Hawks beat Bucks for third consecutive victory

MILWAUKEE—Their frequent source of energy and offense was on the bench with a sore toe so the Hawks needed someone else to provide what Jamal Crawford does.

The Hawks found that plus a lot more. Delivering perhaps their best overall effort on the road in seven weeks, the Hawks beat the Bucks 104-96 at the Bradley Center on Monday night to increase their hold on the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Everything was solid from beginning to end,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “We are going to need that the rest of the way. We’ll face Cleveland on Wednesday and then we’ve got to get ready for the playoffs.”

The Hawks’ third consecutive victory moved them 1-½ games ahead of idle Boston. The Hawks would clinch the third seed if the Celtics lose at Chicago on Tuesday. If Boston wins, the Hawks would need to beat Cleveland at Philips Arena on Wednesday to finish ahead of the Celtics.

The Heat’s victory at Philadelphia earlier Monday eliminated Charlotte as a potential first-round opponent for the Hawks. Atlanta could play Milwaukee or Miami and, if this game was an indication, the Bucks might be a tough test even without injured center Andrew Bogut.

The Bucks trailed 82-70 early in the fourth quarter but cut the lead to 89-87 with less than five minutes to play. The Hawks responded by scoring on five of their next six possessions to lead 98-91 with 1:52 left and closed out the victory.

The Hawks led from 4:20 of the first quarter until the end.

“Even though they went on a run in the second half, we didn’t bend,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “We kept fighting. We kept with our game plan and used our advantages.”

With Crawford out the Hawks got 31 points from Joe Johnson, 18 from Marvin Williams and double figures in scoring from four others. The Hawks shot 53 percent from the floor, limited the Bucks to 39 percent shooting, blocked 11 shots and held a 47-34 rebounding advantage.

Crawford averages 18 points off the bench. Zaza Pachulia helped fill that void with 10 points and also posted seven rebounds and four assists while playing effective defense at the rim.  He filled in admirably with starting center Al Horford in foul trouble.

“Guys really stepped up,” Smith said. “Mo (Evans) played great, Zaza played big like we need him to. Everybody gave a good effort and that’s what we need to go deep in the playoffs.”

The Hawks were active and energetic on defense from start to finish but the Bucks made challenged shots for most of three quarters. Eventually, those tough shots stopped falling while the Hawks’ offense kept humming.

The Hawks had it going early with Horford working on Kurt Thomas in the post and Johnson driving to the basket. Once the Bucks focused on those two, Mike Bibby shook free for open jump shots.

Bibby made 4 of 6 shots in the first quarter, including three consecutive 3-pointers that gave the Hawks a 28-19 lead. The Hawks’ offense kept rolling in the second quarter, paced by Johnson’s 10 points, and they led 55-48 at the half.

The Hawks did it without Crawford, who said he hurt his right toe late in the game at Washington on Saturday. He had turf toe during his time with the Knicks but added that injury was “much worse” than this one.

Crawford hopes to play on Wednesday even if the Hawks don't need to win to beat Cleveland and secure the third seed.