Surprising Hawks, Young playing as championship contenders


The Hawks continue to defy expectations, as Trae Young leads Atlanta in a Cinderella playoff run.

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Trae Young and the inexperienced Atlanta Hawks apparently don’t feel the pressure of NBA playoff basketball.

They are cowardly and confident. The Hawks don’t get shaken. They are 4-0 in playoff games decided by three points or less and 6-1 when the margin is seven points or less.

“When you have a group that really believe in each other and really fight for each other on the pitch, anything can happen,” Young said Wednesday after the Hawks’ 116-113 win in Game 1. “I think our team really believes in it, and it works. “

The Hawks took a 1-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night. The fifth-seeded Hawks are 6-2 in playoff road games as they pursue the franchise’s first title since 1958, when they were based in St. Louis.

Young’s 48-point performance in Game 1 was the second-highest playoff total in franchise history, behind Dominique Wilkins’ 50-point effort in Game 2 of a series triumph. in the first round of 1986 against Detroit. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Young was the first player to have at least 45 points and 10 assists in a conference finals game.

He does so with flair and ease as he enjoys a playoff outing, showcasing his skills in front of domestic viewers who hadn’t seen much of the Hawks before the playoffs.

After pretending to be Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday on a crossover late in the third quarter to leave himself wide open behind the 3-point arc, Young stopped and made a little shimmy before taking his shot. Also in the third quarter, Young prepared teammate John Collins for a dunk with a backboard pass.

“I’ve seen a lot of players retreat every time they get on that stage,” said Hawks center Clint Capela, who reached the West Finals with Houston in 2015 and 2018. “What I see from He’s so confident, fearless, attacking over and over again, it’s really contagious in our team.

The Hawks’ relative inexperience in the playoffs didn’t hurt them at all. Without being weighed down by expectations or memories of disappointments from previous playoffs, the Hawks play their best when games are on the line.

Atlanta’s talent for winning close games began shortly after the Hawks fired coach Lloyd Pierce and replaced him with Nate McMillan.

Under Pierce, the Hawks were 1-6 in games that ended by no more than five points or went into overtime. After McMillan’s arrival, the Hawks finished the regular season 8-2 in games that fit that profile.

The trend continued in the playoffs.

“They built a confidence, so you have to break that,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Thursday. “You have to win some of the tight games. But a lot of credit to them, a lot of respect for the way they played in tight playoff and regular season games. We have to be prepared and be ready. “

Hawks reserve forward Solomon Hill was part of the Miami Heat squad that won the East as the No.5 seed last year. Hill says the Hawks thrive on the same underdog mentality that drove the Heat.

“It was something that was huge about Miami,” Hill said Thursday. “The belief in ourselves was greater than anyone’s belief in us. There was no one who wanted to win more than the guys in the locker room. He showed up with sacrifices. He showed up with hard work. It showed with the restless mentality we had. And it’s the same thing that appears here.

The Hawks do this at a force well below their full power.

Bogdan Bogdanovic plays with a sore right knee which has limited his effectiveness. Cam Reddish is back from an Achilles tendon injury that knocked him out for four months, but the Hawks plan to put him to work slowly after such a long layoff. De’Andre Hunter is out for the remainder of the playoffs after undergoing knee surgery.

Atlanta has weathered those injuries, passing New York and Philadelphia to reach the conference finals.

Young was the catalyst. Even when he’s not shooting well, he continues to have an impact. He controls the pace of play, hits the free throw line and keeps his teammates involved.

The Hawks embraced his boldness and fearlessness, scoring Game 1 road wins in each of the first three playoff rounds.

“Everyone seems fearless on this stage,” said Hawks goaltender Kevin Huerter. “And he’s obviously the leader.”

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