3 reasons why the Hawks will and won’t advance to the Finals

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The Atlanta Hawks face off against the Milwaukee Bucks in a best of seven series to see which franchise will play the winner out west for a chance at the title. While the Milwaukee faithful certainly expected their team to be here at this point in the season, it’s fair to say that Atlanta fans have been more than pleasantly surprised by their team’s performance. Especially when you consider the dismal start to the year that saw Nate McMillan take over as head coach, it seems wild to be previewing the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

That being said, for anyone who has paid attention to Atlanta since that point in the season, this should not come as a major surprise. Under McMillan, the Hawks were consistently winning games they should and refusing to go away in ones they shouldn’t. The emergence of players like Bogdan Bogdanovic during the second half of the season has catapulted the Hawks inches away from a championship, as they have a 1/4 shot at winning it all — not actual odds, of course, check out Alex’s preview of the gambling odds if you’re into that sort of thing.

So, what has to go right for the Hawks to win, and what could go wrong for the Hawks to lose this series? Let’s take a look:

Why the Hawks will advance to the Finals

Reason #1: Trae Young‘s Elite Play

The number one reason why the Hawks will get past the Milwaukee Bucks is the continued elite play of their superstar Trae Young. Yes, the Bucks have Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and PJ Tucker, who can all slow him down theoretically. But that’s just it; it’s theoretical. Trae Young cannot be stopped; they can only hope to contain him as with all superstars. As the third-year (!) point guard has shown not just in the postseason but his entire career, he can dominate the game in more ways than one. More specifically, on nights where the shot may not be falling, he’ll make elite passes like this to bend the defense to his will.

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Reason #2: John Collins‘ two-way impact

This highlight transitions us perfectly to the next reason the Hawks will advance. The continued high-level play from John Collins, even though his stats won’t blow anyone away. In the playoffs, he’s averaging 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds on solid efficiency. Box score watchers will try to tell you that John Collins is an average player at best or that he’s letting down the team when it matters due to his lack of scoring; he’s not. Collins has transformed his game to be whatever the Hawks need from him on any given night. I asked for the Hawks to get him more involved in the offense back at the beginning of the Sixers series, but it does seem he’s feeling comfortable in his current role as a play finisher and rebounder.

Plays like the put-back dunks in Game 4 or the block in Game 5 continue to reinforce why Collins is such an integral part of this team. He’ll also more than likely be tasked with the most important defensive role in this series, guarding Giannis. It will be a team effort, to be sure, but Collins’ ability to match some of Giannis’ athleticism and length can slow down the Greek Freek. Speaking of team efforts, the Hawks have two other players that will need to have a big series to advance.

Reason #3: Bogdanovic and Huerter continue to impress

I’m kind of cheating here by combining both of these guys’ abilities into one reason, but it’s my article, so I get to do what I want. Jokes aside, it will take both of these guys to play well on both ends for the Hawks to win the series. Starting on the defensive end, when the game tips off and is in the final minutes, the Bucks trio of stars will have Brook Lopez and one of PJ Tucker or Pat Connaughton on the court. This means that Bogi and Huerter will more than likely be guarding Middleton and Holiday. It will be imperative that these two do not allow the Bucks duo of scoring guards to get to their spots offensively, and if the Hawks win the series, that likely will be what happens.

Offensively, both of these players have more than proven that they have the ability to step up and score when the team needs them. No better example of this is the most recent showing from Red Velvet, who had one of the most memorable performances in Hawks playoff history to send Philly home in game seven.

This is just one of the many examples of Huerter dominating Seth Curry and taking advantage of the guard’s lack of size. He showed an ability to attack without fear that many Hawks fans have been waiting to see, and it could not have come at a better time. Trae Young’s ability to attract the defense’s full attention in the halfcourt should lead to plenty of open shots and driving lines for Huerter, who will welcome the opportunities.

The other starting wing for Atlanta, Bogdan Bogdanovic, will also receive the same looks. Bogi may have been considered the Hawks’ second-best player at points in the season, depending on who you asked. After all, he made a franchise-record 66 threes over the course of April — 11 more than the previous record-holder for threes in a month, Kyle Korver. It’s not just the three-point shooting, though, that makes Bogi great; it’s his ability to create for others. When teams come up to trap or double Young, the Hawks need someone who can run the offense, and Bogdanovic has more than proven he has that ability, and the same goes for Huerter. However, that elite three-point shooting in crunch-time has helped the Hawks win many games this season, and perhaps none were bigger than his catch and shoot three against the Knicks in Game 1.

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If his knee can heal up before the series or even during, it’s fair to expect him to also thrive against Milwaukee. That’s a big “if” though, and brings us to the not-so-fun part of this exercise.

Why the Hawks will not advance to the Finals

Reason#1: The injuries to Atlanta’s wings

All injuries stink, but they especially stink when they ravage one specific position group. We know De’Andre Hunter has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, but what about Reddish and Bogdanovic? Cam Reddish¬†could return, but even if he does, one has to expect him to be rusty, to say the least. The other banged-up wing is a player previously mentioned, Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one outside of the Hawks organization knows how injured Bogi really is. While he did play in the last two games of the prior series, he hardly looked like the player the Hawks had up to that Game 6. If he’s hobbled, that significantly decreases the Hawks chances of winning, but if he’s out entirely, the path to The Finals seems much more narrow.

Reason #2: Giannis is, well, Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP, will be seeking his first-ever championship this postseason. All that stands in his way is a banged-up Hawks team and the winner of Clippers-Suns. After defeating the Nets despite a herculean effort from Kevin Durant, Giannis is the closest he’s been to The Finals since losing in six games to Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in 2019. Do not underestimate his ability to carry a team and win games when they matter. Giannis has a few glaring weaknesses, most notably his lack of a consistent jump shot, but he drives the lane and finishes as good as anyone ever to play. While the Hawks have guys like Collins and Capela who can bother him, Giannis has size and speed advantages on them both, allowing him to pick and choose how and when to drive. On top of his ability on offense, the 2019-2020 Defensive Player of the Year has no issue protecting the rim and generating steals. He’ll be a force on both ends of the court that the Hawks may have little chance of stopping.

Reason #3: The Bucks have the homecourt

The NBA is a homecourt league, and so many playoff series come down to which team is playing at home for more games. There’s just a different feeling when players get to wake up in their own beds and be cheered on by their own fans. However, to this point, the Hawks simply don’t care. They’ve won five games on the road, including two in New York and THREE in Philly. When is someone going to tell these young guys that you’re not supposed to do that?

Well, perhaps this is the series where that makes enough of a difference. Milwaukee is certainly not near as tough of a place to play as New York or Philadelphia, but to play there still requires travel and a hotel bed. If the Bucks do nothing but win their home games, they win the series. In the playoffs, the smallest of advantages can be the difference in winning or losing. This advantage may be just enough to prevent Atlanta from making The Finals for the first time since moving to Atlanta.

There we have it, three reasons why each team will win the matchup. Of course, these could all be wrong, and either team could win for a million other reasons, but these are my best guesses at what swings this series. I lay out some of those additional reasons on the latest episode of Squawk Talk, which you should definitely subscribe to. Game 1 tips off Wednesday in Milwaukee, and both teams will surely put on a show.

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