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Hawks rookie Griffin shines as Bucks suffer first loss

Rookie A.J. Griffin scored 24 points from the bench as the Atlanta Hawks ended the Milwaukee Bucks’ unbeaten start to the season with a 117-98 victory on Monday.

Griffin was one of six Hawks players to make double digits as Atlanta shrugged off the absence of star playmaker Trae Young to hand the Bucks their first defeat of the 2022-2023 campaign.

The Bucks went into the game seeking a 10th straight win after a 9-0 start left them as the NBA’s only unbeaten team.

But Atlanta recovered superbly after being outscored 36-25 in the first quarter before trailing by six points at half-time.

The game swung decisively in Atlanta’s favor in the third period as the Hawks’ scoring erupted with 37 points.

Atlanta wrapped up victory with a 28-18 fourth quarter that saw the Hawks improve to 7-3 for the season.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks’ scorers with 25 points, eight rebounds, and 11 assists.

But the real stars of the show for Atlanta came from a potent bench led by teenage rookie Griffin, who combined for 59 points to set up the win. Justin Holiday drained four three-pointers in a 14-point contribution while Onyeka Okongwu added 12.

“Before the game started, the coach said ‘Believe’. I feel the whole team wanted more,” the 19-year-old Griffin said.

“It was a great win. We knew the gameplan — just pitch in and make sure we had each other’s back.”

Milwaukee’s scoring was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 25 points, while Jrue Holiday added 16 points.

In other games on Monday, Joel Embiid drained a perfect 16-of-16 from the free throw line in a 33-point display as the Philadelphia 76ers outgunned the Phoenix Suns 100-88.

Embiid’s shooting accuracy was backed with a red-hot contribution from Georges Niang off the bench who sank seven three-pointers in a 21-point contribution. Tobias Harris also scored 21 points for the Sixers.

Devin Booker led the Phoenix scoring with 28 points while veteran playmaker Chris Paul hobbled off with a sore right heel. The Suns said later Paul was removed from the game as a precaution.

Embiid meanwhile was satisfied with his free throw accuracy as he returned after a three-game absence due to illness.

“If they’re going to keep fouling me I have to make my free throws,” Embiid said.

Embiid meanwhile said the Sixers (5-6) would overcome the injury absence of James Harden in daunting upcoming games against Atlanta and Milwaukee.

“We’re going to miss him but it’s next man up,” Embiid said. “I’ve got to dominate offensively and defensively like tonight.”

In Memphis, Jayson Tatum’s 39-point display carried the Boston Celtics to a 109-106 victory over the Grizzlies.

Ja Morant scored 30 points for Memphis including five three-pointers, but Tatum’s dynamic performance sealed a battling win for the Celtics.

Jaylen Brown added 21 points for Boston, with Al Horford and Marcus Smart scoring 15 apiece.

In Miami, Josh Hart drained a three-pointer on the buzzer as the Portland Trail Blazers snatched a 110-107 win against the Heat.

Miami looked to have done enough to force overtime after Max Strus’s three-pointer with 6.2 seconds remaining tied it up.

But Damian Lillard launched one last drive up the court and found Hart who unleashed his winning bucket as time expired.

Anfernee Simons led Portland’s scorers with 25 points while Jerami Grant added 23 and Lillard 19. Hart finished with 12.

“It was a good play by Dame (Lillard), he made an unselfish pass and I was able to knock it down,” Hart said afterwards.

“Dame’s a hell of a person and a hell of a player — he trusts everyone who’s wearing a Blazers jersey.”

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