It’s always nice to enter the postseason on a high note by winning the regular-season finale, and that’s exactly what the Atlanta Hawks did as they beat the Bucks 111-103 Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
The Hawks rested All-Star power forward Paul Millsap and limited fellow starters Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic to a maximum of 22 minutes in anticipation of their upcoming playoff series against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers.
With the usual crew playing part-time, backup forward Mike Scott led Atlanta with 17 points. He started in place of Millsap and played well, finishing 8-of-13 shooting with four rebounds and four assists in a team-high 32 minutes.
Rookie center Mike Muscala also had a good game, scoring a career-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Cartier Martin had 14 points off the bench, Carroll added 13, while point guards Teague and Shelvin Mack each scored 11 points apiece.
Atlanta scored the first basket of the game but found themselves trailing by 10 at the end of opening quarter, as Milwaukee scored a season-high 39 first-quarter points.
The Bucks increased their lead to 14 points midway through the second period, however weren’t able to sustain it as the Hawks went on a 15-2 run capped off by a Carroll layup with 1:20 remaining in the half to cut the home team’s lead to just one point. Milwaukee then got a handle on things and rattled off the next seven straight points to go up 63-55. Scott hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, shrinking Atlanta’s deficit to 63-58 at halftime.
The first half was a glorified pickup game as the Bucks shot 63 percent compared to the Hawks’ 60 percent shooting mark.
Atlanta took the lead briefly midway in the third quarter before it changed hands a few times and Milwaukee later coming out of the period with an 83-82 edge.
The Hawks, who at this point were playing their second unit after taking out the starers, continued to fight and reclaimed the lead for good when 14-year veteran center Elton Brand knocked down a mid-range jumper two minutes into the final quarter, giving them an 89-87 edge.
Atlanta ballooned the advantage to as much as 11 points before taking their foot off the gas and cruising down the stretch to a 111-103 victory.
Brandon Knight poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting to lead Milwaukee, who finished an NBA-worst 15-67 record. Khris Middleton had 16 points, while bench players John Henson (19) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (10) were also in double-figures.
Longtime Hawks center Zaza Pachulia played a limited 21 minutes against his old squad, but made his impact felt in typical Zaza fashion with seven points, six boards and four dimes.
Prior to the game, Bucks owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team and went into the locker room to address the players face-to-face. He was later given a standing ovation by the home crowd as he sat among the fans and watched about four rows from the floor at center court.
Kohl, a former U.S. senator, has owned the team since 1985. He sold the team to a pair of investment firm executives in Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for $550 million and announced he would donate $100 million towards the construction of a new arena.
So despite the most painful season in franchise history, it seems as if the team is heading towards a brighter future.
“Milwaukee fans deserve a winning team,” new co-owner Wesley Edens said.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is heading into the postseason for the seventh straight season — the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference.
The No.8 Hawks will face the No.1 Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, which start Saturday.