The Milwaukee Bucks are heavily favored against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. You can understand why to some degree, given that the Bucks knocked out the Brooklyn Nets, but it was a Nets team that was severely hampered by injuries.
The Hawks deserve a lot of credit for outlasting the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games. Joel Embiid was not 100%, but he played like a man possessed. The problem wasn’t Embiid. The Hawks were just the better team in Game 7 when it mattered most.
Yet, we don’t see the Hawks getting much respect here. Milwaukee is -7.5 with a total of 226 in Game 1 on Wednesday night at Bookmaker Sportsbook.
The Hawks were not the better team against the Sixers. They were just the better team in Game 7. Atlanta shot 44.4% from the floor and just 33.5% from three in the seven-game series. Trae Young was not an efficient scorer with 29 points per game, as he shot under 40% from the floor and just over 32% from three. What he did do, however, was have 76 assists against 25 turnovers in the series.
The Hawks took better care of the basketball and performed better at the free throw line and now they are in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks only had a .506 eFG% in the series, but made the most of their chances at the stripe and got a lot of contributions from Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari to advance.
Young was 5-of-23 in the deciding game. He was only 2-of-11 from three. He did have 10 assists, but Huerter and Gallinari, who were so effective in the series against the Knicks and throughout the series against the Sixers, were the heroes.
We can make the case that the Hawks don’t deserve to be here, but we can make the same case about the Bucks. The reality is that the Hawks are here and they’re here because other guys have stepped up when it was needed.
The stats don’t lie, though. Atlanta is 12th among the playoff teams in FG% at 44.4% and 10th in 3P% at 34.6%. The Knicks were just worse in both areas in the first round and the Sixers didn’t pay enough attention to the details. That’s how you end up with a seven-point spread in Game 1.
The Bucks have not played very well offensively in the playoffs either. They rank 14th in 3P% at 31.2% and have shot just barely over 45% as a team. Real estate has been hard for Giannis Antetokounmpo to find. After shooting nearly 57% during the regular season, he’s at 53.3% during the playoffs and he’s only shooting 19% from three. He’s also really struggling badly at the free throw line at 54%.
He had 40 points in Game 7 against the Nets, as Milwaukee took good care of the basketball and the Nets did not. Giannis was 15-of-24 from the floor in that game, but only 2-of-6 from three. He really needs to focus on getting inside against the Hawks if he can help it. The Hawks, obviously, want to push him to the outside and it has been Atlanta’s defense that is the reason that they are still alive.
The Bucks advanced despite an eFG% in the second round below 50%. Milwaukee shot under 68% at the free throw line and advanced. That series result was as much about Brooklyn’s injuries as anything, as Kevin Durant was forced into huge minutes and James Harden was basically a non-factor in the series. Kyrie Irving was also hurt in Game 4.
We can poke holes in both teams and it sure looks right now like the Western Conference Finals winner will take down the NBA title. The Bucks still have the best player on the floor between the two teams and that could be a huge equalizer in the series. Khris Middleton is the one that might be the key, though, as somebody needs to provide some secondary scoring.
After all, the Bucks shot 44% against Brooklyn and 30% from three. The Nets were not a good defense in the regular season either, ranking 23rd in DRtg.
Hawks vs. Bucks Free Pick
Neither team has a sterling resume as we head into the ECF. I’m not entirely sure what the Bucks have done to warrant being such a big favorite in Game 1. The total also seems suspiciously high here with two teams that have largely been inept offensively. At least the Hawks have an excuse. They’ve played two top-five defensive teams by DRtg. The Bucks have not. They’ve played two below average defenses.
It has to be the Hawks plus the points here.
Pick: Atlanta Hawks +7.5