|Moneyline||+295 / -375|
|Time||Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Friday and via DraftKings|
The Atlanta Hawks’ underdog story continues as the No. 5 seed marches forward on their road to the NBA Finals. If they make it, it will be their first time in the Finals since their franchise moved to Atlanta (from St. Louis) in 1965. Trae Young continues to silence all of his doubters, as they just eliminated top-seeded Philadelphia in a seven-game dogfight of a series.
The Milwaukee Bucks have suffered consecutive, heartbreaking playoff exits in the two previous seasons. After defeating the championship-favorite Brooklyn Nets in their grueling seven-game battle, this team now seems destined to win the championship.
The Hawks, however, have other plans. The gutsy Hawks won Game 1 outright against the Bucks as eight-point underdogs. They have now won Game 1 on the road in each of three series this postseason. Young has done it again with a 48-point performance and several dazzling assists in front of another hostile crowd and shimmied his way to lead the Hawks to an incredible 6-2 road playoff record.
The line for Friday opened up as with the Bucks as 7.5-point favorites and the total at 226.5. Can the Hawks pull off another upset, or will the Bucks bounce back in Game 2?
Hawks & Trae Young are Relentless
This team just does not quit. Every time the Bucks seemed like they were about to pull away, the Hawks would answer back. Credit coach Nate McMillan for coming in mid-season and leading this team to such a dramatic turnaround.
Young has been one of the league’s breakout stars during this playoff run. He has relished in his role as a “villain” and continues to shush opposing crowds, while dominating with his clutch performances. Young was been battling a sore shoulder, and it visibly affected his shooting performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals as he went 5-for-23 (21.7%) from the field, but he looked perfectly fine in Game 1 on Wednesday.
The Bucks could not do anything to stop him. Young continuously abused the Bucks with floaters in the pick-and-roll game when the Bucks ran drop coverage and kept Brook Lopez or Bobby Portis close to the basket. When the Bucks tried go under the screens, Young would hit them with a quick 3-pointer. If the defender stayed with him, he would draw a foul or find Clint Capela or John Collins for an easy basket.
Their big men duo of Collins and Capela need to be applauded for their efforts on crashing the boards and finishing at the rim with all the opportunities that Young presents them. Both came up with very timely offensive rebounds and baskets in the fourth quarter of Game 1.
One major setback for the Hawks has been Bogdan Bogdanovic’s injury status. The Serbian swingman has enjoyed a career season with the Hawks and has been one of their most consistent options on offense. He is their deadliest 3-point shooter, averaging 3.3 3-pointers made per game at 43.8% from behind the arc.
Bogdanovic’s health and availability will be crucial for the Hawks as the Bucks have a tendency to give up the 3-ball rather easily. He has been battling a knee injury and his minutes severely reduced into the low 20’s in Games 5-7 against the 76ers. In Game 1, he only played 27 minutes and continued to struggle, only scoring 4 points off shooting 1-for-6 from the field.
Antetokounmpo Needs More Help From Supporting Cast
Prior to the Game 1 loss, the Bucks won 13 consecutive games at home. This was their first loss at home during the postseason. They have mostly been untouchable at home, boasting a 31-11 record overall this season and postseason combined.
The Bucks shrunk during the waning minutes of Game 1. They squandered away a seven-point lead with four minutes left to go in the game. The Hawks were able to grab five offensive rebounds that led to seven cumulative second-chance points in those last four minutes. The Bucks, typically a strong rebounding team, should be ashamed of themselves after that poor closeout.
To their credit, the Bucks did have some success during the fourth quarter when they put Giannis Antetokounmpo at center in a small-ball lineup, where he would switch onto Young in the pick-and-roll. His length and athleticism caused Young to go cold from the field. It will be interesting to see the Bucks’ gameplan in Game 2, but I anticipate we will be seeing more of the same. This, however, opens up Capela and Collins for more scoring opportunities down low.
I think the Bucks’ over-utilization of their stars has caused the players to get fatigued towards the end of the game. When the Hawks made their final push, the Bucks’ players were gassed and had no answer. Due to their lack of depth, the Bucks’ stars have had to play extra minutes during Game 1, and in the series against the Nets. Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have all averaged more than 40+ minutes since the beginning of the Eastern Conference semifinals, with all three logging more than 40 minutes in Game 1.
Holiday has struggled mightily this postseason on offense. Prior to Game 1, he averaged 15.2 points per game and shot on 39.8% from the field during the playoffs. In Game 1, he finally broke out and erupted for 33 points off 14-for-25 shooting from the field; however, he was supposed to be the primary defender on Young, and we all saw how that turned out. Even when Holiday tried to be more physical with Young, the elusive Young would always seem to find the perfect pass to the open man. Expect Holiday to redeem his defensive performance in Game 2.
Their bench has been nonexistent. Pat Connaughton came in and was cold from the field and did nothing on the defensive end to stop Young. P.J. Tucker has not been as effective since the Hawks do not have a player like Kevin Durant to guard, so I wonder if Coach Mike Budenholzer will move him back to the bench and opt for more offense with either Connaughton or Bryn Forbes. Forbes hit a couple of baskets in Game 1 that could give him more confidence.
I liked what I saw from Holiday in Game 1 on offense, and I expect him to show a better defensive effort after getting torched by Young. I also expect Middleton to have a better shooting performance as he has usually performed well at home. This may be expecting too much, but I think Budenholzer makes some adjustments in Game 2 to have Antetokounmpo switch onto Young more often in a small-ball lineup that was successful in the fourth quarter and to integrate some more Forbes into the lineup for some better shooting.
This game also fits the Zig Zag theory. Favorites of four or more points in Games 2-5 off a playoff series loss are 170-122-7 (58.2%) ATS in history of the SDQL database, which dates back to the 2002-2003 season. This is active on the Bucks who I expect to bounce back strong.
However, I don’t trust this Bucks team to close out in clutch situations, and I think Young and the Hawks are talented and gritty enough to be live in this game or even sneak in for a backdoor cover of such a high spread.
Instead, my pick is on the Bucks to cover the first half spread of -4.5. Milwaukee is 27-12-2 in 1H ATS as home favorites this season, per our Bet Labs tool. They are 4-0-2 in 1H ATS in this spot during this postseason. I think the home favorites take care of business in the first half and would play this up to -5.
Pick: Bucks 1H -4.5 (play up to -5)