After a grueling seven-game series against the Nets, the Bucks return to their second Eastern Conference Final appearance in the last three years. The Bucks-Nets series had a championship intensity to it, so they should be ready for anything that the Hawks throw at them. The Hawks had their own seven-game series against the 76ers, but it wasn’t nearly as intense as the Bucks’.
The Milwaukee Bucks. The Atlanta Hawks. Only one team can represent the East in the NBA Championship. Who will it be?
Game 1: Wednesday, June 23 – Atlanta at Milwaukee – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 2: Friday, June 25 – Atlanta at Milwaukee – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 3: Sunday, June 27 – Milwaukee at Atlanta – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 4: Tuesday, June 29 – Milwaukee at Atlanta – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 5: (if necessary) Thursday, July 1 – Atlanta at Milwaukee – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 6: (if necessary) Saturday, July 3 – Milwaukee at Atlanta – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
Game 7: (if necessary) Monday, July 5 – Atlanta at Milwaukee – 7:30 pm CT – TNT
The Likely Starters
Bucks: Jrue Holiday – Khris Middleton – PJ Tucker – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Brook Lopez
Hawks: Trae Young – Kevin Huerter – Bogdan Bogdanović – John Collins – Clint Capela
Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo (Foot) – OUT, Jordan Nwora (Thigh) – OUT
Hawks: Cam Reddish (Achilles) – Questionable, Kevin Huerter (Ankle) Probable, Bogdan Bogdanović (Knee) Questionable
What to know about the Hawks
They are a young team with limited playoff experience, but despite that, won in game 7 against the one seed in the East. They shouldn’t be taken lightly. Trae Young is the leader of the team, and despite some shooting problems against the 76ers, Young is a threat to score from anywhere on the court.
Including Trae Young, the Hawks had six players score in double digits during that series. Young was the only player on the Hawks to average over 16 points per game in the 76ers’ series. He did not shoot efficiently over those seven games averaging under 40% from the field and under 33% from 3. Despite his shooting problems, the Hawks still averaged 107.9 points per game.
What to know about the Bucks
Just like the Hawks, the Bucks are coming off their own 7 game series. It was the first time in Budenholzer’s tenure where three players played around 40 minutes/game. Khris, Giannis, and Jrue averaged 40.7 minutes/ game against the Nets. Only Giannis and Khris averaged over 16 points, Khris averaging 24 ppg and Giannis averaging 32 ppg. Jrue took the necessary shots to average 20 points, but he was shooting slump the entire series, averaging 36% from the field and 26% from 3PT.
The Bucks were the number one scoring offense throughout the regular season, averaging 120.1 ppg. The Bucks didn’t score more than 115 points once throughout the series, averaging only 101.9 ppg. For their standards, the Bucks struggled mightily offensively against the Nets. Luckily they were able to keep the second-highest scoring team in the league to just 104.7 ppg. If they can increase the scoring output and continue the defense they played against the Nets, there is no reason that they should lose to the Hawks.
Giannis Free Throw struggles
We all saw how Giannis struggled from the line in the Nets series. Since the All-Star break, Giannis was shooting 72.5% from the line, which is still under the league average but is a massive improvement from the 48.3% he was making against the Nets. He struggled in game 1 from the line against Miami, but in games 2-4, he averaged 75% from the line. That Giannis needs to come back.
Giannis is taking 8.5 FTs a game and is only making 4.5 of them. If he is just able to shoot league average or just under league average, that’s at worst a 2 point swing, in favor of the Bucks. It doesn’t seem like much, but this is the Eastern Conference Finals, every point matters. We know that the game plan for the Hawks will be to get Giannis to the line. If he can make them second guess that, the Bucks will have a much easier time in this series.
The Bucks Three-point shooting
The Bucks were a top 5 3PT shooting in the regular season, averaging 39%. Only Brook Lopez averaged over 37% from three in the Nets series. Brook is a great 3PT shooter for a center, but your center shouldn’t have the highest 3PT percentage on the team. Forbes suffered a huge shooting drought against the Nets after he lit up the Heat in round 1. Jrue was terrible from 3 after having a career year from downtown. Khris shot about league average from 3, but we all know he is capable of so much more.
Every player on the Bucks shot well below their regular-season average against the Nets, other than Brook Lopez. For the Bucks to succeed against a team with lethal shooters like Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanović, John Collins, Lou Williams, and of course Trae Young, the Bucks will have to get their 3PT shooting back on track.
The Bucks Getting back on track
Abysmal scoring outputs from the number one scoring team led to an incredibly hard-fought series against the Nets. Hopefully, the offense only took a hit because the Bucks upped their defensive output. The Bucks need to get back on track against the Hawks. If the offense continues to struggle, they will have a very difficult time against the Suns or the Clippers even if they win.
If the Bucks fix their offensive woes, there is no reason they shouldn’t be returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, when they lost in seven to the Celtics. In order to do so, they need to get back to basics. They are inside of their own heads right now. Many of the players tried to shoot out of their slumps, but it only resulted in even more missed shots. Thankfully, despite having terrible averages, Jrue Holiday hit some clutch shots for the Bucks that Bucks fans aren’t used to from their PG.
Keys to the Game
Holiday will be tasked with guarding the Hawks’ best player, Trae Young. A lot of this series comes down to how much Holiday can harass and slow down Young. Jrue has a huge task ahead of him in guarding one of the best young offensive guards in the league. Despite that daunting task, Jrue also needs to improve his offensive output. Trae Young is not a good defender, and he is probably the weak link of the Hawks starter on the defensive side of the ball. Holiday needs to abuse that matchup and make some shots.
In this series, there should be three Bucks players scoring over 20 points a game. We know Giannis is going to do Giannis things. Khris is having the best postseason of his career and will most likely carry that over into this series. It is now Jrue Holiday’s turn to turn up the heat and make some shots.
Oh, what could have been. The Bucks were only a few days away from receiving Bogdanović in a trade for Donte DiVincenzo before the league hit them with tampering charges. Bogdanović shot nearly 44% from 3 in the regular season, but he struggled mightily in the playoffs, averaging only 30.4%. The Bucks will want to harass him and keep him uncomfortable from behind the arc because if he is able to get comfortable, it spells danger for Milwaukee.
Prediction: Bucks in 6.
There’s only one prediction that Bucks fans can get behind, and that’s Bucks in 6. I think the Hawks steal game 1, as the Bucks may still be recovering from an emotional and physical series against the Nets. The series will be tied 2-2 once it goes back to Milwaukee, and by that point, it will be all Bucks. They will finish the series 2-0 to take it in 6 and head to the NBA Finals.
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