The Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks playoffs series featured two teams in search of their first NBA Finals appearance in decades. With star players going down with injuries on each team, the series quickly changed. Each coach was forced to make adjustments and role players were asked to elevate their games. After six hard-fought games, the Bucks punched their ticket to the finals for the first time since 1974. Let’s revisit the ups and downs of the Hawks-Bucks playoff battle for the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.
NBA Playoffs: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks Series Recap
Stealing Home Court
After surviving Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks came into the series with confidence. They were quickly on their heels after Game 1. Trae Young exploded for 48 points and 11 assists in the series opener. John Collins and Clint Capela each contributed double-doubles of their own. Milwaukee won the first half of the game, but Young and the Hawks came on strong in the third. The fourth quarter was a battle, each team trading blows as the Hawks fought to protect their slim lead. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday combined for 67 points, but it was not enough to pull out the victory. When the final buzzer rang, the Hawks had stolen home-court advantage and stunned the favored Bucks.
Bucks Bounce Back
The early loss seemed to wake up the Bucks. Game 2 was a completely different story than the opener. Milwaukee jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter and demolished the Hawks in the second. After outscoring Atlanta 43-17 in the second quarter, the Bucks took a nearly insurmountable 77-45 lead into halftime. The Hawks were unable to reproduce the third-quarter run they had in the last game. Antetokounmpo scored 25 and Holiday added 22 to the winning effort. The big adjustment for the Bucks came defensively. Young dominated the paint in Game 1, attacking the rim and scoring frequently with his floater. Milwaukee made it a point to keep Young out of the paint and off of the foul line. The plan worked well. Young shot 37.5% from the floor and only managed 15 points in the loss.
Taking Back the Advantage
Game 3 in Atlanta was crucial to the outcome of this series. This game featured seven lead changes and was tied five times. The Hawks started strong, winning the first period while scoring 32 points. Milwaukee settled in, tying the game by halftime. The third period was tightly contested but the Bucks were able to pull away in the fourth. Khris Middleton had a career night, scoring 20 of his playoff career-high 38 points in the final quarter. He took over the offense at the end of the game, scoring 10 points in the teams’ decisive late run. Antetokounmpo had 33 points, leading the attack in the paint. Atlanta was outscored 56-34 in that regard.
Young recovered from a poor performance in Game 2 for the Hawks. He scored 35 points and shot well over 50% in Game 3. Unfortunately, a freak accident would have a greater impact on this series than Young’s gutsy performance.
Young stepped on an official’s foot with a three-point lead in the final minute of the third while cutting the sideline. He returned to play eight minutes in the fourth but was clearly affected by the injury. Young managed to make only one shot after coming back in. He was unable to match Middleton’s impressive performance down the stretch. Worse yet, an MRI revealed a bone bruise that would keep Young out for the next two games.
Hawks-Bucks Playoff Recap: Evening the Odds
Milwaukee seemed to overlook their opponents again in Game 4. Hawks coach Nate McMillan was forced to make major adjustments to his rotation. He has made a name for himself by making great decisions during Atlanta’s surprising run. McMillan turned to veteran Lou Williams to take Young’s spot in the starting lineup. Williams turned back the clock, shooting 7-9 en route to a 21 point outing. He added eight assists and five rebounds, proving his coach made the right call once again. The Bucks looked like a different team in Game 4. After going +22 in the paint the game before, Milwaukee seemed to abandon the play style that got them that win. Instead, they settled for jump shots and lost the battle in the post this time around.
Atlanta was in control of this game early on, leading by 13 going into the third quarter. Halfway into the third, the series would take another unfortunate and unexpected twist. Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextended left knee while defending a Capela on an alley-oop pass. The injury would keep the two-time MVP out for the rest of the series. Milwaukee would now have to find a way to win without their best player.
Bucks’ Bigs Step Up
Both teams were missing their best players in Game 5. The Hawks-Bucks playoff series would now come down to gameplan adjustments and roster depth. Milwaukee had their best opening quarter of the matchup. The Bucks routed Atlanta in the first, outscoring them 36-22. Adjustments were made to the offensive attack. Milwaukee had 66 points in the paint while holding the Hawks to 33. Antetokounmpo’s frontcourt presence was filled by two unusual suspects.
Brook Lopez came alive in Game 5. The veteran big man scored a career playoff-high 33 points, leading all scorers. Bobby Portis was inserted into the lineup and did not disappoint. He made the most out of his 36 minutes, dropping 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The Bucks backcourt played well also. Middleton added 26 points to his series total and Holiday had a double-double with 25 points and 13 assists.
Hawks-Bucks Playoff Recap: Punching Their Ticket
It took another team effort for the Bucks in Game 6. Four of their starters scored in double digits and they had solid production from their reserves as well. Middleton led the way with 32 points including 16 straight in a dominant third-quarter run. Holiday just missed a triple-double with 27 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Jeff Teague and Pat Connaughton added valuable minutes and 24 points off the bench.
Atlanta had high hopes to win this game as Young returned to the starting lineup. Unfortunately, the star didn’t look like himself. He managed 14 points in the outing, but shot only 4-17 from the floor and missed all of his three-point attempts. Cam Reddish stepped up to fill that void, shooting 6-7 from beyond the arc on his way to 21 points. The Hawks had six players in double figures, yet they struggled offensively throughout most of the game. The young squad never gave up and they deserve a lot of credit for getting this far into the playoffs.
The Clock Strikes Midnight
While Atlanta’s fairy tale run has come to an end, this team and its fans have a lot to look forward to. Coach McMillan has earned a promotion to full-time head coach. This postseason run is ahead of schedule as no one saw the Hawks making it this far this season. Pair that with the fact that this is one of the younger rosters in the league and the future looks incredibly bright for Atlanta.
The Bucks Press On
Milwaukee now has a chance to win their first NBA Championship since 1971. This certainly won’t be easy for them to accomplish. The Phoenix Suns look to be the favorites, led by Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the emerging Deandre Ayton. Fans across the league are hoping for the return of a healthy Antetokounmpo. Middleton has asserted himself as a top offensive player in the last series. With both stars on the court, the upcoming Finals will have plenty of star power. If both teams are at full strength, this could be an incredibly exciting NBA Finals matchup.
The NBA Finals begin on July 6th, with Game 1’s tipoff scheduled for 9:00 pm.