In what is a completely unexpected conference final, the Milwaukee Bucks will have the right to home-court advantage as they take on the Atlanta Hawks for a trip to the NBA finals. Both sides took seven games to get the better of their more-fancied opponents in the conference semi-finals. Milwaukee needed overtime to go past the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets, who still had championship favouritism. Meanwhile, the Hawks relied on a clutch Game 7 from Trae Young to knock top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers out.
After cruising past the Knicks in five games during the first round, the Hawks found themselves down 2-1 against the 76ers. It was then their defence clicked into gear, only giving up 101.5 points per game in the next four games. Their three subsequent wins were built on that defence and, with a middle of the road attack, there is little doubt they will need to do something similar in this series against an offensively outstanding Milwaukee. While Trae Young (25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game) has the ability to light it up, the Hawks won’t go close to teams like the Bucks in a shootout.
The victories at the back end of their series saw Atlanta dominate when it came to forcing turnovers. In fact, they have forced 12.3 per game in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the extra possessions, given their own offensive fragility, have proven invaluable. Given they sat in the top ten for both turnovers forced and turnovers off their own hand during the regular season, it’s clear extra possessions will be crucial against the Bucks.
Averaging a tick over 120 points per game in the regular season, the Bucks had the league’s best-attacking record. It goes without saying how pivotal it is for Atlanta to restrict time in possession for Milwaukee, who have a way of getting on a run and never looking back. Those numbers haven’t materialised in the post-season yet but, with seven games against the Nets, that hardly comes as a surprise. Experience is clearly starting to help Milwaukee though, whose thrilling overtime win in Game 7 was aided by 40 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Averaging over 28 points per game, to go with double-digit rebounding numbers, he will be crucial to the outcome of this series. The Greek freak may lead his team, but it’s a team effort in defence that will be remembered most fondly coming out of the Brooklyn series, limiting an offensive juggernaut to under 100 points on three occasions. Coming up against a far lesser attack in Atlanta now, the Bucks will be able to squeeze the life out of their opposition.
Provided they can force the missed shots they did against Brooklyn, then Milwaukee will be able to use their status as the NBA’s second-best rebounding team to run away from Atlanta.
Verdict: Provided Antetokounmpo stays fit, it’s difficult to see the Bucks losing this series. They have the defence to deal with the Hawks somewhat limited offence, and their offence will bounce back to its regular-season glory here.
Bucks in 5 games. $1.33 at PlayUp