Will this magical run of the Atlanta Hawks end here in the NBA playoffs or will Trae Young & Co. deliver another surprise against the Milwaukee Bucks?
It’s an Eastern Conference matchup that no one predicted, with the upstart Hawks – famously 14-20 before naming Nate McMillan as interim head coach and starting their run into the playoffs – against two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. who took overtime in Game 7 to defeat the Brooklyn Nets.
What can Young and the Hawks do on offense against the best defensive in the league? Does Atlanta have an answer for Giannis?
Our experts explain each team’s path to the series and the keys that could determine who will reach the NBA finals.
MORE: Full NBA Playoff Schedule, Results, and News
How the Bucks got here:
The Bucks spent the last seven months building themselves to the point where, if they got into the melting pot of a tough playoff streak, they had the means to leave the other side victorious.
They traded for Point Guard Jrue Holiday in the offseason and P.J. Tucker as of the deadline, which added both defensive versatility and toughness. They spent the season experimenting more with different lineups and styles in order to have different options to throw at opponents in the postseason.
And finally, Milwaukee will host Atlanta in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night because it has proven itself just enough to do that.
It took every ounce of what the Bucks had – plus some key injuries from the Nets and Kevin Durant, who wore a shoe a size too big – for Milwaukee to escape from their heartbreaking Eastern Conference semifinal series against Brooklyn and win the game 7 on the road in overtime Saturday night.
The Bucks and Nets take the lead in a wild fourth quarter and overtime, while Milwaukee prevails and moves into the Eastern Conference finals.
Things looked very different for the Bucks this season as they weathered yet another overtime thriller to start the playoffs with a win over the Miami Heat – the team they played in the NBA bubble at Walt last summer Disney World Resort Humiliated – Milwaukee beat Miami in the next three games to sweep the heat out of the playoffs.
It was a dominant performance, and unexpected as the Heat were a popular surprise pick. But it gave Milwaukee a lot of oomph to its series with Brooklyn.
Then, 43 seconds into the Eastern Conference semifinals, James Harden hobbled from Barclays Center Court with a hamstring strain, removing one of Brooklyn’s Big Three from the equation. But the Nets not only survived Game 1 with a win, they also crushed the Bucks in Game 2 and sent them home to face the real possibility that all of the work the team had done on that moment to prepare was in vain.
However, Milwaukee held their serve at home, two games each night of the series, and the Nets had another bad break when Kyrie Irving sprained his right ankle in Game 4. Even so, Brooklyn marginalized Milwaukee again in Game 5, thanks to the combination of Harden, who makes a shocking return on the pitch (playing 46 minutes) and Durant put together a performance that led Antetokounmpo to name Durant “the best player in the world.” ” to call.
But after Milwaukee suffered the kind of heartbreak that would have broken previous Bucks teams, Milwaukee revealed exactly why it had spent all of its time building. The Bucks returned home and won one more time on their home court in Game 6, only to come back multiple times in Game 7 to barely survive another spectacular Durant performance, a very special one of his own from Antetokounmpo and some timely shots. Manufactured by Khris Middleton and Holiday.
Now largely healthy – with the exception of Donte DiVincenzo, who’s dropped out for the playoffs after an ankle surgery – Milwaukee is the favorite to win its first NBA title in half a century. First, however, the Bucks have to get past the upstart Hawks, who would bring them to the finals for the first time since 1975.
– Tim Bontemps
How the Hawks got here:
The five-headed hawks just won’t go away. So it was in their first round match against the New York Knicks and it continued in their series against the Philadelphia 76ers. It took them seven games, but they managed to take three road wins against the Sixers to just make their second conference final in 50 seasons.
Trae Young continued his stellar game in the playoffs, averaging 29.0 points – almost twice as many as John Collins (15.1), who was second on the team – and 10.9 assists. Young became the first player in NBA history to play 12 straight playoff games with at least 20 points and seven assists. He did so in his first 12 playoff games ever. Right at the beginning.
Collins’ game was important to Atlanta during the playoffs as well. All three games that Collins scored in the single-digit playoffs were lost to the Hawks. Against the Sixers, Collins also got away with 10.0 rebounds per game.
Trae Young and the Hawks outlast the 76ers in Game 7 and advance to the Eastern Conference final against the Bucks.
Ahead of the series against Philadelphia, it was announced that striker De’Andre Hunter would miss the rest of the playoffs due to a ruptured meniscus that required surgery. Without Hunter, the Hawks started with Solomon Hill before moving to Kevin Huerter.
It was Huerter who scored the greatest success in Atlanta’s series win in Game 7. After Huerter went goalless in Game 5 in Philadelphia just two games earlier, Huerter was aiming for a playoff career high with 27 points in the same building where he made his career high (29) as a rookie 2018-19.
Huerter said Joel Embiid even joked with him during Game 7 about how well he played at the Wells Fargo Center.
Together with Young, Collins and Huerter, the Hawks continued to score double-digit hits in the series of Danilo Gallinari (14.7), Bogdan Bogdanovic (13.3) and Clint Capela (10.6) – not including Lou Williams. who averaged double digits in 24 regular season games with Atlanta and scored 13 points in the second half in a crucial game 5 against Philly.
So while Atlanta will try again to lean on Young, the balanced performance behind him will be the Hawks’ best choice if they are to make their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1961.
– Andrew Lopez
Series Keys: The Bucks’ Trae-Stopper and Why the Hawks Must Thrive Downtown
In his only matchup against Milwaukee that season on April 15, Young had arguably his worst game of the season: 3-on-17 from the ground – 0-on-3 from beyond the bow – with six losses. The Hawks lost at home by 11 points.
What happened? Jrue Holiday happened.
The Bucks earned Holiday in part for his excellent defense, and if he can even stop Young in that series, Milwaukee has a great chance of making it to the finals. Bucks fans have reason to be confident here.
If that April match was a clue of things ahead, Milwaukee is sitting pretty. According to Second Spectrum Tracking, Holiday faced Young 48 times in that game, and Young only managed five points in those matchups. Young took his floater four times in that game with Holiday as defender, but he missed all of them. All in all, Young is 1 in 10 in his career if Holiday was the closest defender in his shots.
Those awful numbers for Young aren’t sustainable, but they’re a great sign for the Bucks.
Put simply, there is no way Atlanta will win this streak unless Young comes up with numbers. Even if he does, the Hawks still have their job for her. Although the Bucks played their first two series against defending Eastern Conference champions Heat and Kevin Durant’s Nets, the Bucks still have the best defensive rating of any postseason team, dropping only 102.8 points per 100 possessions.
Scoring at the bucks is a big challenge, but if you hit 3s you can do it. Milwaukee is famous for foregoing clean looks in the downtown area, and if opponents take advantage of it, they can beat the bucks. This concept has proven itself in these playoffs: The Bucks stand 7-0 in the postseason when their opponents hit 12 or fewer 3-pointers; they are 1-3 if they do more.
The bad news is that the Hawks’ offense has only crossed that particular threshold three times this postseason, and with Bogdan Bogdanovic’s status uncertain and De’Andre Hunter on the shelf, Atlanta needs players like Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari and of Young, of course, to offer this team both high volume and reliable efficiency from downtown.
If these shooters can knock down tons of 3s, the Hawks can compete. If not, Milwaukee will advance to the finals.
– Kirk Goldsberry