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.”
Bucks 118, Hawks 107 (box score)
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.