Bucks 125, Hawks 91 (box score)
The Bucks will be tougher. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a wonder. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are effective complements. Brook Lopez can shoot the 3-pointer and offer interior heft. Bobby Portis has been excellent against the Hawks, though Budenholzer chose not to use him in games 5, 6 and 7 against the Nets. Plus there’s Bud himself, who doesn’t miss much. He was on the cutting edge of the NBA’s move to pace-and-space, and he demanded that his Hawks defend with the same vigor that they paced/spaced. Oh, and he’s the best in the business at calling plays out of timeouts.
(He also has – this is not a misprint – eight assistant coaches. With Nate McMillan’s promotion to interim head coach, the poor Hawks are making do with four.)
Forget Friday’s Game 2, which the Hawks lost by 34 points after trailing by 41. The Bucks themselves lost Game 2 against Brooklyn by 41 after trailing by 49; they then won four of the next five games. The NBA has a history of such red herrings. The Lakers lost Game 1 of the Finals in Boston Garden on Memorial Day 1985 by 34; five games later, they were champs.
The belief remains that these Hawks will win the series, but the Bucks are less prone to buckling than the Knicks and Sixers. It’s possible to beat a Bud team – LeBron’s Cavaliers went 8-0 against his Hawks in consecutive playoffs – but Bud’s men aren’t apt to beat themselves.
Almost the first words uttered by McMillian after Game 2 were: “You’re playing for a trip to the Finals. They showed us there’s another level that we have to play at in order to advance.”
Then: “They picked up their pressure. They played with a sense of urgency.”
In Game 2, the Bucks challenged Young. They didn’t stand around and watch him hoist unencumbered floaters. They made him shoot over Antetokounmpo or Lopez, which introduced a degree of difficulty. They engaged him sooner, which contributed to his nine turnovers. The Knicks and Sixers were so afraid of fouling him – or of him coaxing a foul – that they let him go wherever he pleased. The Bucks did the same in Game 1 and saw him score 48 points.
It could be that Young is too smart to be stopped by any defense for long, but Bud’s Bucks showed in Game 2 what a spirited pass rush shows every given Sunday in the NFL: No quarterback is quite the same under pressure. We’ll see in Game 3 and beyond if that pressure can be sustained. If not, Hawks win.