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Milwaukee vs. Atlanta Game Three Recap: Bucks Fight Back, Take 2-1 Series Lead

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2 wins away!

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

The Milwaukee Bucks got off to an inauspicious start in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks and trailed 15-2 at one point. However, after absorbing the Hawks’ most furious punch of the series, the Bucks maintained contact throughout the contest...even when it looked like ATL was about to pull away.

When the dust settled, the Milwaukee Bucks persevered and gutted out a 113-102 victory after a historic fourth-quarter performance (20 points) from Khris Middleton.

What We Learned

Giannis Antetokounmpo playing at the 5 unlocked Milwaukee’s offense and they did not look back after that. With Brook Lopez going to the bench after playing just 2:35 of the fourth, the Hawks had themselves a problem...it forced John Collins (who was in foul trouble) to defend Khris Middleton, and Middleton went to work immediately (more on this later).

Lopez played fantastic in Game Two, so I was not expecting this far of a drop-off that he experienced last night. Nonetheless, credit to head coach Mike Budenholzer for making the adjustment that helped space the floor and create even more opportunities offensively for the Bucks.

Three Observations

Khris Middleton saved his best for last. He had a very rough game at times and it looked like he was toast in the final frame after he failed to draw an offensive foul on Danilo Gallinari...he then complained to the official mid-play and it gave Gallo an open jumper that he cashed in on. Middleton followed that up by making a beautiful move to free himself for an open layup, but he threw the ball right to the Hawks. I can’t lie, I was NOT having happy thoughts after that sequence. I am not sure who said something to him during the timeout, but once the Bucks went small following the TO, Middleton turned into an unconscious menace who sucked the life right out of the Hawks and the home crowd. He outscored ATL in the fourth on his own, 20-17 and even went on a personal 12-0 run. He was getting his buckets in an array of ways, hitting threes, driving to the lane, and putting up a floater, but his most impressive bucket was his deep corner two-pointer right over John Collins who was draped ALL OVER him. In all, he finished with a game-high 38 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists while making 15-of-26 shots. He has racked up quite the resume of ridiculous fourth-quarter performances this postseason and watching him shake off the ugly sequences was another step in the right direction for the Bucks. Resiliency FTW!

I loved how patient Giannis Antetokounmpo was around the basket offensively. The Bucks were all out of sorts offensively for the majority of the first half, but one thing remained constant...he was staying patient, waiting for the play to develop, and when he saw an opening, he slashed right to the basket for an easy dunk or layup. I thought Atlanta did a decent job defending him in the first quarter by being aggressive and forcing him to make plays out on the perimeter. However, as the game went on, Antetokounmpo got a better feel for the pace and started making plays on his own by relentlessly attacking the paint while being in control. He shot 13 free throws, and a few came with Atlanta chasing points and intentionally fouling, but it seemed like he could have easily had more trips to the foul line. Marc Davis, ladies, and gents! Nonetheless, it was another unstoppable 33 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and two steals performance from the Greek Freak. While Middleton helped put the game on ice, Giannis added two buttery fadeaway Kobe-esque jumpers to put the final nails in Atlanta’s coffin.

This victory would not have been possible without the performances from both Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis. Portis got a decent look in the first half and immediately provided an offensive spark for an offense that was mired in what seemed like a two-quarter slump. Bobby isn’t perfect defensively and had a brutal miscommunication with Brook Lopez that resulted in a wide-open Trae Young three, but this was a night where the Bucks needed a spark offensively. Enter BOBBY PORTIS! He played 17 minutes and scored 15 points while finishing plus-17. He rode the bench in the second half for longer than I would have liked, but better late than never. It says a lot about his character from going from a series where he practically did not play, to being thrown into the fire and still contributing. Hats off to him. As for Connaughton, he scored only five points but the majority of his clutch play won’t show up in the stat sheet. He kept possessions alive offensively by using his active hands to tip out missed shots and he forced a humongous turnover by not giving up on a live ball and deflecting it off Trae’s foot to give possession back to MKE. Like it or not, he is going to be out there when they go small in crunch time and his athleticism gives Bud more than enough of a reason to keep him on the floor. He also finished a game-high plus-25.

Bonus Bits

  • Jrue Holiday couldn’t buy a bucket last night and struggled mightily throughout the game. He got torched by Trae on multiple possessions and also put up some head-scratching shots. Nonetheless, it did not come back to haunt them. He finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting but did dish out 12 dimes. Hopefully, he got the bad game out of his system...hard to be mad at him with how he played in Game’s 1 and 2, though.
  • Brook Lopez got played off the floor, and that’s okay. They went small and never looked back. You can still play drop coverage against the Hawks and still have a chance. I thought last night was more of ATL hitting some crazy shots rather than poor defense. Don’t get me wrong, there were multiple defensive breakdowns, though. It was a letdown from his Game 2 performance, scoring 10 points in 25 minutes while finished minus-17.
  • Bryn Forbes got some great looks from deep but he couldn’t convert, making only 1-of-6 shots.
  • Trae Young scored 35 points and looked like he was well on his way to a historic performance after the first quarter. He did hurt his ankle after stepping on a referee’s foot...it was an odd play and I hope he is okay.
  • The Bucks won the rebounding battle 50-35.
  • MKE couldn’t buy a three until the fourth and still won. It seemed like the more open they were, the worse they missed.
  • P.J. Tucker scored only three points but did grab eight rebounds in 34 minutes. His attempts around the rim are not pretty...let’s just put it that way.

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