonight and get ready to take on the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, led by Rookie of the Year frontrunner Joel Embiid, in a 2:30pm matchup on MLK Day. We’ll see you tomorrow, and enjoy the Packer game!