The Atlanta Hawks are three wins away from the NBA Finals.
Atlanta struck first with a 116-113 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Wednesday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Fiserv Forum. Trae Young dazzled and led the way for the Hawks, who looked much better than when they lost two of their three regular-season games against the Bucks.
While Young and John Collins took over in crunch time and spearheaded a comeback, it was Clint Capela who made arguably the biggest play of the game with an offensive rebound and putback to give his team the lead in the final 30 seconds. Pat Connaughton missed a three on the ensuing possession, Young hit four clutch free throws and Khris Middleton missed a potential game-tying three at the end.
Impressive showings from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday weren't enough for Milwaukee, which will be facing plenty of pressure to at least split the first two contests at home in Game 2.
Notable Player Stats
- Trae Young, G, ATL: 48 PTS, 11 AST, 7 REB
- John Collins, F, ATL: 23 PTS, 15 REB
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, MIL: 34 PTS, 12 REB, 9 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK
- Jrue Holiday, G, MIL: 33 PTS, 10 AST, 4 REB
- Khris Middleton, F, MIL: 15 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 6-of-23 FG
Trae Young Continues Playoff Takeover
Young has been the breakout star of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and a chance to duel Antetokounmpo for a spot in the NBA Finals only puts him further in the spotlight.
He was up for the challenge.
The Hawks' leader was unstoppable in the first half and consistently got to his floater whenever he wanted against Milwaukee's drop coverage on the pick-and-roll. When the Bucks adjusted in the second quarter, he mixed in a number of outside shots and had a stunning 25 points at halftime.
The problem at first was where the help was coming from, as Atlanta still trailed at intermission with nobody else in double figures. Bogdan Bogdanovic was clearly hampered by his right knee injury while moving laterally on defense and attempting to get lift on his jumper, and the offense was largely Young-or-bust for extended stretches.
That help came from Collins in the second half, who both enforced his will on the boards and started throwing down dunks off Young's assists. One came on an alley-oop pass off the backboard before No. 11 brought the style by busting out a shoulder shimmy before he hit a wide-open three as the Hawks seized the lead behind his continued brilliance.
Milwaukee was caught flatfooted time after time and had no idea if Young was going to step back and hit a triple or drive into the lane where he could hit his floater or throw lobs. Even when the Hawks fell behind by seven in the last five minutes, Young set up Collins multiple times—including on a monumental three-pointer to cut the lead to one—and converted a key and-1 in the lane.
All that set up the point guard's clutch free-throw shooting and the winning play by Capela, and the Hawks stole one on the road thanks in large part to their leader's incredible outing.
Bucks Waste Efforts by Giannis, Holiday
It's hard to script a better opportunity to reach the NBA Finals than the one in front of the Bucks. After all, they have a two-time MVP, they have home-court advantage, they already eliminated the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers are watching from home.
While that means Milwaukee is also the one under more pressure, Antetokounmpo wasted no time answering it.
He overpowered Hawks defenders in the paint to create easy looks at the rim throughout the first half while also controlling the boards and dishing out assists. It wasn't just a one-man show, though, as Holiday played his best game of the postseason by aggressively attacking the lane, hitting from the outside and also facilitating.
Throw in Bobby Portis providing a timely lift off the bench, and the Bucks had a lead at intermission even though Young was torching them on the other end.
It was the Holiday and Antetokounmpo show into the second half, as the former continued to hit from the outside and penetrate as something of a counter to Young and the latter didn't settle for too many outside shots.
Unfortunately for the Bucks, they still trailed heading into the final quarter largely because Middleton was anything but his typical self. That put even more pressure on the other two, and they seemed to deliver enough for the win when Antetokounmpo scored six straight points and Holiday hit a three to extend the lead to seven with fewer than five minutes remaining.
However, Middleton's struggles, a brutal three-pointer from Connaughton at the end and Young's overall showing were too much to overcome, putting the Bucks in comeback mode.
The series remains in Milwaukee for Friday's Game 2.