Atlanta Hawks vs. Milwaukee Bucks Playoff Previewby Darius Walker June 23, 2021 2 comments
The Atlanta Hawks second-round series went seven games. After losing Game 6 at home, Trae Young took the Hawks into Philadelphia and led his team to victory. Young was 5-23 in the game but he recorded 11 assists and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Kevin Huerter also chipped in with 27 points and the Hawks shocked the world by eliminating the top-seeded 76ers. The 76ers may have been the top seed but the Bucks are the better team. With Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton, the Bucks have three legit 20 points per game scorers. It is going to take a collective team effort for the Hawks to eliminate the Bucks. Young will not beat them alone. John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, and Huerter all have to take their game to another level this series.
The Milwaukee Bucks fought back from an 0-2 deficit and defeated the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. It was a back and forth series with both Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo staking their claim for the best player in the NBA. After Durant’s 49-point triple-double in the Nets Game 5 win, Brooklyn took a 3-2 lead in this series. Then in Game 6, Khris Middleton scored 38 points and Antetokounmpo scored 30 points as the Bucks tied the series at 3-3. In Game 7, Antetokounmpo would not be denied. He recorded 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Middleton and Jrue Holiday handled closing duties in the Bucks Game 7 victory. It was only a second-round series but it had the feeling of a conference finals series. The Bucks may have turned over a new leaf emotionally after besting Durant, James Harden, and the Nets.
Atlanta Hawks: +350
Milwaukee Bucks: -480
For the third consecutive series, the Hawks are underdogs. They will again look to prove the oddsmakers wrong. Atlanta and Milwaukee played three times, with Young only playing in one of those games. Milwaukee won the season series 2-1 but the playoffs are a completely different atmosphere. Young has risen to the occasion in every series but he’ll need his teammates more than ever versus Milwaukee. Bogdanovic has to shoot better. Collins has to be a borderline star in this series to give the Hawks a chance. Collins was once a 20 and 10 guy so he is more than capable. Although the Bucks are the better team, the Hawks have the best closer in the series in Young. Having the better closer always gives you an advantage in a playoff series. Backing the Hawks offers a ton of value here but it’s a risky pick.
At -480, the Bucks are heavy favorites to win the series. After eliminating the Nets, not much stands in the way of the Bucks and their first NBA Finals appearance in over 35 years. Losing this series with a prime opportunity to win an NBA championship would one of the biggest letdowns in franchise history. The Bucks have the best player in the series in Antetokounmpo, the best shooter in Middleton, and the best on-ball defender in Holiday. They are more experienced and battle-tested. Nearly. everything is in the Bucks’ favor. They can beat the Hawks up in the paint and they have the shooters to attack them from the perimeter. The Hawks will be without their best perimeter defender De’Andre Hunter. Bogdanovic is also dealing with a sore knee and he is the Hawks’ best shooter. The Bucks are a very safe bet here.
Antetokounmpo was unstoppable against the Nets. He averaged 31.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game for the series; along with seven double-doubles. Antetokounmpo went toe to toe with Durant and scored over 30 points six times in the series. He could do even more damage against the Hawks. The Hawks, like the Nets, do not have a single player who matches up with Antetokounmpo physically. The Bucks are at their best when Antetokounmpo goes into attack mode and refuses to settle for jump shots. This will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Collins and could get him into foul trouble. Defensively, Antetokounmpo is a great help-side defender who likes to roam. Collins will have to keep him honest on that end to help neutralize his defensive impact.
Collins’ impact against the 76ers was huge. He shot 57 percent from the field, 39 percent from three, and pulled down 10 rebounds per game. He made hustle plays throughout the series and played pesky defense against Tobias Harris. But this series presents a bigger challenge for Collins. Anteteokounmpo will attack him at all times and will aim to get him in foul trouble. Collins must play smart defense and avoid bad fouls because the Hawks need him out on the floor.
On offense, Collins needs to be aggressive. Attacking Antetokounmpo will help neutralize his off-ball defense. Forcing Antetokounmpo to expend energy on the defensive end works in the Hawks’ favor. Collins is not the same caliber player as Antetokoumnmp but he is the Hawks second best player and he has to produce at a high rate if the Hawks hope to win this series.
Milwaukee managed to defeat Brooklyn even with Holiday having a bad series on the offensive end. Holiday averaged 15.1 points while shooting 36 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three-point range. That is unacceptable. With Young defending him in this series, things will be easier for Holiday. He will have the chance to improve on all of those numbers because Young is not an effective defender and he is at a size disadvantage against Holiday. Holiday is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Young is listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds but he is probably smaller than that. With Holiday having 25-30 pounds on Young, he’ll take him into the post and attack him there. On the defensive end, Holiday has the size, strength, and quickness to bother Young. Milwaukee will win this series handily if Holiday can hinder the production of Young.
Young is inching closer and closer to superstar status with his play in the post-season. Young put the team on his back in the fourth quarter in nearly every game against the 76ers. He out-dueled Embiid in the most pivotal moments and hit numerous big shots to put the 76ers away late in games. Young averaged 29 points and 10.6 assists for the series but he was inefficient. He shot 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from three. In Games, 2, 4, and 7, Young shot under 40 percent from the field. Young finds ways to control the game even when his shot is off but he’ll have to be more efficient in this series. The Hawks are great on the offensive end so things could take a turn for the worst if Young experiences more shooting slumps.
Bogdanovic suffered a knee injury in Game 6 against the 76ers and did not look like himself in Game 7. He only played 28 minutes in Game 7 so his health is something to keep an eye on. Atlanta has been winning the series without Bogdanovic playing up to his full potential. After shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three during the regular season, Bogdanovic’s percentages have dropped dramatically. Bogdanovic is shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range in the post-season. Against the 76ers, Bogdanovic shot 37.8 percent from the field and 28 percent from the three-point range. Bogdanovic is the team’s best shooter and he gives the team a different dynamic when he is playing at his best. The Hawks will pose a much bigger threat to the Bucks if Bogdanovic finds his rhythm.
Middleton has had his fair share of playoff shortcomings but he took a step towards silencing the doubters with his performance against the Nets. He scored 38 points in a must-win Game 6 and played big down the stretch of Game 7. For the series, Middleton averaged 24.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2 steals per game. He impacted the game in all areas but his inconsistency almost caused the Bucks to lose the series. In the Bucks’ four wins, Middleton averaged 28.7 points per game; in their three losses, Middleton averaged 18.3 points per game. An All-Star caliber player cannot perform like this. He has to give the Bucks steady production or else the Hawks will pull off another upset. Middleton’s play will be the determining factor in how competitive this series is.
Atlanta Hawks X-Factor: Kevin Huerter
Huerter was the deciding factor in the Hawks’ Game 7 win over the 76ers. He had the game of his career and kept Atlanta alive while Young struggled from the field. Huerter scored 27 points and led the team to victory. With Bogdanovic dealing with a knee injury and Hunter being sidelined, the Hawks need Huerter to take on more of a scoring role. He 13.1 points per game versus the 76ers but he broke out in Games 6 and 7, averaging 22 points in those games. The Bucks defense will be geared towards stopping Young which means there will be open shots for Huerter. Huerter knocking down open shots and becoming a bigger scoring threat is the key to this series for the Hawks.
Milwaukee Bucks X-Factor: Brook Lopez
With Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday, the Bucks have their version of a big three but getting help from the others is still important. Lopez’s input should not be overlooked. Lopez protects the rim well and his three-point shooting opens the floor up for Antetokounmpo. He shot 40 percent from three-point range against the Nets, forcing the defense to respect his shot makes the Bucks almost impossible to defend when Antetokounmpo is going downhill. The Hawks have a good shot blocker and rim protector in Clint Capela but Lopez’s shooting range may force Capela outside of the paint. If Lopez knocks down open shot efficiently then he could completely take Capela out of the game on the defensive end. Once that happens, Antetokounmpo will have no one to meet him at the rim.
Milwaukee Bucks 4, Atlanta Hawks 1
Atlanta is having a great playoff run. Interim coach Nate McMillan saved their season and they defeated the top seed in the conference finals but their cinderella story ends against the Bucks. Antetokounmpo is playing like a man on a mission and his confidence is at an all-time high after trading blows with Durant and coming away victorious. Bogdanovic is hobbled and Hunter is sidelined so it would be a miracle if the Hawks were able to win this series. The Bucks have multiple bodies to throw at Young so they’ll be able to keep defenders fresh. Milwaukee prevails in a hard-fought five-game series and clinches their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974.
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