After all of the Playoff disappointments over the years, it is incredible that the Milwaukee Bucks will be opening up the Eastern Conference Finals at home for the second time in three years. I think I speak for all of us when I say hopefully, this year’s series ends up a little differently than the last time they were here. The Bucks open Game One as heavy favorites, listed at -300 (you might see some variation on that based on the Sportsbook) and the Hawks are at +250. That means you’d have to bet $300 on Milwaukee to win $100, while betting a hundo on the Hawks nets you $250 profit. One might say the odds are in the Bucks favor.
Where We’re At
The Bucks had to go through a hampered Brooklyn Nets squad in seven games to get here, but ultimately, Giannis Antetokoumpo pulled them through with a historic 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. In the 115-111 overtime win, the Bucks scored merely six points in the extra period, but they rode their defense (like they did all series) and held the Nets to just two. Seeing that final Kevin Durant jumper airball was a sight just all too sweet. After three days of rest (which felt interminably long as a fan), they have to focus back in against an Atlanta team that will come in as the underdog.
Atlanta is fresh off a road victory of their own against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Seven. Indeed, they won three different road games in that series, so they have no fear of going into opposing arenas. To this point in the Playoffs, Milwaukee remains undefeated at Fiserv Forum, so we’ll get a good test of that mark tonight. The headliner is of course Trae Young, who is averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game in the Playoffs, but hasn’t shot all that efficiently. He’s at 41.3% overall and 33.0% from deep. Jrue Holiday will likely get the assignment, and he’ll be fighting and scrapping over every screen to rearview contest those floaters that Young loves so much.
Elsewhere on the defense, the Bucks have to ensure their help defenders don’t wander in too far from Atlanta’s perimeter shooters. Atlanta’s two primary ball handlers, Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic, have struggled shooting from deep in the Playoffs, but their supporting cast have been solid. Kevin Huerter (40.4% on 4.8 attempts), Danilo Gallinari (39% on 4.9) and John Collins (38.9 on 3.0) can do damage if Young is able to find them with Milwaukee defenders wandering. In the paint, Lopez will have to show every bit of his length against Trae on the floaters while trying to take away the lob to a rolling Capela. The Hawks run pick and roll more than any other team in the Playoffs, so that main action will take center stage throughout the series. Bogdanovic also was struggling with a knee injury late in the Philly series, so I’m curious how active he’ll be.
The regular season isn’t all that instructive unfortunately, with only one game featuring Trae Young (Milwaukee won 120-109) and all the pieces switching wildly from game to game. Regardless, this Hawks team looks like a different one, a confident threat this postseason, and one surely hoping to overturn the keg cart in Milwaukee for Game One. For more preview coverage, check out our staff roundtable and Mitchell’s piece setting the table for the storylines of the series.
Donte DiVincenzo is out for Milwaukee, while the Hawks list De’Andre Hunter and Brandon Goodwin as out. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish are questionable while Kevin Huerter is probable.
Player to Watch
PJ Tucker just spent an entire series working his tail off guarding Kevin Durant. Against the Hawks, there’s not an obvious wing threat in the same way, so I’m curious if Bud will keep him in the starting lineup. I certainly see arguments for moving him to the bench given he’s not “needed” as much defensively, and he could provide a place for Trae Young to hide on defense, but Bud has never struck me as one to go away from what’s working. Plus, I think he sets a defensive tone that helps this team from jump. Plus, I’d be more than happy to see him give the Durant treatment to one Bogdan Bogdanovic for as long as this series lasts. On offense, if Nate McMillan hides Young on Tucker, I want to see if the Bucks involve him in any actions or if he’ll be able to make an impact on the offensive boards.
Game One: Against Atlanta, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)