MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Bucks returned to full health on Saturday morning against the undermanned Atlanta Hawks, dismantling their Eastern Conference foes with record breaking ease.
The Bucks broke the 140-point mark for a league leading third time this season, equalling their tally against Sacramento earlier in the season on their way to a 144-112 win. The Bucks moved to 27-10 on the season and continued to build on their imposing 18-3 record at home.
Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova returned from a lengthy absence with a broken nose, slotting back into his usual reserve role. Ilyasova’s return complicates matters moving forward for Thon Maker, who failed to see his regular first quarter minutes, before finally checking into the game with 2:22 left in the first half. By that point, the Bucks had pounded the Hawks into a 35-point deficit, holding a 68-33 lead.
The Bucks held a 76-43 advantage at halftime, eclipsing their previous season high for points in the first half. Milwaukee was getting what they wanted all over the floor, bullying their way into the paint and moving the ball around the perimeter with ease until an open look presented itself.
Coach Mike Budenholzer spoke to the importance of a strong start, with Milwaukee playing on the front end of a back-to-back.
“Obviously, in the first quarter, we threw a big punch on both ends of the court,” Budenholzer said.
“I thought the effort by Eric Bledsoe was great. With so many pick-and-rolls and handoffs and actions for Trae Young, he was really good with just disrupting them and making it difficult. To have that kind of lead and set the tone, the starters were phenomenal.”
The monumental blowout ensured Maker would see greater playing time in the second half. Stuck in a shooting slump, however, Maker was 1-for-6 from deep, missing his first five before connecting on a corner three to give the Bucks a 141-96 lead late in the fourth quarter.
“I was struggling with my shot and coach was like, ‘let it fly,'" Maker said. "I asked if I should dribble hand off there and he said, ‘no, shoot it’, and it went in.”
Maker would finish with eight points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. All 12 Milwaukee players to see the floor finished with at least eight points, highlighting their offensive balance in the blowout win.
While Fiserv Forum was once again filled to the rafters with jubilant fans, the contest with Atlanta felt like the appetiser to a tantalising dish to be served in less than 24 hours.
With a blockbuster meeting with the Toronto Raptors on tap tomorrow, smiling Bucks players left the locker room with a little more haste than usual, well aware that the task in front of them will provide a much steeper challenge.
Milwaukee sit half a game ahead of Toronto for first place in the East, but crucially, the Bucks already hold a 2-0 advantage in the season series. With a win tomorrow, the Bucks will clinch the season series, giving them the tiebreaker in any playoff scenarios come April.
Maker was certainly aware of the situation, pointing to the significance of the result.
“It’s huge for us with the seeding and everything, but at the end of the day, if we make the end of the Eastern Conference and we meet them, you got to be feeling good about having home-court advantage as well,” Maker said.
The Milwaukee Bucks host the Toronto Raptors tomorrow - Tip-off is at 12:30pm