Hawks beat Bucks in thrilling debut for NBA in Abu Dhabi

Sell-out crowd watches the basketball giants go head to head at Etihad Arena

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The Atlanta Hawks have won the first NBA Abu Dhabi Games, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks, 123-113, at Etihad Arena on Thursday.

The game took place in front of a 18,000 seat sell-out crowd that turned out to see the first of two pre-season games between the squads.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, while Trae Young had 22 points and De'Andre Hunter with 17. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points and seven rebounds and Serge Ibaka had 15 points in a losing effort for the Bucks.

Although Atlanta stepped up in the final five minutes, it remained close between the two at halftime with the Hawks up 71-67, as Young led the scoring with 16 and two assists.

The third quarter began inwith the Hawks going on a run, stretching their lead to 14 points at one point, and gradually taking control of the game leading 101-94 heading into the fourth quarter.

Not to be outdone, though, the Bucks battled back to narrow the gap to three points before the Hawks regained control at 111-102 and forced their opponents into a timeout.

Atlanta, however, maintained their strong game in the last quarter to win the game.

Murray, in his first year with the Hawks after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs, had 19 points in the first half.

The teams play again at the Etihad Arena on Saturday night.

NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi sign multi-year partnership

Last year, the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi signed a multi-year partnership with the NBA to bring games to the region, starting with the pre-season games between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks at Etihad Arena.

In addition to the pre-season games, the partnership includes the two teams coming together to expand basketball in the UAE and across the region. Junior NBA Leagues for boys and girls are set to launched at schools and academies throughout the Emirates, while NBA Fit clinics will encourage and promote health and wellness.

During a press conference held in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver shared his thoughts on the partnership.

"I think it's an opportunity to take another step forward here in terms of the game and the NBA. There's no substitute — I think we learned that during the pandemic — for being on the ground, for being with people," he said.

"Despite all the wonderful things that can happen through digital technology, there's something about having our presence here. I think for a lot of our players, many of whom have not traveled a lot, they get to see firsthand really what the Emirates and Abu Dhabi is all about. It's a very special occasion for us.

Fans who aren't able to make the games at Etihad Arena can visit the NBA District at Manarat Al Saadiyat, a week-long fan event that is running until Sunday.

“The basic premise here is that we want to inspire and connect people through the power of basketball,” George Aivazoglou, head of fan engagement and direct-to-consumer for the NBA for Europe and the Middle East, told The National.

“So obviously, we get to do that with something as big as a game, or two games, in this case. But we also know that there is only a finite number of fans we can bring into the arenas because then unfortunately, we can't fit one million fans there.”

Scroll the gallery below to see more images from NBA District at Manarat Al Saadiyat

Updated: June 10, 2023, 12:32 PM