Capela makes presence felt, fights for key rebounds in Game 1

Atlanta Hawks' Clint Capela and Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo go after a loose ball during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals game Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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Atlanta Hawks' Clint Capela and Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo go after a loose ball during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals game Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Credit: Morry Gash

Credit: Morry Gash

For the third straight game, the Hawks were down by four with around two minutes left.

ExploreHawks' Collins comes up big too against Bucks

In Game 6 against Philadelphia, they struggled to finish the game and lost at home to set up a Game 7. In the series finale against the Sixers, Kevin Huerter continued to stay hot and the Hawks found a way to close out the series.

Wednesday night in Game 1 against Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo slammed home a dunk to give the Bucks a 4-point lead with 2:08 remaining. Trae Young took the inbounds pass and dribbled across halfcourt, where he launched up his 13th 3-pointer of the night and it missed.

John Collins picked up the offensive rebound and dished the ball to Solomon Hill who tried to make it a two-point game, but to no avail. Clint Capela wrestled the rebound down and kicked it out to Collins in the corner.

Collins buried the three to make it a one-point deficit with 1:39 in the fourth quarter.

Milwaukee pushed the tempo, Huerter blocked a Jrue Holiday jump-shot attempt and Capela rebounded the ball. The teams exchanged missed opportunities to grow or retake the lead, until Capela followed his own missed shot with Antetokounmpo and another towering Bucks defender breathing down his neck.

Capela got the rebound and put the shot back up to give the Hawks the lead, which they would hold onto for the remaining 29 seconds to clinch Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I knew I had to go back up hard,” Capela said of his go-ahead basket. “They have two trees on their team trying to block the shot, so I know I have to go up pretty hard. I was able to just do that.”

The confidence and aggression of Capela, who finished with 12 points and 19 rebounds, wasn’t there from the opening tipoff. Truly it was the opposite, as the Bucks scored 42 first-half points in the paint.

Whether it was two-time MVP Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez or any of the other players wearing green and white, the Hawks quickly realized they had an issue with the boards. Not only were the Bucks scoring with ease, they were getting extra possessions via the offensive rebound.

“(The Bucks) are an elite offensive rebounding team and that is a major key for us, to rebound the basketball,” Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan said. “Their guards get in there and fight for those extra opportunities. The bigs are tapping it out for extra possessions. We have to figure out how to do a better job on the boards.”

The Hawks ended up out-rebounding the Bucks 58-50, but both teams finished with 12 offensive rebounds.

Hawks 116, Bucks 113 (box score)

So what changed for the Hawks in the second half?

“We knew in the first half that they were scoring a lot in the paint so we had to do a better job because this team really puts pressure every single time,” Capela said. “A lot of guys will be aggressive, but we have to be really smart and play the right way. We had to make it tougher for them so they didn’t get any second-chance rebounds.”

The Hawks outrebounded the home team 33-24 in the second half on the way to a third straight series-opening road win.

None of the 58 rebounds may have been more crucial than the two from Capela in the last minute.

“The most frustrating part of this game was the offensive rebounds,” Antetokounmpo said. “They had two or three offensive rebounds back to back and they got a 3 out of it. They got the game-winning bucket out of it, Clint Capela. That’s the most frustrating part.”

Outside of the playoff career-high 19 rebounds, Capela also largely kept Antetokounmpo in check while finding ways to balance out Young’s historic night.

It’s those types of “gritty” performances that will keep the Hawks afloat as their playoff run continues.

“Capela left the Philadelphia series guarding (the 76ers’ Joel) Embiid and tonight he had Giannis,” McMillan said. “We believe in him. He’s been the anchor to our defense, both guarding the ball, help defense, rebounding the basketball, setting screens, freeing up the ball. He’s such a big part of this team and how we try to attack.”

Hawks-Bucks series

Game 1: Hawks 116, Bucks 113

Game 2, Friday, June 25: Hawks at Bucks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 3, Sunday, June 27: Bucks at Hawks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 4, Tuesday, June 29: Bucks at Hawks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 5*, Thursday, July 1: Hawks at Bucks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 6*, Saturday, July 3: Bucks at Hawks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 7*, Monday, July 5: Hawks at Bucks, 8:30 p.m., TNT

* — If necessary