Hawks vs. Bucks Game 1 Odds
|Moneyline||+225 / -330|
|Time||8:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Wednesday and via PointsBet|
The Milwaukee Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night for the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals in the series we all expected. The Bucks upset the Nets in overtime of Game 7 to advance while the Hawks also upset the 76ers on the road in Game 7.
The Eastern Conference Finals also include other storylines like the Bogdan Bogdanovic bowl, Mike Budenholzer’s return to Atlanta, and the Tony Snell revenge series.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo won consecutive MVP awards, this is the first time the Bucks have reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Will he and Budenholzer take a huge step forward and advance to their first NBA Finals, or will Trae Young and Nate McMillan continue leading the Hawks on their Cinderella run?
If the Hawks cover or win outright as road underdogs, their guards must make shots at a high level while Trae Young operates as the best player on the court. Cam Reddish (Achilles) missed the entire 76ers series but is questionable to play Wednesday while Kevin Huerter (ankle) is probable. Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee) will be a game-time decision.
While Jrue Holiday is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, he is better against stronger and sturdier guards than he is against quick and elusive ones, so Young must capitalize on his speed to get downhill as much as possible. While Brook Lopez and the Bucks play the NBA’s best drop-scheme defense, it’s still a drop, and Young should have opportunities to score from the midrange on floaters.
Young both scored the most points on floaters (his 332 points on floaters were 106 more than second-place Richaun Holmes) and took the most floaters in the NBA this season (he took 345 total floaters while the second and third-leading floater scorers, Holmes and Luka Doncic, combined to shoot 347 total floaters). He must convert these looks at an efficient rate if Lopez is on the court while continuing to make threes with his seemingly unlimited shooting range.
Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter will also play key roles in this series as playmakers and scorers who can get quality looks from beyond the arc when they are alongside Young. Bogdanovic was nearly acquired in the offseason by the Bucks for his coveted shooting, but the deal fell through for a variety of reasons, and the Hawks signed him as a free agent instead.
Bogdanovic scored at least 19 points in three of the first four games of the 76ers series, but he struggled in Game 5 then injured his knee in Game 6 as he didn’t score more than seven points in the final three games of that series. His shooting will be key against the Bucks’ elite defense that is designed to limit shots in the paint.
While Bogdanovic wasn’t himself in the final two games of Round 2, Huerter came in clutch for the Hawks as he scored 17 points in Game 6 and 27 points in Game 7. At least two of Young, Bogdanovic, and Huerter will need to play well for the Hawks to be competitive.
The Hawks had success with a bigger lineup against the 76ers as Danilo Gallinari, John Collins, and Clint Capela played well together. Gallinari’s shotmaking, Collins’s hustle plays, and Capela’s screen setting, rebounding, and defense were all big reasons why the Hawks are in the conference finals.
Gallinari will have a tougher time against the Bucks’ defense, but more importantly, playing him will be challenging for the Hawks defensively. The Hawks might have to pick their poison with either Gallinari or Collins on Khris Middleton or force Young to guard Holiday.
The Bucks managed to get past arguably the most talented team in the playoffs during the conference semis, but the Hawks won’t be a cakewalk.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is nearly unguardable when he gets downhill (especially in transition), and while he took too many pull-up jump shots and fadeaways in the first five games against the Nets, he did a better job of being more assertive in their two wins to finish the series.
Antetokounmpo has favorable matchups against Capela and Collins who don’t have the width and strength that Blake Griffin had to keep Antetokounmpo in front of them. If the Hawks can’t effectively build walls to keep Antetokounmpo out of the paint, he should have consistent opportunities to score if he is aggressive.
Middleton will also have favorable matchups as the Hawks’ best wing defender, DeAndre Hunter, is out for the series, and the Hawks’ second-best wing defender, Reddish, is questionable after last playing in February due to an Achilles injury. Middleton should consistently get quality looks to score throughout this series, even if Reddish returns.
Ball movement will be key for the Bucks’ offense to set up open looks on the perimeter. Expect the Bucks to start Pat Connaughton or Bryn Forbes over PJ Tucker in this series as the Hawks don’t have an elite big wing scorer. Playing Tucker off the bench makes sense because the Hawks can’t as easily hide Young defensively on him in the corner while also allowing him to mirror Gallinari’s minutes when he enters off the bench.
Defensively, the Bucks must limit the Hawks’ 3-point shooting with their drop defense. They experimented with more frequent switching in the regular season than they had previously, and this may come in handy to prevent Young from turning the corner on screens to get in-rhythm pull-up 3s or into the paint.
The Bucks must also be aggressive on the boards and utilize their size advantage over the Hawks, and they can best take advantage by getting as many shots in the paint as possible.
While I like the value on the Hawks (they are +8 underdogs FanDuel), Bogdanovic’s injury status concerns me, especially after consecutive poor shooting games to close the 76ers series.
All else equal, the play of Bogdanovic and Middleton will decide this series. It’s an ominous sign that Bogdanovic is listed as a game-time decision, and I lean toward the Bucks in Game 1 with value up to -9.
The Bucks will have too much firepower with Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and their size as the Hawks fight an uphill battle with Bogdanovic less than 100%.
If Bogdanovic plays (I expect him to play) and is effective from beyond the arc, I think there will be some sneaky value on the Hawks to win Game 2 after making some adjustments against Budenholzer’s Bucks while Reddish is more likely to play.
Pick: Bucks -7.5 (bet down to -9)