After advancing through the first two rounds of postseason play, the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are set to meet in the Eastern Conference finals. The winner of the best-of-seven series between the teams will advance to the NBA Finals -- a place that neither team has been in quite some time. Milwaukee's last conference title came back in 1974, while the Hawks have never advanced to the Finals since moving to Atlanta in 1968. The Hawks last won a title in 1958 when they were located in St. Louis. The Bucks are searching for their first title since 1971 when they were led by Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
There will be no shortage of star power in this series. The Bucks are led by two-time NBA MVP and former Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Hawks are propelled by ascendant star Trae Young, who is in just his third season in the league. Young made his first All-Star team last season, and he appears poised to make many more over the course of his career. The play of those two stars, and which one is able to be more effective, will likely go a long way in determining the outcome of the series.
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Here's a look at the series schedule and three things to know ahead of the showdown between the No. 3 Bucks and No. 5 Hawks.
(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
Bucks win series 4-2
- Game 1: Hawks 116, Bucks 113
- Game 2: Bucks 125, Hawks 91
- Game 3: Bucks 113, Hawks 102
- Game 4: Hawks 110, Bucks 88
- Game 5: Bucks 123, Hawks 112
- Game 6: Bucks 118, Hawks 107
It's no secret that Trae Young's production on the offensive end is central to success for the Hawks. Young has been absolutely stellar in the playoffs so far, as he's averaged 29.1 points and 10.4 assists over 12 games against the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers. He had three 30-plus point performances against the Knicks, and he followed that up with three more against the Sixers. It's not a coincidence that the Hawks went 4-2 in those games, because when Young is at the peak of his powers -- hitting shots and setting his teammates up with open opportunities -- the Hawks become extremely tough to topple. The Knicks were largely unable to contain Young at all, and while Philadelphia did a better job of it, he was still able to make more than enough plays to lead the Hawks to an upset over the top-seeded Sixers.
Young is especially deadly out of the pick-and-roll, where he has the ability to pull up from deep or get into the paint and force the defense to collapse. Once in the paint, Young can either hit a nice floater over an approaching defender or find his teammates at the rim or on the perimeter. He gave both the Knicks and Sixers fits making plays out of this action, and one has to assume that it will continue to be a big part of Atlanta's offensive attack against Milwaukee. If they want to advance, the Bucks will have to do a better job of limit Young's impact in this area than New York or Philly did. The good news for Milwaukee is that in Jrue Holiday, they have an excellent option for a primary defender on Young. Holiday will have his hands full, but he should be able to at least make things more difficult on Atlanta's star guard.
2. Which team will get more from their bench?
It's no secret that rotations shrink in the playoffs, as starters tend to play more minutes than they did during the regular season. This trend only increases as postseason play wears on, so it's safe to say that we'll see the starters for both teams play a whole lot of minutes in the series between the Bucks and Hawks. But, that doesn't mean that bench production isn't important. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Often, whichever team is able to get a bigger boost from their bench in a series is able to advance, and that could be the case in this series, too. With the starters playing the bulk of the minutes, whichever team suffers less of a drop-off in production when forced to turn to reserve play has an advantage in a series. The Hawks have averaged 29.6 bench points per game during the postseason so far, while the Bucks are averaging 23.5. Keep an eye on the bench production in the series between the two teams, because the team that gets more help from their reserves could ultimately be the team that moves on to the NBA Finals.
3. Bucks have to use their size to their advantage
With a frontcourt comprised of Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, the Bucks are a physically imposing team, and they need to lean on their size in the series against Atlanta, which isn't as big. The trio of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Lopez has averaged 65.1 points and 28.6 rebounds per game in the postseason so far, and their ability to do damage in the paint was a big part of the reason that they were able to advance past the Brooklyn Nets last round. With a starting frontline comprised of Clint Capela, John Collins and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks will likely have a tough time limiting Milwaukee's paint production. The Bucks are a solid 3-point shooting team, but they can't fall in love with that shot against Atlanta, as they should instead look to exploit size mismatches and do as much damage in the paint as possible.