The Eastern Conference Finals are set with the Atlanta Hawks taking down the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 to book a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, who emerged in a Game 7 thriller against the Brooklyn Nets.
The No. 5 seed Hawks are into their first Conference Finals since 2015, while the Bucks return for a shot at the NBA Finals, with their last Conference Finals appearance coming in 2019, where they let a 2-0 lead slip to the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
Can Giannis Antetokounmpo get his team over the hump? Or will Trae Young and the Hawks' fairytale run continue?
This one is going to be fun.
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Game 1 - Wednesday, June 23 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 2 - Friday, June 25 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 3 - Sunday, June 27 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 4 - Tuesday, June 29 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 5 (if necessary) - Thursday, July 1 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 6 (if necessary) - Saturday, July 3 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 7 (if necessary) - Monday, July 5 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Result: Bucks won 2-1
Best game: April. 25, 2021 - Hawks 111, Bucks 104
Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Jan. 24, 2021) - 27 points (9-13 FG, 0-2 3PT, 9-15 FT), 14 rebounds, eight assists, one block.
The best of the trio of matchups was the last of the season series and the lone win for the Hawks in April, where Lou Williams buried four 3-pointers in the final seven minutes to propel the Hawks to victory.
He scored all 15 of his points in the fourth quarter, while Bogdan Bogdanovic led the way with 32 points as they impressively won without their leading man in Trae Young, who was sidelined with a left ankle sprain.
In the first of the Bucks' two wins on Jan. 25, Antetokounmpo fell just two assists shy of a triple-double as the Bucks cruised past the Hawks, who were missing two starters in Young and Clint Capela. The center's absence was most notable as the Bucks outscored the Hawks in the paint 60-30 and won the rebounding battle 51-38.
The second matchup came on April 15, Antetokounmpo's first game back after a six-game injury layoff. He scored just 15 points in 25 minutes, but his teammates carried the load with seven players scoring in double figures, led by 23 points from Jrue Holiday.
This was the only game against the Bucks which Young played, coming off a two-game absence due to a calf injury and he struggled mightily, finishing with 15 points on 3-of-17 shooting, while being guarded by Holiday.
Atlanta wasn't able to put their full lineup on the floor in any of the three matchups, making the season series difficult to judge. They enter the Eastern Conference Finals missing DeAndre Hunter (knee) who is out for the rest of the season, while Bogdanovic is nursing a knee issue, despite playing in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Key Storyline: How will the Bucks slow down Trae Young?
Young has been the breakout star of the postseason, leading the young Hawks to the Conference Finals in his first playoff campaign.
The 22-year-old has been electric both against the New York Knicks in the first round and the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, averaging 29.1 points, 10.4 assists and 1.3 steals on 41.3 percent shooting and 33.0 percent from the 3-point line.
Despite a poor showing through three quarters in Game 7 against the 76ers, Young showed plenty of metal down the stretch, scoring 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, stepping up with the season on the line, despite receiving plenty of defensive attention from Ben Simmons and Matise Thybulle.
The Bucks were the No.1 defensive team in the regular season and have plenty of options to throw at Young, in All-Defensive First Team member Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and P.J. Tucker, with his high-octane pace capable of putting them on the backfoot as he gets into the lane with ease.
Meanwhile, the likes of Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez will have to be on their toes on switches and at the rim. While his passing and 3-point shooting are the primary threats, Young's floater has quickly become one of his most dangerous weapons and his primary source of offence, connecting on 49.4 percent (41-of-83) through this postseason.
He sets the tone for the Hawks on offence and the more pressure the Bucks are able to apply on the perimeter will force the supporting cast to knock down shots.
Three players to watch
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
This is Antetokoumpo's moment.
After getting the Bucks through to the Conference Finals after two straight years of falling short, this is his best chance to advance to his first NBA Finals.
Against the Brooklyn Nets, he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, dropping 40 points and 13 rebounds in Game 7, looking every bit the two-time MVP after a slow start to the series.
In three games against the Hawks this season, he averaged 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 64.6 percent shooting and if we learned anything from the Nets series, stepping away from the 3-point line and living in the paint will be the key to success against the Hawks.
In his way will be Clint Capela and John Collins, two big bodies the Hawks can throw at him, along with rookie Onyeka Okongwu,
Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
Holiday could prove to be one of the most important players in this series, not just for his defensive work on Young, but this series is primed for him to rediscover his offensive touch.
In three games against the Hawks this season, Holiday averaged 19.0 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds on 56.1 percent shooting and 44.4 percent from the 3-point line - the second most productive player behind Antetokounmpo.
He has struggled to get going through the first two rounds of the postseason, averaging 15.2 points on 24.6 percent from the 3-point line, but against the likes of Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, and Lou Williams, the Hawks don't possess a ton of defensive resistance on the perimeter, opening the door for Holiday to be a major factor.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta Hawks
He was this close to being on the other side of this matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks until a deal for the Serbian sharpshooter fell through, paving the way for the Hawks to swoop on his signature.
His floor-spacing ability is a crucial part of the Hawks' offence, opening up space for Young to attack the paint, You can't leave him open.
Through 12 games in the playoffs, he's averaged 13.8 points and 5.0 rebounds on 30.4 percent from deep. In the first four games against the 76ers he averaged 19 points, before putting up 5.6 points across the final three, dealing with knee soreness.
If he can rediscover his form from the early part of the season, the Bucks will have their hands full shutting down the Hawks' perimeter production.
If he's not 100%, don't be surprised if we see more "Game 7 hero Kevin Huerter" playing time at shooting guard.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Bucks in 6
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Bucks in 6
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Bucks in 6
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Bucks in 6
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Bucks in 6
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