ATLANTA — Mike Budenholzer probably wanted this one bad, even if these feelings were never conveyed in public.
On Sunday, Budenholzer presided over the Milwaukee Bucks' 133-114 win over the Hawks, marking the coach's initial return to Atlanta since being fired last spring.
"(It was a) pretty decent, consistent effort for all four quarters," said Budenholzer in his post-game address, while downplaying the magnitude of the homecoming. "(The Hawks) have been playing well lately ... so it's good to get the win."
As Atlanta's coach from 2013-18 (along with a two-year term as team president), Budenholzer led the Hawks to one division title (2015), one 60-win campaign (also 2015), two second-place finishes and four playoff appearances.
However, that goodwill vanquished entirely last year, after the Hawks–then in full reconstruction mode–endured a bottom-feeding campaign of 24-58.
In short order after that, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk would replace Budenholzer with first-time head coach Lloyd Pierce.
Not that Budenholzer has much to complain about these days.
At 30-12, the Bucks lead the Central Division and trail the Toronto Raptors by only 1 1/2 games, in the race for the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Budenholzer also inherited a top-notch superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who still possesses a world of upside at 24 years old.
Speaking of which ...
Against the Hawks, Antetokounmpo (33 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals) and point guard Eric Bledsoe (24 points, 10 assists) carried the Bucks to victory at State Farm Arena, helping Milwaukee bury 11 triples and shoot more than 53 percent from the field.
Antetokounmpo's incredible growth curve prompted an interesting question from the assembled media, who asked Budenholzer how "The Greek Freak" would have looked in a Hawks uniform the previous five years.
The query elicited a laugh from Budenholzer, before saying, "I'll leave that team right where it is."
(In the 2013 draft, the Bucks plucked Antetokounmpo right before the Hawks made back-to-back selections in Round 1. In hindsight, Atlanta should have leapfrogged Milwaukee for the rights to The Greek Freak, instead of grabbing Lucas Nogueira and Dennis Schroder.)
From a numbers standpoint, the Hawks garnered solid production from their starting five (Trae Young, DeAndre' Bembry, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman); but from a plus-minus perspective, the quintet had a cumulative score of minus-48.
One standout stat: The rookie Young (26 points, despite just one three-pointer) collected a career-high 10 boards.
At 13-30 overall, the Hawks are on pace for 25-26 wins, a tally that would likely put the club in good range for a top-3 slot in the NBA Draft Lottery (end of May).
It's also worth noting: At the present pace of the NBA standings, the Hawks would also get the Mavericks' No. 1 pick next spring, thus completing the Trae Young-Luka Doncic trade from last year's Draft Night.