Bucks a nightmare matchup for Hawks


When Milwaukee and Atlanta met in the regular season, few, if any, observers believed it to be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals, but here we are. After a grueling seven-game series with the Brooklyn Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo finds himself four wins away from the NBA Finals for the second time in his career. Trae Young and the Hawks have crashed the party after upsetting the top seeded Philadelphia 76ers, and they find themselves in the role of David yet again.


The betting market has pushed this series price to Milwaukee -480, which carries an implied probability of 82.8% that the Bucks win the series. Atlanta deserves all the credit in the world for being here, but a -3.4 net rating in a best-of-seven series that it won tells us what we need to know about what transpired against the 76ers. Now they get a much better opponent with the ability to exploit many of their weaknesses.


We can start our analysis of the series with the Hawks’ defensive game plan for the Bucks. Against Philadelphia, Nate McMillan hid Young on Seth Curry, but the 76ers managed to exploit that quite a bit. Curry finished the series averaging 21 points on 60.8% shooting from the floor and 59.1% from deep on 7.4 3-point attempts per game. Young still is still a defensive liability, and the best way to hide him in this series will be matching him up with P.J. Tucker. Young gives up four inches and 65 pounds to Tucker, but the power forward is usually planted in the corner and will not put Young through the ringer of off-ball screens that Curry did. That matchup likely will result in Atlanta getting punished on the offensive glass, but it’s a small price to pay in order to keep Young out of defending Jrue Holiday at the point of attack.


There is also the question of how the Hawks will defend Antetokounmpo. During the season, the Greek Freak bullied Atlanta for 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game on 64.3% shooting from the floor. Clint Capela was his primary defender, but one look at those numbers tells us that the Hawks, much like Joel Embiid and the 76ers, do not have an answer for their opponent's primary scorer. On the possessions that John Collins draws this assignment, Antetokounmpo will surely have his way as well, meaning this defense is in for a long series. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a solid defender who will be able to handle Khris Middleton or Holiday, but so much of the Bucks’ success stems from Antetokounmpo that Bogdanovic’s efforts on that end could be rendered moot.


On the flip side, the Hawks certainly can put together a successful offensive game plan. The Bucks’ drop coverage with Brook Lopez on pick-and-rolls opens the midrange area of the floor for a bevy of Young floaters that he seems to hit at a 95% rate. That will also open the floor for Atlanta’s shooters to exploit a perimeter defense that ranked 29th in the regular season (39.3%). However, there will be no questioning who draws Young on a possession-to-possession basis in this series like there was at the beginning of the series with Philadelphia. While Holiday had a rough series on offense against Brooklyn, he is still an elite defender, and he can lock up Young, who just shot 39.6% from the floor and 32.8% from deep in the last series. The pieces fall into place for Milwaukee from there. Middleton is a solid wing defender, as is Tucker, and Antetokounmpo is a former Defensive Player of the Year. They held the Nets to 107.3 points per 100 possessions, and now have no elite wing player like Kevin Durant to worry about.


McMillan deserves a huge amount of credit for rallying a team that was 14-20 when he took over into a conference finalist. No player has raised his stock this postseason more than Young. However, there are too many matchups that work in Milwaukee’s favor for me to give Atlanta a realistic shot at winning this series.


Series pick: Milwaukee in five


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