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Hawks comeback bid falls short as Bucks punch their ticket to NBA Finals

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NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The run is over.... for now.

An Atlanta Hawks team that found ways to rebound every time they had to during a second round series versus the Philadelphia 76ers needed to find a way to do it one more time in a Game 6 elimination game versus the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday evening.

Only this time the task was even harder. Trae Young played after missing the previous two games with an injured ankle. But whatever he was it clearly wasn’t 100%.

He infrequently looked to use his dynamic crossover to set up a defender. When he got leverage on an opposing player he seldom tried to use his quickness to get past him. He wasn’t looking to get into the middle of the Bucks defense and generate his patented floater.

Don’t get it wrong. What he was able to give, Atlanta needed it in this game. Even if that was mostly about his ball handling and passing, it made a difference. But they missed his scoring.

It’s unquestionable at this point that Young is a very willing competitor. And he gave what he could to his team in this game. It just wasn’t enough to extend the series to a seventh game.

Milwaukee was playing without their best player again in the contest also. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second straight game with a knee injury.

As such, from an entertainment perspective the game wasn’t what it could have been. But the Bucks took care of the task winning 118-107 earning a match up with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA finals.

For Atlanta, the defense was up-and-down in this game. There were stretches where the activity and intensity bothered the offensive rhythm of the Bucks. Other times it looked like Game 5 all over again when there just wasn’t enough resistance at the point of attack.

They limited Milwaukee to 40 points in the paint, an improvement as compared to most games in the series. But Khris Middleton had another hot quarter to bolster his team’s offensive production. He had 23 points in a third quarter in which the Bucks posted a whopping 44 on the scoreboard. Atlanta would win the fourth quarter by eight points, but it wasn’t quite enough.

There also was just not enough shot making for the Hawks, apart from another surprising shooting performance from Cam Reddish who converted six of seven shots from the the three-point line. The rest of the team equaled his six makes but it took 25 shots to do so.

Considering that they couldn’t get offensive production from some of their most reliable sources, it’s amazing that they had the margin back to single digits in the final minutes of play.

Young tried to find a bit more magic in the finals minutes despite how much he struggled as a shooter the entire game. But there was none to be found.

In the first game versus the Sixers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Young scored 35 points as Atlanta got a win and sent a message they there were not to be taken lightly as an underdog.

In Game 5 versus Philadelphia, with the team looking to avoid going down three games to two, Young produced 39 points as the Hawks took a bit of control putting the Sixers backs against the wall.

Looking to get a win in the opener versus Milwaukee in hopes of sending a message similar to the one sent in the previous round to Philadelphia, Young had a monster performance scoring 48 points.

His team needed a similar performance in this game. But it wasn’t to be.

It’s admirable that he gave what he could, but clearly he just didn’t have his usual quickness and shiftiness. And just the strength to generate his normal profile of shots.

“For me, not being able to be out there for my team for two games, and then tonight just wanting to battle and try to fight through it as much as I could and try to be out there for my team, it’s definitely frustrating not being healthy and not being able to give my full 100 percent,” said Young in postgame comments.

The tone of his broader comments suggested he knew this was a missed opportunity.

“I don’t like missing games, period,” he said. “So Eastern Conference Finals, I didn’t want to miss any game. It just sucks this is how it happened.”

He fought and so did his team. They gave themselves one more shot as they cut the Milwaukee lead to from 22 (early in the fourth quarter) to just six points with 3:41 to play. But that was a close as they would get.

“It’s just a resilient group,” Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said about the effort put forward by his team. “They’ve been doing this all season long.”

“What they did this season luck wasn’t involved; it was hard work,” he continued. “It was sacrificing. It was committing to each other. It was trusting each other, and the effort was there every single night.”

“We knew he had the injury, so of course, he wasn’t going to be the guy that we are used to seeing out there,” McMillan said about the effort Young made playing through the injury. “But you have to take a lot of things into consideration. The first thing is he’s not going to injure himself any more by going out there and playing. That’s going to be the first thing that they talk about, and if he feels that he can help this team, then we’ll let him play, and he felt that he could. He wanted to give it a try.”

“I saw some times where he was grimacing,” McMillan added. “But the effort that he gave us, I thought it was more than — it’s really more than I expected.”

For the Bucks, Middleton was their leading scorer, but Jrue Holiday dominated the game in all phases. He was relentless hounding Atlanta ball handlers throughout the game. He appeared determined to not let anything come easily to any Hawks guards. He had 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. He added four steals and two blocked shots. But those numbers don’t do justice to the impact he had as a defender.

Middleton had 32 points and seven assists. He was a bit quiet apart from his scalding third quarter. But he gave his team a lift when they most needed it.

In reserve play Reddish led Atlanta with 21 points on 13 shooting possessions. Apart from his timely shot making the game would have likely been uncompetitive for the entirety of the second half.

Bogdan Bogdanovic had 20 points on an efficient shooting performance. Clint Capela managed 14 points and nine rebounds. John Collins added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

In his return Young was just 4 for 17 from the floor on his way to 14 points and nine assists. He missed all six of his attempts from the arc.

Danillo Gallinari played heavy minutes down the stretch, as he often has when Atlanta is playing catch up. He had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Let’s take a look at some of the action.

The rust Young was dealing with was quite obvious early on:

There is no passing lane there and he just forces the pass anyway. It leads to an easy score for Milwaukee.

Collins continued good work in the post in this game:

He finished the postseason averaging 1.13 points per post possession, which is excellent.

Atlanta continued to have occasional issues on the defensive boards:

As was often the case in the series, the breakdown starts with suboptimal defense at the point of attack which requires the big, Onyeka Okongwu in this case, to provide support at the rim.

His man, Brook Lopez ends up free to rebound.

Gallinari knocks down a long three to help close the gap prior to the end of the first period:

This is a tough shot, however. The Hawks were unable to generate higher value shots by way of dribble penetration. Here Huerter has his path denied and Gallinari just shoots over a set Bucks defense.

Even when Huerter could get past a defender, the Hawks couldn’t reliably find ways to get Brook Lopez away from the rim:

Lopez had a tremendous impact in the series as a rim protector and rebounder.

Reddish gives them a little bit of what the Hawks are accustomed to getting from Young:

He gets the big man switched on to him and confidently knocks down a perimeter shot over him.

Smart play by Huerter on this possession to see PJ Tucker helping on the Collins post:

He centers the ball instead of driving further in the direction of Collins which creates a nice passing lane to Capela for the lay up.

As they often did throughout the series, Atlanta attacked the defense of Bryn Forbes when they had the chance.

Huerter struggled shooting the ball in this game but finds a good shot against Forbes.

He shot 54.5% on pull up two-point field goals in the playoffs.

This might have been the one play where Young looked like his normal self:

Before Holiday can impact him as a dribbler he attacks the middle of the Bucks defense and gets to a lay up.

This defensive breakdown perhaps helped Middleton start heating up:

Bogdanovic helps from the weak side corner (usually a no-no) and trusts Huerter to “x-out” on Middleton but he peels off to Portis who is already accounted for by Collins.

An absolutely beautiful pass from Collins to Capela to set up an easy score:

Collins continues his good work in the post when the Bucks switch smaller defenders on to him:

The Bucks continue pouring it on as Holiday executes a beautiful step-back three:

The Hawks become a bit desperate to create good looks from the three-point line so they run a “stack” set for Gallinari (usually reserved for wings):

Atlanta keeps playing hard despite having just been down by 22 points.

Hawks use a bit of “pistol” action to get Bogdanovic matched up with Lopez in space:

Collins scores in the post again and this times sells the Holiday contact to the refs for the and-one:

When you are trying to catch up by playing Gallinari extra minutes as to take advantage of is shooting, you sometimes pay for it on defense:

You can see Bogdanovic try to cut off Holiday’s attack near the sideline, but when he misses he’s going to need help at the rim.

Atlanta gets a turnover and cuts the lead to six:

Bogdanovic almost blows the transition opportunity but Reddish saves it.

And this is where Young maybe tries to do something he wasn’t capable of doing:

But how many times did we see him come through at this point in close games throughout these playoffs?

The Bucks controlled it from there.

Up Next

Well next for the Hawks, I suppose is the NBA draft which will be held on July 29. They will be selecting 20th. It’s not as exciting as picking in the top half of the lottery, but success comes with a price.

After that, the offseason will officially commence on August 2. Travis Schenk has some important decisions to make not the least of which will be how to handle the restricted free agency of Collins. Young also becomes extension eligible in the new NBA year.

For the Bucks, they will play the first game of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.

My prediction: Suns in 6.

It’s been an eventful and eventually successful season for the Hawks. Young has cemented his status as an emerging superstar in the league with a season capped off by a phenomenal playoff run.

Atlanta is just getting started. Next season should be quite fun as well.