Capsule presenting the finals of the Hawks-Bucks Eastern Conference
By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
Preview capsule for the Milwaukee-Atlanta Eastern Conference Finals series starting Wednesday:
# 3 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (46-26, 8-3) vs. N Â° 5 ATLANTA HAWKS (41-31, 8-4)
Season Series: Bucks, 2-1.
Schedule: Wednesday and Friday in Milwaukee, Sunday and June 29 in Atlanta, July 1 in Milwaukee if necessary, July 3 in Atlanta if necessary, July 5 in Milwaukee if necessary.
Storyline: This is the third time in NBA history that a pair of teams have won Game 7 on the road, advancing to meet immediately. The others: Cleveland and Golden State in the 2018 NBA Finals, and Kansas City and Houston in the 1981 Western Conference Finals. A long drought is about to end; the Bucks will play the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 or the Hawks will make it for the first time since 1961.
Key Match 1: Trae Young of Atlanta vs. Jrue Holiday of Milwaukee. The first task for both will be to get rid of their terrible shooting performance in Game 7; both were 5 for 23 in their last game, but both also put in some big shots down the home stretch. This one is a simple force-on-force showdown, with Young an elite goalscorer and Holiday one of the ball’s best defenders.
Key Match 2: Atlanta’s John Collins vs. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. This one won’t be fully Collins, but he’ll see a lot of Antetokounmpo and likely take on the role of the Bucks star’s main defender. The Hawks will need to have Collins, Clint Capela, possibly even a few Solomon Hill and others blocking the way against the double MVP. Atlanta will almost certainly not hesitate to bring the notoriously inconsistent foul shooter on the line, and they’ll need to make sure Collins doesn’t have a lot of fouling issues.
Injury Watch: Atlanta’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee) was limited in Game 7 against Philadelphia. Milwaukee’s Donte DiVincenzo (ankle) is out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Numbers to Note: The Hawks are 5-2 in the playoffs so far on the road, including closing wins in New York and Philadelphia. â¦ Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee leads the playoffs averaging 13.6 rebounds per game. â¦ No one in these playoffs has made more free kicks in the first two rounds than Young (93); no team in these playoffs averages fewer fouls per game than Milwaukee (18.0). â¦ The Bucks are 7-0 in the playoffs when Khris Middleton shoots better than 40%, 1-3 when he doesn’t. â¦ Kevin Huerter of Atlanta scored 27 points in Game 7 against Philadelphia; just months before his 23rd birthday, he was the eighth youngest player in NBA history to score so many in Game 7.â¦ Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan, who has led a brilliant turnaround since arriving in Atlanta, went from 8 to 4 in these playoffs; his teams in Seattle, Portland and Indiana were a 9-30 combined in their last 39 playoff games under him. â¦ Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was Atlanta coach during the Hawks’ last appearance in the East Finals, swept by Cleveland in 2015. Budenholzer also took Milwaukee to the 2019 conference finals, s ‘losing in six games against Toronto. â¦ Every Eastern Conference final since 1970 featured at least the No.1 or No.2 seed – until last year, when Boston No.3 and Miami No.5 got there. And this year, the No.3 and No.5 seeds have found their way back to the East title streak.
Prediction: Atlanta is under absolutely no pressure with a largely young group that was just supposed to be fighting for a playoff spot. Milwaukee will have tons of them; it’s a franchise that was built and spent for the championships. That’s a huge advantage for the Hawks and it will keep them in the series. But the Bucks earned a lot of credit for surviving whatever injury-slowed Kevin Durant and Brooklyn were able to muster in the second round. This one won’t be easy, but Bucks in 7.