It was close until it wasn’t. The Bucks rebounded in a big way and embarrassed the Hawks Friday night to even the series 1-1. Milwaukee decimated Atlanta 125-91, refusing to let their opponent hang around and steal the game at the end the way Wednesday’s Game 1 unfolded.
Now, the Eastern Conference Finals are tied heading to State Farm Arena. Here are three thoughts on the Bucks’ statement game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks showed their ceiling
Milwaukee is one of the few teams in the league that can truly rely on either an offensive outburst or a defensive clinic to win games. The Hawks witnessed the full power of both of those Friday night and were promptly run off the floor.
The turning point—which really put the game away early—was a 43-point second quarter for Milwaukee. Atlanta allowed the Bucks to score in bunches in the restricted area and were on the receiving end of a 20-0 run. There have been some epic second-half comebacks this postseason, including two by the Hawks, but a 32-point halftime deficit is about as insurmountable as it gets.
The Bucks posted their second-highest scoring game of the postseason and their best showing on offense since Game 2 against Miami over a month ago. Milwaukee has seen better defensive performances, twice holding the Nets below 90 points last round, but it held Atlanta to its lowest output in the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 25 points, but the decimation was truly a team effort with coach Mike Budenholzer emptying the bench in the second half. Khris Middleton rebounded with a quiet but respectable 15 points. And the pleasant surprise for the Bucks was 16 points out of Brook Lopez, which included key buckets and defensive plays during that huge second quarter.
Trae Young cratered and Atlanta’s offense went with him
What was amazing about Young’s offensive onslaught Wednesday night was how comfortable he looked throughout. The Bucks denied him any sort of comfort in Game 2.
Milwaukee’s defense largely kept Young out of the paint and forced him into contested, deep threes. When Atlanta’s point guard is in rhythm, his range is limitless and those threes can defeat a defense. But Young never found any sort of offensive flow for himself and he wasn’t creating for his teammates either, finishing with just three assists.
Most detrimental to Young’s game and the Hawks offense was his nine turnovers, which tied a career high. Those giveaways jump started the Bucks’ offensive onslaught in the second quarter and ensured the game was all but over at halftime.
For all his struggles, Young was still Atlanta’s leading scorer, which reflects poorly on his supporting cast. Danilo Galinari chipped in 12 points off the bench, John Collins and Cam Reddish (in his first game since Feb. 21) each added 11. Overall the offense was dismal, shooting 25% from three-point range and coughing up the ball 19 times.
Milwaukee understood what was at stake
Atlanta impressively survived the first quarter that Milwaukee was due for after the Game 1 loss. Then the Bucks romped to their massive second quarter and put the Hawks away. The defensive improvements made in a matter of 48 hours to keep Young out of the paint and uncomfortable beyond the three-point line showed necessary urgency. The results spoke for themselves with Young on the bench watching the second units battle in the fourth quarter.
Heading to Atlanta down 0-2 would’ve been a daunting task, even for a team that tangled with the NBA’s best last round and came out victorious. Now, the series is tied. Sure, the Hawks stole another Game 1. But Milwaukee has proven they’re capable of winning in opposing arenas, beating the Heat decisively twice in Miami and winning in Brooklyn in a Game 7. Knotting things up 1-1 keeps this a series, and the way the Bucks played Friday night ensured this one won’t be ending early.
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