MILWAUKEE (Wisconsin) • The Milwaukee Bucks knew that it was unwise to exert themselves too much on Friday, with Eastern Conference rivals Toronto visiting the next night.
The plan was to win fast, and rest early. They did exactly that, leading the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 after just the first quarter in their National Basketball Association game.
All five Milwaukee starters scored in double figures and the Bucks presented coach Mike Budenholzer with a resounding win over his former team, thumping the Hawks 144-112 and improving to a league-leading 27-10.
"Obviously, the first quarter (we) threw a big punch on both ends of the court," he said. "I thought the effort was great. To have that kind of lead and set the tone, the starters were phenomenal."
The Bucks got 19 points each from Khris Middleton and Atlanta native Malcolm Brogdon, 16 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, 14 from Eric Bledsoe and 10 from Brook Lopez. None of the starters played more than 22 minutes.
It was the first time Budenholzer faced the Hawks, the team he coached for five seasons before they agreed to part ways last spring.
The Bucks' +29 differential was the largest by any team in the first quarter this season. They scored 43 points, their most in a first quarter this season, against the Hawks, whose 14 points were their fewest in a first quarter this term.
The win, the fifth straight for Milwaukee, moved them into first place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee have also won nine of their past 10 games.
Antetokounmpo played just 19.5 minutes but picked up his 25th double-double of the season by adding 10 assists. He also had eight rebounds and shot 6-of-8 from the floor. Middleton was 7-of-8 and Brogdon managed 6-of-9 as the Bucks shot 55 per cent from the floor (55-of-100).
Milwaukee also got 12 points from George Hill, 11 from Tony Snell and 10 from Ersan Ilyasova and matched their season high for points, equalling the score against Sacramento on Nov 4.
"It was huge," Middleton said. "We get off to a great start, set the tone early and keep it going the whole game. Hopefully it can prepare us for tomorrow.
"It's neck-and-neck (with the Raptors) right now. But we try to keep the focus on us. It's a long season. We're not complacent with where we're at right now. We still can be better in some areas so we're going to stay hungry."
Toronto (28-12), meanwhile, are coming off a road loss to San Antonio on Thursday and already have lost the first two games against Milwaukee this season.
Atlanta (11-27) have now lost their third straight game following Friday's defeat at the Fiserv Forum.
The Hawks got 19 points from DeAndre' Bembry, 14 points from Dewayne Dedmon, 12 points and eight rebounds from Alex Len, and 12 points and seven rebounds from John Collins.
"They're the No. 1 team in the league right now," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said.
"They're playing with an edge and we saw that tonight.
"We just didn't have it. That's part of our growing pains and part of our growth, to understand that you have to go through these things."