Giannis, Bucks get statement win over Hawks in Game 2 to even series

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo drives to the basket during Game 2 in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, the heavily favoured Milwaukee Bucks seemed to underestimate the Atlanta Hawks team that had already dispatched the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in these playoffs. Trae Young went off for 48 points, and the Hawks walked away with a 116–113 win.

Now, after a dominant Game 2, they look merely like the NBA-team equivalent of an MLB hitter who sits on the first pitch to see what the pitcher’s working with.

The Bucks got contributions from up and down their deep lineup Friday night, held Young to a playoff-low 15 points, and won the game going away — 125–91 was the final score after a full quarter of garbage time.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Sloppy Start

Neither team came out putting their best foot forward Friday night. In fact, early on the Bucks seemed to have not learned from some of the lessons they got in Game 1, giving up points off turnovers and showing a lack of urgency on boxouts, which at one point led to this:

Luckily for them, they were making their threes — a ridiculous seven of 12 in the first quarter. They also woke way up by the end of the frame, collecting a total of five offensive boards in the quarter and leading the second-chance points battle (despite that Collins dunk).

The Hawks, meanwhile, started ice cold. They made just one field goal in the first six minutes of the frame, and took just seven shots from the floor in total in that stretch thanks in part to turnover issues of their own.

They caught fire for a few minutes and ended up down just six points at the break, but that was as close to a victory as they’d get.

Game of Runs

Halfway through the second quarter, it was 51–40 Bucks. Then the game essentially ended on a 26-5 Milwaukee run that at one point included 20 straight for the home team.

Even better than the scoring burst was how they got it — namely, without climbing onto Giannis’s back. Antetokounmpo had been dominant early, putting up 15 of those first 51 on a steady diet of shots at the rim. But he had just two points in the second-quarter run — and he got them on free throws.

Holiday, meanwhile, scored 14 of them. And he got them in all sorts of ways — getting to the line, catch-and-shoot threes, leaking out and cherry picking easy layups, you name it.

He finished with 22, and at this point it feels safe to say his offence has rebounded from his shaky performance against the Nets in Round 2.

Giannis still led the Bucks with 25 points, all of them coming in the paint or at the line (though he did take and miss three threes, drawing the ire of TNT broadcaster and NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller). But he got significant help from fellow starters Holiday, Brook Lopez (16 points) and Khris Middleton (15 points), and bench scoring from Bobby Portis (8 points), Pat Connaughton (three of three from three-point land) and Bryn Forbes (two more threes).

That scoring depth was a significant advantage for this team leading into the series that didn’t show up in Game 1, but has leading into Game 3.

Silver Mining in Atlanta

Back to Young for a second: Much was made of not just the 48-point explosion from Game 1, but also the shoulder shimmy before one of his many three-pointers on the evening:

On Friday, as you would expect, the Bucks threw everything at him. And it worked.

Young didn’t shoot the ball well en route to his 15 points — one for eight from three-point land — but more troubling was the fact that he committed more turnovers (nine) than he did in Game 1 (six) while taking just three free throws.

That said, when Young went off for 48 he was just a single game removed from a 5-for-23 performance against the 76ers. So it’s not like he hasn’t very recently shown a capacity to bounce back and/or rise to the moment. This team prides itself on its resiliency and its short memory, and they’ll need all of it in Game 3.

In terms of other silver linings, Cam Reddish returned to the floor for the first time since Feb. 21, which is huge considering De’Andre Hunter is out and Bogdan Bogdanovic still doesn’t look like himself. Reddish scored 11 points in 17 minutes, and will no doubt receive a warm welcome from the home crowd next game.

And here’s the biggest one: They’ve still got home-court advantage. They’re losing this series 238–207 on aggregate, but they’re tied 1–1. And as we saw in Game 1, their leader is capable of offensive explosions that few in the NBA can rival.

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