The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on July 3, which was held in Atlanta. The Bucks advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, where they will face the Phoenix Suns.
Game 6 was a must win for the Hawks as the Bucks held a 3-2 lead in the series. Star players from both teams, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hawks goaltender Trae Young, suffered injuries during the series, a recurring theme with renowned players these playoffs. With Antetokounmpo out again for Game 6, the Hawks had the opportunity to extend the series to seven games with Young. return to the action of a bone contusion. However, the chips didn’t fall on their way to Atlanta, and the Bucks defeated the Hawks 118-107.
The Bucks drove a 7-0 run early to start the game and held onto the lead for the remainder of the game. Almost every time the Hawks made a push, the Bucks would stop it by scoring another basket. The Hawks had missed 15 of their last 18 shots in the seventh minute of the second quarter. Despite the Hawks’ poor performance in the first half, shooting 30 percent from the field, they were sort of still in the game, just four behind at intermission.
All-star forward Khris Middleton led the Bucks out of halftime and was instrumental in the team’s efforts to move forward. Middleton finished with 32 points, including 23 in the third quarter. With 27 points from Jrue Holiday, the Bucks had a 19-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
Hawks forward Cam Reddish, who has missed most of the season due to injury, helped minimize the team’s deficit by coming off the bench and knocking out six three-pointers in seven attempts, ending the game with 21 points. The Hawks made a late push and reduced the Bucks’ lead to six with about four minutes to go in the final quarter, but that wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.
Young looked unlike himself, shooting 4 of 17 from the field and finishing with 14 points, compared to his 28.8 points per game average in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Throughout the game, he was clear that Young was facing his injury, as he later noted in his post-match press conference; Still, Young still managed to play 35 minutes in hopes of saving the season.
“It’s really frustrating not being healthy and not being able to give my full 100%,” Young said.
Despite the result, the Hawks more than exceeded expectations for the regular season and the playoffs. The team have faced a lot of adversity and change throughout the year, including Nate McMillan as interim head coach after the team started 14-20 and fired former head coach Lloyd Pierce. Since March 1, the Hawks have amassed a 37-18 record, recording the most wins in the Eastern Conference during that time.
McMillan was proud of the squad for their resilience and fighting through a tough season both on the sidelines and on the pitch.
“They’ve shown a lot of growth and they’ve definitely improved over the season,” said McMillan. “I’ve never had to question their efforts this season.”
A team with a strong, young core had a lot of good pieces, but some of the players knew they lacked playoff experience. Gathering crucial experience over a deep playoff series, many predict the young team will be in an even better position for seasons to come.