Hawks' Upstart Season Ends in the Eastern Conference Finals
KL Chouinard @KLChouinard
The Hawks' 2020-21 season finale ended up being a microcosm of the whole season: They fell behind early, injuries nagged along the way, and then they staged a stirring rally that left them just short of their goal.
The Milwaukee Bucks stifled the Hawks' late Game 6 comeback attempt to win the game, 118-107, and the Eastern Conference Finals, 4 games to 2. They now advance to the NBA Finals to face the Phoenix Suns.
Trae Young returned to the playoffs after missing two games with a bone bruise in his right foot. He finished with 14 points and 9 assists as he fought through pain and tried to direct the offense without the burst of his first step or the crispness of his outside shot.
"For me," Trae said, "not being able to be out there for my team for two games, and then tonight just wanting to battle and try to fight through it as much as I could and try to be out there for my team, it's definitely frustrating not being healthy and not being able to give my full 100 percent."
The Bucks were led by Khris Middleton (32 points, 7 assists) and Jrue Holiday (27 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds, 4 steals). Pat Connaughton hit a three-point shot on the first possession of the fourth quarter to give the Bucks a 22-point lead. But the Hawks struck back behind Cam Reddish (21 points, 6-of-7 threes) and John Collins (13 points, 11 rebounds), eventually cutting the deficit to 6 points when Reddish found Clint Capela with an outlet pass for a dunk with 3:41 left in the game. From there, the Hawks kept scoring, but Bucks answered with scores of their own at every turn.
Collins appreciated the comeback attempt in the face of adversity.
"I think it speaks a lot about our team and the way we've been able to handle these playoffs given the shortcomings we've all faced this year."
Reddish, in particular, continued to spark the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals after missing the previous four months due to injury.
"I see a lot of Paul George in Cam: his length, his ability to defend, working on his offensive game," Nate McMillan said afterward. "Tonight he shot the ball well, shooting the three, as well as putting the ball on the floor getting to the basket. The makeup is really similar. He showed that he has a lot of potential."
Considering that McMillan coached Paul George in Indiana for four seasons, that was not idle praise.
In the end, the Hawks didn't have quite enough. They didn't have enough healthy bodies on the perimeter to slow the scoring and playmaking of Middleton and Holiday. They didn't have enough dribble penetration to make offensive plays headed to the rim after Trae sustained his bone bruise. The Hawks fought and tried, but the Bucks proved to be the healthier, more experienced team.
In defeat, the Hawks vowed to use the experience to help them return to the latter rounds of the playoffs. As Trae left the court, he pointed at the floor and said as much to the crowd at State Farm Arena.
"I feel like we'll be back, and I meant that with my whole heart."
Bogdan Bogdanovic echoed that sentiment, but noted that these Hawks may have benefitted from their newness to the playoff scene and the associated lack of expectations.
"The first time you do it, it's kind of easier, a little bit. It's going to be harder, and we're going to be ready for it."
Stat of the Game:
For the playoffs, Trae averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists per game. He became the second player in NBA history – LeBron James in 2017-18 was the first – to average 28+ points and 9+ assists in a postseason with at least 15 games played.
Highlight of the game:
In the middle of the fourth quarter, John Collins made a turnaround jumper and drew a foul for a three-point play that cut the lead to ten and energized the comeback attempt.
Cam Reddish shot 6-for-7 from three. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Reddish's six three-pointers is the most by a Hawks player off the bench in a postseason game in franchise history. He is also the fourth-youngest player with six or more threes in a playoff game. The only younger players to achieve the feat were LeBron James, Lugentz Dort, and Kobe Bryant.