|Moneyline||-200 / +165|
|Time||8:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Sunday and via BetMGM.|
The Hawks host the Bucks Sunday night in a pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Hawks stole Game 1 in Milwaukee as Trae Young exploded for a game-high 48 points, but the Bucks answered back with a dominant 125 to 91 blowout of Atlanta in Game 2.
Can Young and the Hawks adjust against the Bucks’ more aggressive defense, or will Giannis Antetokounmpo and his shooters regain the series lead?
Bucks Defense on Young is Key
If the Bucks win and cover as short road favorites, they must continue keeping the Hawks out of the paint with their more aggressive drop-scheme defense while their shooters capitalize on open looks.
The Bucks played more aggressively defensively in the Game 2 win as they limited space for Young on his drives. Instead of having Brook Lopez take a deep drop, he met Young closer to the level of the screen on his drops while limiting his ability to get into the paint (and make his deadly floaters). Other Bucks help-defenders stunted in from their men while collapsing potential driving lanes for Young. The Bucks also switched 1-4 defensively to keep Young from turning the corner in pick-and-rolls.
Consequently, Young scored just 15 points while committing a season-high nine turnovers (with just three assists). These turnovers were particularly costly as Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks on the break as they outscored the Hawks in transition 27 to 12.
The Bucks vs. the Hawks through two games is the best QSQ of any team in a series so far, and the Hawks’ QSQ vs. Bucks is ranked 26th of 28, with Nets vs. Bucks 27th.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 26, 2021
The Bucks consistently got better shots than the Hawks, winning the scoring in the paint matchup 62 to 30. Per Second Spectrum, the Bucks’ shot quality has been much higher than the Hawks’, and as long as they can shoot a respectable percentage from beyond the arc (at least 33%), they should have a great chance of winning comfortably.
The Bucks offense will consistently generate quality looks with Antetokounmpo’s nearly unstoppable driving ability collapsing the defense. Players like Lopez, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Bryn Forbes must step up for the Bucks to regain home-court advantage.
Hawks Need More From Supporting Cast
Atlanta’s guards must make shots at a high level while Trae Young gets downhill consistently.
The Hawks scored at will with Young against the Bucks’ deep drop in Game 1, but they failed to adjust when the Bucks played their drop more aggressively in Game 2. They must find a way to beat this scheme and get Young into the lane where he can score and make plays.
Young 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 (345).
This is what the Hawks desperately need more of. I know Bogdan has an injured knee, but he can create off the dribble (so can Huerter), and it'd make life easier for Trae. pic.twitter.com/prjGQl4wxa
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) June 26, 2021
Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter will play key roles in taking the defensive pressure off of Young with their playmaking and scoring. Bogdanovic hasn’t been the same since suffering a knee injury in Game 6 of the previous round as he has scored fewer than nine points in four straight games and remains questionable to play in Game 3.
After scoring 17 and 27 points to finish the series against the 76ers, Huerter has scored just 13 and 8 points in Games 1 and 2 of this round. These two must elevate their play alongside Young for the Hawks to pull the upset. Danilo Gallinari’s shotmaking, John Collins’s hustle plays and Clint Capela’s defense and rebounding will also decide the game.
The Bucks are the better team, and I like the value on them as four-point favorites (with value down to -5.5) on BetMGM. They have gotten better quality shots than the Hawks as Antetokounmpo has a matchup advantage and is less frequently settling for jump shots.
The Bucks figured out a way to limit the Hawks’ potent offense by keeping Young out of the lane, and I don’t trust the Hawks without a healthy Bogdanovic to cover. The Bucks have a much larger margin for error, and I recommend pouncing on them, as this may be the last game of the series where they are favored by five points or fewer.
Pick: Bucks -4 (bet down to -5.5)