The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are set to face off in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks are playing in the ECF for the second time in team history, while the Bucks are playing for a shot at the NBA Finals for the second time in the last three years. Let’s see who has the advantage in the Bucks-Hawks playoff series.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Atlanta Hawks Playoff Preview
Bucks-Hawks Playoffs: History in the Making
The Bucks last won a championship in 1971, back when they were in the Western Conference. Led by then-MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and fellow Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson, the Bucks went 12-2 on their way to the only title in franchise history.
The last time the Hawks won it all, they were not playing in Atlanta. The St. Louis Hawks won the Western Conference in 1958 before outlasting the Boston Celtics 4-2 in the NBA Finals. One of these teams will represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals for the first time in their franchise’s history.
The Bucks’ backcourt is led by Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Holiday is a decent facilitator, averaging 6.1 assists per game over his 12-year career. He also rebounds well for a point guard and his 1.5 steals per game can turn into quick points for Milwaukee. Defensively, Holiday can have a great impact on this series if he is able to contain Atlanta’s Trae Young. The Bucks point guard has the ability to knock down open three-pointers, but he has had a rough time doing so in the playoffs. Holiday needs to improve on his 25% three-point percentage to give the Bucks the best shot at a series victory.
Middleton is the Bucks’ second option offensively and they often turn to him in clutch situations. He had 23 points in the Game 7 win against the Brooklyn Nets. He shot poorly from the floor but hit a big shot when it was needed in overtime.
Young is without a doubt the Hawks’ best offensive player. Averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game this playoffs, he is cementing his status as a clutch performer. Young had a poor shooting night in the clinching effort against the Philadelphia 76ers. He made up for those struggles by facilitating the offense en route to 10 assists. However, the Hawks will need him to take charge of the offensive and shoot a much higher percentage if they are going to pull off the upset.
Advantage: Atlanta Hawks
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will carry the load for the Bucks in this series. Antetokounmpo answered the call in the last series, leading Milwaukee past the short-handed Brooklyn Nets. He scored a team-high 40 points in Game 7. This postseason, Antetokounmpo is averaging a career-high 28.8 points per game. Brook Lopez and PJ Tucker will line up next to Giannis in the frontcourt. Both players can knock down open threes and Tucker provides solid defense on a nightly basis. Lopez needs to play well in the paint this series. He tends to hang out near the three-point line, which allows Antetokounmpo to go to work on his defenders for easy baskets. However, Lopez isn’t a great rebounder for a 7-footer. He’ll likely be matched up with Clint Capela throughout the series. The Bucks’ big man will need to work hard on the defensive end to keep up with the athletic Capela.
The Hawks will need a lot of production out of their frontcourt in this series. John Collins is the second scoring option for Atlanta and they’ll need him to produce. Capella is a walking double-double, but his point production has slid in the postseason. He may be able to take advantage of a favorable matchup with the older Lopez, but his main contribution might be on the defensive end. Kevin Huerter rounds out the Hawks frontline. He was impressive in their last victory. Deadly from beyond the arc, if Huerter can match that production, Atlanta will be in good shape.
The Bucks-Hawks playoff series could come down frontcourt matchup. to The Hawks’ biggest concern will be containing Antetokounmpo. Capela is an athletic big, but he may not have enough to keep the Bucks forward from taking games over.
Advantage: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks used a small rotation in the last round. Pat Connaughton has been the only reserve to see significant minutes recently. He has done relatively well with his playing time, adding to the Bucks offense by shooting well from long distance. Bryn Forbes has seen limited time but hasn’t been able to produce much with it. There is speculation that Bobby Portis will see some action in this series. He should match up well with Capela, but considering he has only averaged 16 minutes in the eight games that he has played, he likely won’t have a big impact on this series.
The Hawks don’t have much more depth than the Bucks. Atlanta has used a 7-man rotation throughout most of the playoffs. Danilo Gallinari has been a major contributor. The power forward is shooting nearly 40% from deep and regularly has double-digit scoring nights. The Hawks can also rely on Lou Williams for some productive minutes off the bench. The veteran guard is a bit of a defensive liability, but he can still score in bunches when given the opportunity.
Advantage: Atlanta Hawks
Coaching and Intangibles
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was at the helm the last time the Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The two-time Coach of the Year has been on the hot seat recently, taking a lot of the blame for Milwaukee’s early struggles in the playoffs. The team has since rallied and advanced past the Nets. The addition of players like Tucker and Jeff Teague have added veteran leadership to the locker room.
Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan has done a great job getting Atlanta this far into the postseason. After outplaying the New York Knicks in round one, the Hawks shocked the league by upsetting the top-seeded 76ers. McMillan used a new lineup, playing Gallinari with Collins and Capela at times. This proved to be a success and his decision to force Ben Simmons to the foul line late in games paid great dividends. This young team lacks previous playoff experience, but it hasn’t held them back yet.
Advantage: Atlanta Hawks
Bucks-Hawks Final Prediction: Bucks in 6
The Bucks-Hawks playoff series should be a lot of fun to watch. Both teams love the three-ball, but the winner of this series will come down to who can control the paint. Atlanta has been shooting better than Milwaukee recently, but the Hawks will struggle to defend Antetokounmpo. With Giannis looking to silence his doubters, he will have all the motivation he needs to put the Bucks on his back and carry them to the Finals. The Hawks have been the best story of the postseason. Unfortunately for them, the story will soon be over.
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