Bucks KO Hawks early with a first-half blitz

Wide awake and far, far from the comfort of their beds, the Hawks experienced their first nightmare of this postseason Friday.

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Holy night sweats, they just gave up 77 points to Milwaukee in a half and lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals by a margin wider than Julia Roberts’ smile. They have turned losing the second game of a series into a trademark, both at New York (by eight) and at Philadelphia (by 16). But nothing like Friday: Milwaukee 125, Hawks 91.

Everything that could go wrong for the Hawks in that opening half did go wrong. And then for good measure they invented a few new wrongs.

Thanks to a 20-0 run over a four-minute span in the second quarter, the Bucks were able to build a 77-45 lead at the half and basically ride that advantage like a stretch limo the rest of the way.

All hope that it might get better was extinguished with the Hawks’ first possession of the second half - they were called for a 24-second violation with Bucks big man Brook Lopez swallowing Trae Young on the perimeter. And the fourth quarter was superfluous, all your major Hawks watching from their seats as this game served its obligation of 48 minutes.

There was no bad explanation for what went wrong at the beginning because it was a total team effort by all the columns in the stat sheet.

So glorious in Game 1, Trae Young over one 77-second span in the second quarter had four of his nine turnovers for the game. That abetted a Bucks 20-0 run in the quarter that ultimately turned out the lights on the Hawks.

“Taking care of the ball is something I’ve got to be better at, and I will be better at it,” Young vowed afterward. He finished with only three assists this night, offsetting the turnovers hardly at all.

“It was a good job of them pressuring the ball, pressuring the catch, (having) active hands,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said of the Bucks defense. “They turned it up. I expected them to respond with this type of intensity, and they did. We were just caught on our heels. They showed us there’s another level we have to get to if we’re going to have success.”

A Milwaukee team that had been struggling with its shot in this postseason – shooting just 22% from 3-point range in Game 1 on Wednesday – was blistering Friday. You don’t score 77 in a half by hurling the ball at the rim blindfolded. The Bucks hit on 65% from the field in the first half, 10-of-18 (56%) from beyond the arc.

“We felt we needed to be better defensively containing the ball. Even in the first game they had some open looks they normally knock down,” McMillan said.

He continued: “I thought our close-outs (on the 3-point shots) were a little too short. They were getting some of the same shots (as Game 1) and knocking them down from the perimeter. This is a really good team as far as shooting the 3-ball, and they had that going tonight. Defensively, we were not able to get enough pressure, our close-outs were short, they beat us to the offensive rebound. They won the hustle game, just totally dominated the game tonight.”

The Bucks feasted on 20 of their 27 fast-break points in that first half, establishing the tempo of dominance early.

By the half, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 of his game-high 25 points, establishing the Bucks’ ownership down low (they ended the game with a 62-30 advantage in points in the paint).

For the Hawk’s John Collins, the biggest factors leading to the first-half blitz were: “Turnovers and offensive rebounding – two killers for anybody trying to win a game. Two tough things to deal with that we weren’t taking care of in the first quarter. I felt like it gave them some energy.” For those still keeping score, Milwaukee had five offensive boards in only the first quarter, along with 10 second-chance points.

It was a different look for these upstart Hawks, withering a bit to the overall intensity and aggression the Bucks brought to the start Friday.

And as they left Milwaukee late Friday for the flight home for Sunday’s Game 3, they faced a fitful night of sleeping on a rout and a new day of reliving the nightmare through the miracle of video.

“It’s going to be tough. Watching film after a loss is always tough,” Collins said. “But for me at this point, I sort of thrive at learning how to get better.”

Sweet dreams.