Thirty-nine seconds remained. Milwaukee’s lead was nine points, about to reach 11, and here Nate McMillan did the nicest thing. He pulled the players who’d spent the fourth quarter trying their best to override another huge deficit, the players who’d cut a 22-point in half, but now this epic postseason run was at its end, and he wanted them to have a curtain call.

The Hawks’ interim coach pulled Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, John Collins, Cam Reddish – yes, Cam Reddish – and last but in no way least, Trae Young. They’d taken this team and this city somewhere it had never been – two games from the Eastern Conference title, two games from the NBA Finals. They’d fallen short at the end, but if you’re searching for the team that stands tallest in the annals of the Atlanta-era Hawks, it could well be this one, which as of March 1 was 14-20.

These Hawks beat New York, the No. 4 seed. They stunned Philadelphia, the No. 1 seed, in a Game 7 on the road. They were tied with Milwaukee, the No. 3 seed, after four games, and no one was sure the great Giannis Antetokounmpo would play again in this series. No one was sure that Young would, either, but after missing games 4 and 5 he declared himself ready for Saturday’s Game 6, though he clearly wasn’t.

Young missed 13 of 17 shots. He missed all six of his 3-point tries. He made five turnovers. He still managed 14 points and nine assists, but in the final three minutes he missed a trey, missed on two drives and missed a free throw.

“The message tonight was no regrets,” interim coach Nate McMillan said. “We said we’d leave everything on the floor. That’s what Trae did tonight. He was gassed. He was breathing hard. So was Cam. … He hadn’t done anything on the floor (since suffering a bone bruise on his foot in Game 3). He didn’t do anything (in morning shootaround Saturday) except the tests they put him through. The effort he gave was better than I expected.”

The Hawks can’t say that the better team didn’t prevail. The Bucks won games 5 and 6 without Antetokounmpo and – pause for emphasis – never trailed in either game. (Fun fact: The last lead change of the six-game series came with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter of Game 3.) Milwaukee started fast again Saturday, and in some ways the absence of their best player enabled them to spread the floor and choose their avenues of attack. The Hawks missed 24 of their first 34 shots and dug a hole that even they couldn’t escape. They won 118-107 after leading by 24 points.

Said McMillan: “That team was on a mission. They’ve been on a mission the last couple of years.”

Full credit to the Bucks. Full credit to these Hawks, too. “They talked about shocking the NBA,” McMillan said. “They shocked the NBA.”

Said Collins, the only Hawk who made more than half his first-half shots: “I felt we had a real chance of holding up that Larry O’Brien trophy (which goes to the NBA champs). I can tell you that I’m proud of this group and the way we competed and battled.”

The Bucks took control at the end of the third quarter. Reddish, playing only his third game under McMillan, kept them semi-close, scoring 21 points on 12 shots. “I see a lot of Paul George in Cam,” McMillan said, referring to the Clippers’ star.

“That’s an honor,” Reddish said. “Thank you, coach, if you’re listening.”

Some endings arrive with a thud. This one saw these young Hawks collapse into a featherbed, dreaming sweet dreams of what’s in store for this fully rebuilt team. Said Collins: “We’re not done yet. This is one of the first steppingstones.”

McMillan: “I challenged those to be better, to do better, to work together – and they did. What they did this season, luck wasn’t involved. The effort was there every single night. They played themselves into the Eastern Conference final.”

As for Young’s postseason incandescence, McMillan said. “I told him this wasn’t a fluke. This wasn’t luck. He’s built for this time of year, and did something special here.”

Just as nobody saw these Hawks coming, nobody will soon forget these 18 playoff games. For one of the few times over the past three decades, the city of Atlanta took note of its NBA franchise – and loved what it saw. Young stopped being seen as the guy who isn’t Luka Doncic and ascended his own exalted plane. Forget how it ended. (Again, the better team won.) Remember instead how much fun this team was to watch, and how much fun these guys had in introducing themselves to the watching world.

McMillan officially is still an interim head coach, though even the Hawks – who’ve done more than their share of silly things over the years – have never done anything so silly as allow a coach of such grace and skill to walk away. And what were his parting, for the moment, words to this improbable team.

“I thanked them. I thanked them for trusting and believing. None of this would have happened if they hadn’t done all those things.”

Said Young: “I definitely feel like this is the start. This is the beginning.”

It is. We’ve long wondered when, if ever, the Hawks would build a team that’s both entertaining and excellent. We wonder no more. Here it is, and here it should remain for a nice long while.