The Atlanta Hawks have been the surprise team of the playoffs and they continued to give the opposition all they could handle in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks as Trae Young recorded a new career-high with 48 points to lead his team to a 116-113 win.
In addition to his 46 points, Young also registered 11 assists and seven rebounds for Atlanta to help them ice away the victory in Game 1. Young didn't do it all by himself though as John Collins turned in a spectacular performance of his own, finishing the game with 23 points and 15 rebounds. On the other side, Giannis Antetokounmpo set the tone for the Bucks, as he typically does, finishing the game with 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Jrue Holiday was also fantastic for Milwaukee as he contributed 33 points, 10 assists and five rebounds to the Bucks' effort but, in the end, it wasn't enough.
With the win, the Hawks take a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. Game 2 is scheduled for Friday night at Fiserv Forum with the opening tip set for 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Trae drops another masterpiece
No player has raised their stock as much as Trae Young during these playoffs. After yet another masterpiece, he's making a real argument that he's one of the best offensive players in the league. Not only can he score at all three levels, but his quickness and playmaking completely warp opposing defenses.
The Bucks certainly felt that effect on Wednesday night, as Young carved them up for a career-high 48 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists on 17-for-34 from the field. Because of Young's pick-and-roll threat, Milwaukee couldn't keep Brook Lopez on the floor, which came back to bite them big time on the glass late in the fourth quarter.
With his big night, Young, joined Luka Doncic as the only other player in NBA history to put up at least 45 points and 10 assists in a playoff game before turning 23 years old. He also tied LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki for the fourth-most points in a conference finals game. If that wasn't enough, he scored or assisted on 72 of the Hawks' 116 points, which is the most ever in a conference finals game.
At one point, he was so confident that after he completely shook Jrue Holiday on the perimeter he stopped and paused for a long time before draining a 3-pointer.
2. Offensive rebounds change the game down the stretch
As great as Trae Young was in this game, the Bucks still had a seven-point lead with four minutes to play and seemed to have seized control of the game. They were at home, all the momentum was on their side and it felt like they would see out the game from there.
And perhaps they should have considering they got an initial stop on five of the Hawks' final seven possessions down the stretch -- not counting trips where the Bucks fouled intentionally. Unfortunately, for the Bucks, they couldn't get the requisite rebounds to close out those possessions and ended up giving the game away on the glass.
The Hawks grabbed five offensive rebounds in the final four minutes, which led to nine second-chance points. That was the difference as they outscored the Bucks 18-8 down the stretch to steal the win. While the final stats will show that offensive rebounds (12 for each team) and second-chance points (17-16 in favor of the Hawks) were essentially even, the Hawks got them when it mattered most.
A big reason for that was the absence of Brook Lopez. The Bucks had to take him off the floor and go small because Young was destroying them in the pick-and-roll. Without him out there, the Hawks took advantage and crashed the boards hard.
3. Middleton has a rough night
With just 4.6 seconds remaining in the game, the Bucks had the ball and a chance to tie and force overtime. As per usual in those kinds of situations, they went to Khris Middleton. He ended up getting a pretty decent look, but his 3-pointer came up short to end the game.
While that shot wasn't the only reason the Bucks lost this game, it was a fitting ending, as Middleton and the Bucks fell short in disappointing fashion. Middleton submitted one of his worst games of the postseason, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-23 from the field. That was the second-fewest points in these playoffs and tied for the worst shooting performance. It was also just the second time he failed to make a 3-pointer, as he went 0-for-9.
Middleton has come up with clutch moments time and again over the past few weeks and without him, the Bucks wouldn't still be playing. They also might not be playing much longer if he doesn't turn things around in Game 2. This team just doesn't have enough consistent scoring options to deal with an off-night from Middleton -- especially if Lopez is going to be played off the floor.