Trae Young’s heaves weren’t falling late in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bucks. So, he went to work at his second-favorite line—the free throw line—to put away the East’s No. 3 seed on a career night.
Sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanović clearly wasn’t himself in the Hawks’ thrilling 116–113 victory Wednesday night, but Young’s heroics and a strong showing from John Collins were enough to edge out the Bucks and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Here are three thoughts on Atlanta's stealing Game 1 in Milwaukee.
Trae Young does not care about your home court
Madison Square Garden. Wells Fargo Center. And now, Fiserv Forum. Trae Young has made a habit of stealing Game 1s in hostile arenas throughout his dazzling postseason run. His latest showing included a postseason career-high 48 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and exactly one shimmy.
Milwaukee was 5–0 at home in the playoffs before Atlanta’s upset. That included two wins over the Heat in a first-round sweep and all three home games in a seven-game series win over the Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Young’s previous playoff career high was 39 points against the 76ers in Game 5 on the road last round. Naturally, he had to one-up that in Milwaukee. The Hawks' budding superstar had 37 points heading into the final quarter but struggled shooting the ball late, going 1-for-7 from the field in the final period. On the back of nine fourth-quarter free throws, including the final two that put Atlanta up three points, Young still managed to deliver once again on the road and in the clutch.
Khris Middleton’s struggles sink the Bucks
Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday combined for 67 points and were an unstoppable force on alley-oop combinations in the fourth quarter. Khris Middleton, Wednesday night’s third musketeer in Milwaukee, matched his worst shooting night of the postseason on his way to an inefficient 15 points on 23 shots. And on a night when the Bucks shot a measly 8-for-36 on three-pointers, Middleton contributed nine of those misses and zero makes.
Holiday connected on a postseason-high five threes and finished with 33 points and 10 assists. Antetokounmpo moved his offense closer to the basket after a few early outside attempts and put together a 34-point performance. He added 12 rebounds and nearly triple-doubled with nine assists. Antetokounmpo even hit his free throws when Atlanta intentionally fouled him near the end of the game.
In the fourth quarter, Antetokounmpo and Holiday shot a combined 6-for-11 while Middleton missed five of his seven shots, including four three-pointers. The Bucks need Middleton back much closer to peak form than he was in Game 1 in order to make a series comeback.
Milwaukee missed an opportunity Wednesday night with a hobbled Bogdanović scoring just four points. It can’t squander an opportunity again, not against these Hawks.
Nate McMillan accomplishes what Mike Budenholzer never could
Disregard the interim that precedes Atlanta head coach Nate McMillan’s title. He just did something that coach Mike Budenholzer never did in five seasons with the Hawks and four postseason appearances—win a conference finals game. In Budenholzer’s sole conference finals run with the team in the 2014–15 season, his squad was promptly swept by LeBron James’s Cavaliers. When McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce in early March, Atlanta went on a tear to end its postseason drought and earn the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
There were certainly doubters of McMillan’s squad heading into Madison Square Garden in the first round. He, and Young, quite literally silenced them. More undoubtedly appeared in the showdown against the East's No. 1 seed in Philadelphia. They were dispelled as well. Now, on the biggest stage of his career, McMillan’s Hawks are up 1–0 on the Bucks and are just three wins away from an NBA Finals appearance.
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