The Atlanta Hawks were rudely snapped back to reality by the Milwaukee Bucks with a 125-91 drubbing in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals to knot the series at 1-1.
After scoring 48 points in Atlanta’s three-point Game 1 win, Trae Young was held to just 15 on six of 16 shooting and he turned the ball over nine times. Jrue Holiday once again drew the assignment of covering Young and he persistently hounded him from the moment he received the ball in the back court.
Milwaukee was focused and relentless from the opening tip while the Hawks gradually lost their usual swagger as the match progressed. It was only a matter of time before the Bucks’ stampede did them in and it eventually came midway through the second quarter.
Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton steadily built the Bucks’ lead to 14 points, 49-35, with over seven minutes left in the first half, though the Hawks refused to lay down. A minute later, a long two pointer from Young, who was stepping on the three point line, brought Atlanta within 11, 51-40.
Atlanta did not want to quit, but Milwaukee made it inevitable.
They turned it up by a notch, grabbing five steals in a span of less than three minutes, and their suffocating defense translated into easy baskets. The Hawks were suddenly lost, with seemingly every pass intercepted and shot contested. Milwaukee capitalized on Atlanta’s errors and eagerly ran up the score on their side of the floor.
By the next time the Hawks recorded a point–a John Collins jumper almost five minutes later–they were already down by 29, 71-42. The Bucks unleashed a devastating 18-0 run over a five minute stretch where they overwhelmingly looked like the best team, not just on the court, but among the four remaining ones in this postseason.
Milwaukee’s lead grew to 32 by halftime and the game felt like it was over even before the teams reconvened for the second half. Neither of their starters played in the fourth quarter and the reserves of both rosters were given an extended look to end the evening.
One of the most notable changes in Game 2 came from Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer who made slight yet effective adjustments to his team’s pick and roll strategy after Young torched them in Game 1.
The Bucks, except for starting center Brook Lopez, purposely switched on to Young which left Atlanta’s star guard with not much room to hoist a three pointer or even make a coherent play. They saw success in the last game when switching in actions involving Young, but utilized it even more in Game 2. Young was met at every corner by one of the Bucks’ lengthy starters who all had their turn to cover him.
Lopez still had to cover Young occasionally, but he stood his ground and kept up with the crafty Hawks guard.
In transition, the closest Buck immediately sped towards Young and nagged him as he tried to zoom across the court to delay their attack.
With Milwaukee’s defense focused on slowing down Young, Atlanta could not establish a rhythm. The Hawks rushed attempts early in the shot clock which gave way to fastbreak opportunities for the Bucks.
Atlanta sorely missed the playmaking of Bogdan Bogdanovic early on after he picked up a pair of quick fouls over the game’s first two minutes. Bogdanovic, who was questionable for Game 2 due to lingering knee soreness from an injury he suffered in the previous round, then sat out until the beginning of the second quarter.
The Hawks were just trailing by a manageable six points after one quarter of play and Bogdanovic picked up five quick points plus an assist when he returned to the court. However, he was visibly still bothered by his knee and did not do much after that initial burst of productivity.
Bogdanovic managed to play just 18 minutes, finishing with eight points with four assists, while his fellow wingman Kevin Huerter also had just eight points after three consecutive solid outings. The Hawks will need more from these two offensively if they are to remain competitive in this series.
Young may be one of the most talented guards in the league today, but the Bucks have some of the league’s best defenders today in Holiday, Antetokounmpo, and PJ Tucker along with Lopez and Middleton who can also carry their own weight on that end of the court. Even Kevin Durant, one of the greatest offensive forces in league history, could not score his way past this Bucks team in the second round.
Bogdanovic and Huerter will have to shoulder more of the offensive load, both scoring and facilitating, which will then open up the floor for Young. When at least two of these three are clicking on the court, it compounds and frees up John Collins and Clint Capela to operate inside. Their sloppy turnovers in the second quarter were fatal in Game 2 yet can be easily addressed with a couple of tactical tweets for the next contest.
The series is far from over and will now head to Atlanta where the Hawks will host the next two games. The Bucks flashed the full strength of their horns in Game 2, but these upstart Hawks proved in the prior round that it’ll take more than a blowout loss to deter their spirits.