ATLANTA - Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew was doing a slow burn on the sidelines Friday night at Philips Arena. The Milwaukee Bucks were going to be the eighth seed in the playoffs no matter what happened. The Hawks were still hoping to move up from the sixth seed, and the Chicago Bulls, the team ahead of them, were losing.
But the Hawks once again were playing without energy while the Bucks were firing 3-point shots early and often And making 17 of them, knocking the Hawks around until the last six minutes of the game, when the Hawks' inside pressure salvaged a 109-104 win.
"If it's one thing for sure with this team," Drew said afterwards, "we'll never make it easy. We are just one of those teams that has their moments.
"Coming in a halftime down 14, I really thought we played the way we are accustomed to playing. There was still a lot of basketball to be played. I had all the confidence in the world, and I told the guys at halftime."
The Hawks trailed by 19 points in the third quarter but tied the game at 92-92 with 5:17 to go.
Josh Smith had 24 points for the Hawks (44-36) and Jeff Teague added 24 points and 10 assists. But it was Al Horford, held in check by the Bucks in the first half in managing only four points, who rallied the Hawks late with his inside presence. He had 18 points and 17 rebounds for his 43rd double-double this season.
"They shot the ball great tonight," Horford said. "It just took more effort from us.
"We were just trying to get it together and pick it up. We were dragging a little bit."
Devin Harris, scoreless in the first half, got hot at the beginning of the third quarter, scoring nine of his 19 points in the first three minutes of the quarter and sparking a Hawks comeback. The Hawks then trimmed a 19-point third-quarter deficit to six points, 68-62 at 4:56 and were within striking distance at the end of the quarter, 82-75.
Kyle Korver hit two 3-point shots in the first quarter, bringing his streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3-point shot to 72. He finished with 8 points.
"They're a good team playing at home," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "You can't let them get that momentum, and we did.
"We tried to hang in there with them but the game just slipped away from us. Their athleticism showed itself in the second half and it was hard to match that."
Eresan Ilyasova had three of the Bucks' 3-pointers in a 14-point first quarter, expanded that to five 3-pointers in a 22-point first half but had only three more points to finish with 25 points.
Monta Ellis had 27 points, a career-high 17 assists and eight rebounds, Ish Smith scored 10 points, J.J. Redick added 10 points and rookie John Henson had eight points and eight rebounds.
Ellis was taking no joy in his stats. "At this point, no matter what the stats are, a 'W' always feels good."
The Bucks (37-42) hit seven of 11 3-point shots in the first quarter to lead 30-24 despite hitting only 10 of 24 field goals. And then they piled it on, making 11 3-pointers in the first half, ending the second quarter on a 20-8 run while the Hawks were busy turning the ball over 15 times. The Bucks were up 54-40 heading to the locker room.
"Tonight we started the game off the right way," Ellis said. "Second half, they came out with a spark, made shots. Got to the 50-50 plays. Coming down the stretch, they made the plays and we didn't."
NOTES: Hawks coach Larry Drew announced that, for once, every player on his roster was healthy and available. "It feels weird!" Drew said, grinning. ... The Hawks have had 28 different starting lineups. Of the current 15-man roster, only rookie Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, signed Mar. 6, have not started a game. ... As the Hawks head to the playoffs, Drew is emphasizing intensity, energy and focus, saying, "It won't be about Xs and Os, these last three games that we play." ... Just before tipoff, a surprised and moved Devin Harris was announced as the winner of the Jason Collier Memorial Trophy for his work in the community. ... Bucks coach Jim Boylan, exercising caution with the playoffs so close, made Brandon Jennings (sore left Achilles) and Larry Sanders (sore lower back) his inactives for the game. ... The Bucks have an eight-game road losing streak and in the series between the two teams, the Hawks have won four straight and 11 at home.