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NBA Playoffs: 2021 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

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The Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals after surviving their Game 7 battles against the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers respectively.

For the Bucks, they’re one step closer to reaching the promised land that is the NBA Finals. For the Hawks, it means that a young and hungry team is looking to take that next step into becoming one of the top teams in the league.

Here’s a look at the matchups and predictions to see how the Bucks and the Hawks measure up as they head into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Point Guard: Jrue Holiday vs. Trae Young

If there’s one thing that Jrue Holiday and Trae Young have in common is that they are two high-scoring point guards that are not afraid to put up the big baskets. The only difference between Holiday and Young is that Holiday picks his spots on when to hit baskets, while Young tends to have the ball primarily and loves to live and die by three. Another factor that could play into this matchup is the defense.

Milwaukee’s defense has been stalwart throughout the playoffs, which has led to their high scoring. Though Holiday has averaged 1.4 steals per game in the postseason, he slightly edges Young’s 1.2. steals per game. Holiday averages 15.2 points per game, while Young averages 29.1 per game.

It will be a high-scoring showdown between the two point guards, but they will have to leave it all on the court.
Advantage: Atlanta

Shooting Guard: Khris Middleton vs. Bogdan Bogdanovic

Another matchup that will feature scoring, but at a moderate pace compared to the last one sees Khris Middleton looking to-go basket for basket against Bogdan Bogdanovic. Middleton looked unstoppable in the first round series against the Miami Heat, but was touch and go in the second round against the Brooklyn Nets.  Bogdanovic, on the other hand, has been a steady option for the Hawks’ offense.

During the postseason, Middleton averaged 23.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 8 rebounds per game, while Bogdanovic averages 13.8 points and 5 rebounds per game. If the Middleton from the first round series against Miami shows up in the Conference Finals, it will give Milwaukee a slight edge over the Hawks.
Advantage: Milwaukee

Small Forward: P.J. Tucker vs. Kevin Huerter

P.J. Tucker has been nothing but reliable for the Bucks, adding a level of intensity to their physical approach to the game. Throughout the series against the Nets, Tucker has butted heads with Kevin Durant, to the point of frustrating him, despite Durant managing to get buckets. Now, Tucker will have to bring much of that physicality against a rising scorer in Kevin Huerter.

Huerter, who has modeled his game after Dwyane Wade, has been impressive during the Hawks’ playoff run, but more specifically in the second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Huerter put on a 27 point, 7 rebound performance in Game 7 against the Sixers, which was instrumental for getting the Hawks to the next round.

During the postseason, Tucker averaged 4.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while Huerter averaged 11.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Tucker may not be relied upon to make the big baskets for Milwaukee, but doing just enough on the defensive and rebounding departments will help, but against Huerter, that could prove to be a challenge.
Advantage: Atlanta

Power Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. John Collins

Giannis Antetokounmpo has become one of the more prominent players still left in the playoffs. Having led the Bucks through a sweep against the Heat and a grueling seven-game series against the Nets, Giannis’ destiny to reach the Finals looks to be in reach. Standing in the way of that destiny is John Collins, who looks to make his own statement. Offensively, Giannis can handle his own, having averaged 28.8 points per game, along with recording 13.6 rebounds per game in the postseason.

Collins’ numbers in the postseason are nothing to sneeze at, having produced 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Collins will have his work cut out for him against The Greek Freak, but if he’s able to outrebound him, especially when it comes to Giannis’ production at the free-throw line, then he may have a chance. Either way, it will still be a daunting task to overcome a superstar.
Advantage: Milwaukee

Center: Brook Lopez vs. Clint Capela
Both Brook Lopez and Clint Capela are very reliable big men in the paint, whether it’s crashing the boards or contesting shots. Having the duty of getting their hands dirty to pull out the win for their teams, there will be a lot of physicality in the paint. What does separate Lopez from Capela is that Lopez can stretch and spread the floor with his three-point shooting.

In the postseason, Lopez averages 13 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Capela averages 10.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Lopez may have Capela in the points department, but Capela fights for every rebound like it’s his last.
Advantage: Atlanta

The Bucks’ bench, which consists of  Jeff Teague, Bryn Forbes,  Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, and Thansis Antetokounmpo, can spread the floor and space themselves out to get quality looks from the behind the arc. In addition, they fight for every rebound on both ends of the floor and provide some staunch defense. The Hawks’ bench, on the other hand, consists of Lou Williams, Tony Snell, Danilo Gallinari, Kris Dunn, Solomon Hill, and Onyeka Okongwu, a mix of young players and reliable veterans that can turn the tide of the game.

While the Hawks bench is young, they haven’t been tested at this level, the Bucks have a player that has reached the Conference Finals before in Teague, who helped Atlanta reach the round during the 2015 playoffs. That level of experience will come in handy.
Advantage: Milwaukee

Mike Budenholzer, who once served as an assistant head coach for Gregg Popovich since 1996, has modeled his coaching approach to the game after his mentor, which has garnered him much success with Milwaukee. Though he also coached the Hawks from 2013 to 2018, helping them become contenders, which is a testament to how he sees the game, utilizing defense first. Nate McMillan has been coaching since 1998 with the Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder), Portland Trail Blazers, and the Indiana Pacers.

As an interim coach for the Hawks, McMillan picked up where former coach Lloyd Pierce picked up, guiding them to becoming not only a fifth seed, but pulling off surprise victories over the New York Knicks and the Sixers during the playoffs. While both coaches have varying degrees of success, it will be more of a chess match to see who can get that one checkmate to get them that key victory.
Advantage: Even

Milwaukee may be a higher seed than Atlanta, but time and again, the Hawks have proven that even the top seed can fall, though it is rare to see it happen. Will The Greek Freak fulfill his destiny of reaching the NBA Finals? Or will Trae Young freeze the competition?
Prediction: An intense seven-game series

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals starts Wednesday at 8:30pm on TNT.


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