In a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks upset the Milwaukee Bucks 121-114 on Monday at State Farm Arena for their first home win since November 22.
Atlanta also snapped a five-game losing streak, and it was an impressive win as the team was without Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic because of injury.
The Bucks have struggled of late as they continue to work through the absences of Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday, who are dealing with back and ankle ailments, respectively.
In addition, the Bucks have seen several players enter the NBA's health and safety protocols over the last few weeks. Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and George Hill have only recently returned and are still trying to find their footing.
Regardless, this was a statement win for Atlanta, and one it will hope to build upon as the league heads toward the All-Star break.
Trae Young, PG, ATL: 30 PTS, 4 REB, 11 AST, 1 STL
Khris Middleton, SF, MIL: 34 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK
De'Andre Hunter, SF, ATL: 20 PTS, 9 REB, 2 AST
Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, MIL: 27 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK
John Collins, PF, ATL: 16 PTS, 12 REB, 2 AST
Bobby Portis, C, MIL: 13 PTS, 13 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK
Trae Young-Led Comeback Impressive, but Hawks Defense Still an Issue
Young and the Hawks offense struggled for much of Monday night's game. However, the young point guard proved he can lead Atlanta to the promised land if the team can just be a little more consistent.
Young notched 15 points, three assists and a steal in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee to finish the game with 30 points and 11 assists overall. It was his first game with at least 30 points since Jan. 3, and it couldn't have come at a better time as the Hawks entered having lost their last five games.
However, the Hawks have had one of the worst defenses in the NBA all season, entering Monday's contest with a 113.8 defensive rating, which ranks 28th in the league, per NBA.com. And, they can't think what happened Monday night will happen again.
Monday night's game could have gone a lot differently if Young didn't catch fire in the fourth quarter. The team's defense has been particularly poor over the last week or so, entering Monday having allowed 119.2 points per game in the last five contests.
Milwaukee had its way with Atlanta at State Farm Arena for much of the night. Antetokounmpo and Middleton, in particular, were able to weave their way in and out of the Hawks defense, making shots at the rim and from beyond the arc.
The Hawks entered the 2021-22 campaign with particularly high expectations after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2020-21 campaign. And while the team's offense has held up its end of the bargain, averaging 110.5 points per game, the defense just simply hasn't held up.
Earlier this month, Young addressed the Hawks' defensive struggles, saying they need to figure things out before it becomes too late.
"It's frustrating. It's not fun," Young told reporters. "Being one of the best offensive teams in the league is a really good thing, but when you're letting teams score as much as you, it's not good for your team. We got to figure it out."
With the trade deadline approaching, the Hawks must do something to address their defensive woes if they want a chance to make the playoffs and potentially make a deep run. General manager Travis Schlenk recently hinted at a trade, but it's unclear who he might target to bolster the troops.
Khris Middleton's Effort Not Enough
Since a Jan. 3 loss to the Detroit Pistons, a game in which he shot 3-of-10, including 1-of-6 from deep, Middleton has found his stride. Unfortunately, his best performance of the season wasn't enough thanks to a late push from the Hawks.
The 30-year-old finished with 34 points, seven rebounds, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. He also made 11 of 22 shots from the field and four of nine shots from deep. It marked the sixth time in his last seven games that he finished with at least 20 points, and it was his first game of the season with 30-plus points.
Middleton's resurgence certainly has come at a crucial time for the Bucks. In addition to taking more control in the scoring department, he has also taken on more playmaking duties, entering Monday's game averaging nearly seven assists in his last six games.
However, his performance Monday only underlines something the team has known for a while: Jrue Holiday is the missing piece to the puzzle. Holiday, Milwaukee's primary playmaker, hasn't played since a Jan. 5 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The Bucks have gone 2-4 in his absence.
Having Holiday in the lineup would help take that playmaking load off Middleton and allow the Bucks offense to run more effectively. When the star point guard finally returns, things will likely start to click for the Bucks again, though they'll have to find a way to keep him healthy moving forward.
The Bucks will host Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, while the Hawks will host Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves.