The Milwaukee Bucks dispatched the depleted Atlanta Hawks, 120-109, on Saturday. It was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first game back from injury, and the reigning MVP was noticeably hobbled in his 25-minute, 15-point game.
Missing key players like John Collins and Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta fought hard to make it a close game in the third frame, leading 73-74. The Bucks rallied back with a 12-2 run that saw them enter the final period with a 94-82 lead that they never relinquished until the final buzzer.
Starters carry the Bucks when Giannis can’t
It’s already an established fact that Jrue Holiday is a superstar in his own right. He’s everything the Bucks could have asked for in a point guard to play next to the reigning MVP. His 23 points paced the Bucks all game long, to go with his four rebounds and seven assists. With Holiday defending Trae Young, the latter went 1-9 FG with 7 of his 9 shots contested, while Holiday also forced 5 turnovers.
Brook Lopez also showed flashes of his All-Star years, often taking the smaller Clint Capella into the paint and finishing through contact. Despite his age, he still has a remarkably polished post game, which is always a useful offensive weapon to have in the playoffs. He finished as the team’s second-best scorer with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds.
While it looks like Khris Middleton had a bad game on paper, his versatile game still allowed him to contribute in other ways. He finished with just 10 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists and shot an abysmal 4-14. However, five of his points came in a particularly dry spell in the third quarter where his isolation scoring was all that kept the Bucks afloat for a time.
Fans are right to expect more consistency from a borderline max-level player. But Middleton’s stat line alone belies the game he put in for the Bucks, which still ultimately led to a win. It would be disingenuous to forget his past five games, during which he averaged 21.2 points per contest on 41.7% shooting from three-point range.
Bucks finding their stride, but still searching for identity sans Giannis
When things aren’t working out, it seems what keeps the Bucks in games is their system. They play stout defense on one end and swing the ball around, cut, and let it fly on the other. It’s their polished chemistry and execution that has kept them in their winning ways with Giannis out the past six games. Bench depth helps too, as evidenced by the three bench players who scored in double figures this game.
Even when players are having bad games individually, the Bucks have always been a team greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, their reliance on the system also translates into blown leads every now and then. They’ve always been very prone to allowing runs late in games, and head coach Mike Budenholzer remains slow to react. It’s what allowed the Hawks to reclaim the lead after the Bucks ended the first half leading 64-52.
Although it shouldn’t be a must-have with Giannis healthy before the playoffs, being able to play cohesively with your franchise cornerstone on the bench should still be a point of emphasis moving forward.
Veterans are everything the Bucks wanted
In what is probably his first full game after recovering from injury and acclimatizing to Budenholzer’s system, P.J. Tucker showed out. He splashed two treys from the corners en route to eight points, three rebounds and an assist in his 16 minutes of play.
All game long, Tucker frustrated the Hawks forwards with stout defense, punctuated by one play where he dove to the floor for a loose ball. He didn’t force a turnover, but that one play summarized everything that made the veteran Tucker a coveted acquisition. He hustles hard, plays great defense, and spaces the floor for Giannis. Tucker was a +13 in his on-court minutes as the Bucks were outscored by a point with him on the bench.
Shooting woes are a thing of the past once more. With this game, Brook Lopez has shot 14-of-34 (41.1%) from deep in his past ten games. He shot 34.1% from the three-point line for the season heading into this game.
Similarly, Pat Connaughton seems to have found his stroke too. After a four-game stretch where he went an ice cold 0-of-14 from distance, he’s now shooting 12-of-25 (48%) for the past four games. This comes after he hit 4 of his 11 attempts from three this game en route to 14 points and a team-high +31.
While the Bucks three-point shooting flourished, they also allowed much of the same shooting from the erstwhile Hawks. Solomon Hill, a career 33.7% three-point shooter, finished hitting 6-of-8 from three for 18 points.
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