Defeating the Milwaukee Bucks was always going to be a difficult proposition. Led by their trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday, the Bucks had far more talent that the Atlanta Hawks and their electric leader: Trae Young.
That didn’t bother Atlanta though, as they stormed to a surprise upset in Game 1, a 116-113 victory that saw Young put on a masterclass with 48 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists on 17 of 34 shooting. He was also helped by a 23 points and 15 rebounds double-double from John Collins and a monstrous 12 points and 19 rebounds from Clint Capela.
That first game also gave us a signature highlight for Young, his pre-three shimmy.
They even managed to win Game 4 without Young, who hurt his ankle by stepping on a referee’s foot in Game 3. Even though the Bucks lost Giannis in Game 4, they still had the better talent on paper, but that didn’t stop Atlanta from walking away with a 110-88 blowout.
Things didn’t pan out in the Game 5 or Game 6, though, as Milwaukee’s superior depth ended up being too much to overcome, especially since both Middleton and Holiday found their footing and produced consistently over the last two matches of the series.
Losing the series is rough, but the Hawks have no reason to hang their heads in shame. You could argue that they weren’t supposed to even make it past the second round, where they were matched up against the first-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
In that series, the difference in overall talent was just as extreme.
While Joel Embiid was hampered in the series with a minor tear in his meniscus, the giant man still averaged 37.4 minutes per game and was averaging 30.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game. That kind of Herculean effort was matched by Seth Curry’s 21 points per game and Tobias Harris’ 19.4 points per game.
The Sixers should and could have won that series, but they didn’t, because the Hawks embraced a ‘never say die’ attitude that allowed them to come back from 18 and 26-point deficits in Game 4 and 5 to take the series lead. Atlanta squeaked by in that series 4-3 and also exposed to the world just how horrible Ben Simmons’ offense is.
The attitude of trust amongst their squad, and the almost irrational self-belief of Young, helped Atlanta win all of their Game 1s in the postseason, and none of those were at home. Young’s clearly embraced the role of villain, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
You could say that the Hawks over-performed, but I’d disagree. I think that they’ve just showed the world what confidence, good coaching, and one electric superstar can do. Now, with the offseason looming, I wouldn’t be surprised if some aging but talented veterans decide to hop on the Atlanta train to try to chase rings.
The Hawks have some time to figure things out, too, considering that their core players of Trae Young, John Collins, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela are all 27 or younger. Bogdan Bogdanovic, one of their key signings and their second-leading scorer in the playoffs, is also still only 28.
They lost to more talented team, but this Hawks squad will be back. Having tasted so much success in his first playoffs, you can be doubly sure that Young and his teammates will be working even harder in the offseason to elevate their games.