With Eastern Conference playoff positioning still on the line, the Atlanta Hawks held their ground Sunday against a Milwaukee Bucks squad looking to move up.
Atlanta pulled away late, weathering a Monta Ellis surge and taking advantage of Milwaukee errors in the closing minutes for a 104-99 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Al Horford had 24 points and Josh Smith 23 for Atlanta, which entered the game fifth in the East, 3.5 games ahead of Milwaukee, which currently holds the eighth seed.
The Hawks also got 16 points from Devin Harris and 14 from Jeff Teague while shooting 50 percent (39-of-78) from the field and making 10 of 26 3-pointers.
"Our starters played particularly well," Atlanta head coach Larry Drew said. "But the guys who came off the bench made the difference in this game. Playing on the road, you have to play with a certain mentality and I thought we had that today."
Milwaukee shot at a 45.7 percent clip but made just 5-of-21 from beyond the arc, with four of those coming in the fourth quarter. Ellis led the Bucks with 20 points, while Brandon Jennings finished with 12 points and 13 assists, and Larry Sanders had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bucks still are well ahead of Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference berth, but have lost three straight and are trying to avoid a potential first-round matchup with Miami.
"We just have to stick together," said Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova, who returned after missing three games with a hip injury and had 19 points with 10 rebounds. "We're a really good team. Now we're on a bad streak but we don't have a lot of games left. Every one counts for us. All we have to do is win games."
Epke Udoh's runner as time expired in the first half brought the Bucks within one, 50-49, at intermission. Milwaukee shot 52.4 percent in the first half, compared to 48 percent for Atlanta, but trailed in large part because the Hawks made 7 of 19 3-pointers while Milwaukee missed all three of its attempts.
The Bucks created a little bit of separation early in the third, pulling ahead by four on Marquis Daniels' 14-footer with 5:54 left in the quarter.
Atlanta came right back and took the lead. Ilyasova answered with back-to-back buckets, putting Milwaukee up 67-64 with 3:24 left. The Hawks tied again, but Teague fouled Jennings on a successful 3-pointer, and after Jennings converted the free throw, Milwaukee again led by four, 72-68, with 1:39 on the clock.
Anthony Tolliver and Udoh traded baskets before Teague's floater with 0.8 seconds left sent the teams into the final quarter tied at 74-74.
Atlanta went ahead by six early in the fourth, as the Bucks missed five straight shots before Sanders made it 85-81 on a put-back with 6:07 to play. J.J. Redick finally snapped Milwaukee's day-long drought with a long 3-pointer with 5:25 left to make it 87-84.
Ellis hit three straight 3-pointers late in the fourth, but the Hawks erased a five-point deficit in the final two minutes as the Bucks committed four turnovers.
"Just a little miscommunication and that's on me," Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said. "I have to take responsibility for that. Just a little lost focus at the end there and again, that's on me. I have to make our guys more aware and execute better at the end."
After Horford made two free throws with 20 seconds left, Ellis missed a 3-pointer and Dunleavy was called for traveling. Teague hit two more free throws with nine seconds left to clinch the victory for Atlanta.
NOTES: Jennings has 13 points-assists double-doubles this season, the most by a Bucks player since Sam Cassell in 2000-01 ... The Hawks improved to 3-0 against the Bucks this season. The two teams meet again April 12 in Atlanta ... Kyle Korver made three 3-pointers and now has at least one in 63 consecutive games, the longest streak since Reggie Miller had a 68-game run during the 1996-97 season ... Sanders has now pulled down 10 or more rebounds in each of his last eight games ... Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia missed his 12th consecutive game with a sore Achilles tendon.