Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said his team's visit to the UAE for the NBA Abu Dhabi Games proved highly "successful", both on and off the basketball court.
Atlanta swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the pre-season double-header at Abu Dhabi's Etihad Arena, following their 123-113 victory in Game 1 with a 118-109 win on Saturday evening. It was the first time NBA games had been held in the Middle East and forms part of a long-term agreement signed in November with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
“It has been a great trip, a successful trip, not just winning games but we do feel we got better,” McMillan said after his side wrapped up the two-game series.
“We had an incredible time by experiencing all the different things in Abu Dhabi. We felt we got better as a unit. We thought the bonding that we had with the new guys in our roster was great.
“It was important we bond them on this road trip. The coaches and players got closer and that was something very important for us.”
Atlanta's star player Trae Young top-scored for the Hawks, sinking 31 points in the first half alone before he was rested for the remainder of the game. The Hawks point guard fired seven three-pointers and provided six assists in a spectacular first-half blitz that had the crowd chanting for more.
“Trae is a special talent and a great kid in this game. We’ll play him a little different in the years I have been with him," McMillan said.
“He’s playing off the ball a little more now than he has in the past. He wants to develop his game and add to his game. He’s been such a dynamic player with the basketball, [now] we want to add to his game. I think that’s going to put a lot of pressure on teams with him playing off the ball.”
Young, who scored 22 points in the first game, said he was pleased with his improvement and believes the Hawks are using the pre-season to gel as a team.
“I don’t think I shot the ball well last game,” he said. “I knew I could have shot the ball better, I did that tonight and that’s what pre-season is for."
“We’ve got a new team so I’m here just learning my new teammates and just trying to see where we’re at.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was gracious in defeat and said he was taking the positives from the team's time in Abu Dhabi.
“The preseason is pretty significant, where you're looking at other things, and the results can take a back seat, but that’s not to say we weren’t going for the wins,” he said. “Credit to Atlanta, they played really well. I was impressed the way they shot the ball both Thursday night and tonight.”
Budenholzer rested star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and provided his bench with the opportunity to get on the floor in the third and fourth quarters. The crowd inside Etihad Arena wanted to see Antetokounmpo on the court but the Greek forward wasn’t even in his kit.
“That was the hardest parts about these preseason games, coming to Abu Dhabi, and how badly everybody wants to see, not just Giannis, see all these players,” Budenholzer said.
“There are so many great players on both teams, but obviously Giannis is special. He played the other night, I thought he put on an amazing performance.
“He’s played a lot this summer with the Greek national team [at Euro Basket] and played internationally all over the world. It’s our job to sometimes be the bad guys and we have to try and keep him healthy and in a good place for a long, long season.”
Atlanta Hawks have two more pre-season games scheduled, against Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans, before starting the regular season at Houston Rockets on October 20.
Milwaukee Bucks face Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets in their final pre-season games, and begin their regular season with a trip to Philadelphia 76ers on October 21.