Nobody expected them to get this far, and they are showing no signs of slowing down…
The Atlanta Hawks find themselves up 1-0 over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals; just three games away from The Finals. 22-year-old phenom Trae Young has shattered expectations in his first-ever NBA postseason, averaging more than 30 points and 10 assists per contest.
This is not how the Eastern Conference playoffs were supposed to go. With a couple of free agency moves and the hiring of head coach Doc Rivers, the Philadelphia 76ers had high hopes this season. They met them in the regular season, locking up the top spot in the East. Acquiring superstar James Harden in a mid-season trade to pair up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets were not only favorites in the East, but to win it all. These were the teams that were supposed to push for an NBA Finals appearance, not the Hawks. Adding star guard Jrue Holiday, the Bucks were always in the mix as well, and so far, they have got the job done. But could the Hawks knock them out too?
The Hawks had a busy off-season, signing several new players via the free agent market; notably Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic. There was optimism around the young, talented group, but there were also concerns: inexperience and defense. Most would consider the Hawks’ 41-31 regular season a success. They finished tied with the New York Knicks – another young, up-and-coming team – and found themselves matched up with the Knicks in the 4-5 first round series.
This was an interesting matchup. Not often are both clubs extremely inexperienced in a playoff series. The Knicks were favored slightly, but the Hawks surprised NBA fans, handling the Knicks seemingly with no trouble. They won the final three games of the series by a combined 42 points, closing it out in five games. It wasn’t that they won that surprised people, it was how easily they won. But surely, the Philadelphia 76ers are a whole different story, right?
Next up, the top team in the conference. This time the Hawks were major underdogs. Young was able to put the team on his back in game one with a 35-point effort, carrying the Hawks to an impressive road win. However, Philadelphia bounced back with consecutive 16-point wins in games two and three to take a 2-1 lead. Late in the second quarter of game four, The Hawks found themselves down 18 and staring at a daunting potential 3-1 series deficit. But Young had other plans. He led the Hawks to a big second half, finishing the game with 18 assists and leading the team to a three-point win to tie the series. Then they did just about the exact same thing again in game five! Down 26, Young led another comeback, dropping 39 points and helping the Hawks take a 3-2 series lead with another three-point win. This team showed some serious resiliency. They would go on to win the series in seven games.
Can they take it one step further?
Behind yet another magnificent performance from Young – this time a 48-point effort – the Hawks have now taken a 1-0 lead over the Bucks in the Conference Finals. They continue to find ways to beat the odds. Can they shock the world and advance to their first NBA Finals since the team moved to Atlanta in 1968? Game two is set to take place Friday night at 8:30 pm ET from Milwaukee.