With the return of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from injuries that kept them out of the bubble, plus the acquisition of James Harden, the stage was set for a potential coronation of Brooklyn when it was all said and done. Unfortunately for the Nets, injuries played a big part in their earlier-than-expected postseason exit, and now the Bucks are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals on a quest to capture their first NBA championship since 1971.
At the forefront of this conquest is two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who, despite being starved of postseason success, decided to commit long-term to a small market franchise last summer. It is hard to root against Giannis, a superstar who came over from Europe and worked his way to NBA success while facing adversity that not many of today’s superstars have faced. Whether you like his style of play or not, one cannot fail to recognize his immense talent and the hard work he put into being able to lead his team to its most successful years to date.
If your team is no longer in the playoffs at this point, you are probably rooting for Giannis and the Bucks to finally get over the hump and claim their first-ever championship as a unit. Apparently, in doing so, you would be on the same camp as Nets superstar Kevin Durant as the two-time Finals MVP had some succinct but encouraging words for the Greek Freak after the series ended in Game 7 to remember.
KD is spot on. Giannis should not take this opportunity for granted as they prepare for their matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the two supposed threats to the Bucks’ chances to get to the Finals have been eliminated. But two teams have already managed to underestimate the Hawks in these playoffs and they paid the heavy price for it.
Atlanta started the season in a slump but has managed to pick up the pace in the last three months and has started to look like one of the best teams in the league. They may not be as stacked on paper, but they have a dynamic young guard in Trae Young plus elite-level role players around him. The Hawks also play with poise, and when things are starting to get out of hand, veterans Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Clint Capela are always there to provide some stability. Talent can surely get you this far, but composure when executing down the stretch is what gets you over the hump. Despite the Bucks beating the Nets, it appears to me that Atlanta has the edge over Milwaukee in late-game execution.
As the series kicks off, the matchup we ought to watch out for is the one that happens on the sidelines as the only way this series does not turn out to be one of the most exciting ones we have seen in recent memory is if Nate McMillan absolutely outclasses Mike Budenholzer. Coach Bud has been known to be great in the regular season, but there are some questions about his ability to make the right adjustments and calls down the stretch, whereas McMillan has proven to be a wizard in the way he has neutralized some key players on both the Knicks and Sixers.
Can he do the same against the Bucks' three main scorers? Or will Budenholzer be able to get over the hump himself and finally make his first coaching appearance in the NBA Finals?
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