Last shots: Bucks 122, Hawks 117

MILWAUKEE | Twenty-three last shots for the 23 points scored by Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton in the 122-117 win over Atlanta on Saturday night.

1. The Bucks played one of the easiest portions of their schedule beginning the day that coach Jason Kidd was fired. After that, the easiest period of their schedule was the four-game stretch they just completed with a 3-1 record. Memphis, Orlando, and Atlanta are three of the four worst teams in the NBA, and the Bucks just faced them in succession.

2. The Bucks went 2-1 against those teams, although they weren’t overly impressive in any of the victories. Milwaukee found itself in a battle late in the fourth quarter against Atlanta on Saturday evening. The Hawks led early on by as many as 11 points in the first half before the Bucks took a 56-50 lead into the locker room at halftime.

3. The starting five was an issue again for Milwaukee, as it has been lately. Atlanta led 31-26 after the first quarter. The Bucks struggled offensively in the period. The only area they were successful was from the 3-point line, where they knocked down four 3s.

4. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in that first quarter. The Hawks were adamant about letting him shoot from behind the arc.

5. After the first quarter Antetokounmpo took four more 3-pointers, missing all of them. He finished with a team-high 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting. Antetokounmpo added in 12 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals as well.

6. The starting group was outscored in the first quarter against Memphis and got off to a poor start again on Saturday.

7. “We want to start games and halves the right way,” interim head coach Joe Prunty said about his starting lineup prior to the game. “We want to play the right way coming out of the gate to make sure that that carries over through the first half, and then when you come out to start the second half, you want that as well. So, it is very important, and we do need our starters to step up. We have had too many stretches where we have had these lulls on both sides of the floor, and teams as going on big runs.”

8. That’s something that needs to change for the Bucks. They’re able to escape and come back against teams like Memphis, New York, and Atlanta when they don’t play their best. The Bucks don’t have enough to dig themselves out of a big hole against playoff teams.

9. The Bucks also need to be better at not allowing teams back into games. Atlanta was trailing by 13 points after Khris Middleton knocked down a 3-pointer with :36 remaining in the period. That shot gave Middleton an impressive 15 points in the quarter, prompted a timeout by Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, and should have been a back-breaker for the Hawks.

10. Instead of that being the case, Milwaukee allowed Atlanta to close the period on a 5-0 run. Andrew White III knocked down a 3-pointer, Eric Bledsoe had a careless turnover, and White III put in a layup before the clock expired. The Bucks found themselves without any of the momentum that they had earned, and a lead of only eight entering the fourth quarter.

11. Bledsoe’s turnover was an attempt at a pass | to himself | off of the backboard. He got caught in the air after attempting to draw a foul, had nowhere else to go with the ball, and that was the result.

12. Things didn’t immediately get better, as the Hawks were able to climb all the way back and take a one-point lead with 4:39 left in the game on a pair of Taurean Prince free throws. He was the game’s high scorer with 38 points for Atlanta.

13. The Hawks got back into the game partly due to a five-point possession made possible by a flagrant foul by Antetokounmpo. Atlanta forward John Collins shot a 3-pointer from the right corner with Antetokounmpo closing out on him. Antetokounmpo did not give Collins the necessary room to land following the shot.

14. The rule is one that was implemented this season. In the playoffs last year Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard was injured by Zaza Pachulia of the Golden State Warriors when Pachulia closed out on a jumper that Leonard was shooting.

15. Pachulia did not allow Leonard the proper room to land following his shot. Leonard landed directly on the foot of Pachulia, spraining his ankle, and ending his postseason. The play was called dirty, and further increased the narrative that Pachulia is a dirty player.

16. After the game, Antetokounmpo said he didn’t intentionally hurt Collins, who left the game and did not return with a sprained left ankle.

17. “I tried to close out, and not to touch,” Antetokounmpo said. “I gave [John Collins] a little bit of space because we wanted him to shoot that shot. He landed on my foot. They say the code now when someone lands on your foot is a flagrant [foul]. I didn’t do it on purpose. I hope he’s doing well and that he’s healthy.”

18. After the game, Collins said he didn’t think his injury was too serious.

19. “Obviously, I landed on his foot, but I don’t think he was intentionally trying to run up under me,” Collins said. “He was just closing out. I thought when I shot the ball I jumped into the line a little bit. It was a basketball play.”

20. Milwaukee now enters a tougher portion of its schedule, and its one they must step up for in order to avoid a bottom two seed in the conference. Five of the next six games for Milwaukee come against teams that are either in the playoffs or fighting for a spot.

21. The Bucks also have to go out to the west coast for a four-game road trip to close the month.

22. On that road trip two of the games are against teams fighting for a playoff spot in the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets, one is against the Golden State Warriors, and the final one is against the Los Angeles Lakers.

23. Before they worry about that, Milwaukee returns to action Monday night in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.