When Atlanta trailed Philadelphia 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the 76ers built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, the Hawks were left for dead.
Even before Atlanta superstar guard Trae Young was ruled ‘out’ about an hour before Tuesday’s Game 4 tip, DraftKings had Milwaukee listed as a -2000 favorite to win the series even though it only held a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven set.
On Monday, the Westgate SuperBook went ahead and released (to be clear, there’s no harm in this and it’s a common practice) odds for the NBA Finals, listing the Bucks as favorites over the Suns.
Ah, but the demise of the Atlanta Hawks had been greatly exaggerated. After all, Nate McMillan’s team has already beaten Milwaukee without Young during the regular season. It had also led the Bucks for every second of Game 3 until Bobby Portis gave them their first lead on a bucket with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Even with Young on the sidelines after suffering a foot injury with less than a minute left in the third quarter, the Hawks had extended their lead to seven nearly halfway through the final stanza. Of course, Khris Middleton caught fire and Milwaukee rallied to win Game 3 by a 113-102 count.
Nevertheless, Atlanta was a +900 underdog to overcome a 2-1 deficit and advance to the NBA Finals at DraftKings and other books? That number was downright disrespectful, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday:
Already listed as a seven-point home underdog for Game 4, the line went up to 8.5 or nine at many shops after Young was ruled ‘out.’ The Hawks had no shot, right?
Atlanta raced out to a 10-2 lead quickly. The lead was 13 points by halftime and extended to 25 by the end of the third quarter.
In short, it was a hide-the-children Pimpslap from start to finish. Atlanta never trailed. Sure, Milwaukee made a cute little run to cut the deficit to eight early in the third, but the Hawks responded with a 15-0 run.
During this span, Milwaukee’s two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unfortunately landed awkwardly on a play in the lane. The diagnosis — at least for now — is a hyperextended knee.
If that’s all the damage, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will be thrilled. It didn’t look good, though, and I’d imagine that most of us are fearing The Greek Freak may have suffered ligament damage.
For now, we don’t know and simply hope for the best.
Atlanta coasted to a 110-88 win as a generous underdog, hooking up money-line backers with a payout in the +320 range. I backed the Hawks plus the points and on the money line, but only got the numbers (+240 ML) before Young was ruled out.
Even though Bogdan Bogdanovic couldn’t buy a basket in a 3-of-16 shooting performance in Game 3, I sensed that he was poised for a breakout game last night. Since suffering a knee injury in Game 5 of the Philadelphia series, ‘Bogi’ has simply been gutting it out.
For a four-game stretch that included the first two games of the East finals, he wasn’t getting any lift on his jump shot. ‘Bogi’ was visibly limping at times, but that changed in Game 3. Again, he was still mired in an awful slump, but it was clear on Sunday night that his injury had improved and he had his legs back under him.
Right on cue, Bogdanovic drained a 26-foot trey on Atlanta’s first possession. He stayed aggressive the entire game, finishing with 20 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds. ‘Bogi’ also had a team-best +25 plus/minus number.
When you lose Young, it’s nice to be able plug in a veteran guard like Lou Williams, who ranks 13th among active NBA players in career points scored (15,239) and got his first start in his 87th career postseason game.
Williams responded with a masterful performance, leading six double-figure scorers with 21 points on 7-of-9 field-goal attempts. He had an 8/1 assist-to-turnover ratio, five rebounds and one steal. Williams buried 2-of-3 launches from downtown and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Kevin Huerter produced 15 points, six rebounds, one steal and seven assists without a turnover. Clint Capela added 15 points and seven boards, while Danilo Gallinari finished with 10 points. ‘Galo’ hit a couple of big 3-pointers late in the first quarter.
Cam Reddish, the second-year wing who was playing in just his second game since Feb. 21 due to an Achilles injury, provided a huge spark off the bench. With De’Andre Hunter sidelined for the season with a knee injury, Reddish is Atlanta’s next-best perimeter defender.
The 2019 lottery pick contributed 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot. Most important, Reddish helped put the clamps on Middleton, who made only 6-of-17 FGAs and coughed up four turnovers.
We can’t fail to mention the play of another lottery pick by Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk, rookie center Onyeka Okongwu, who finished with seven points, three boards and one blocked shot in merely 15 minutes of playing time. He made all three of his FGAs and his only FT attempt.
Jrue Holiday paced the Bucks with 19 points and nine assists, but he had four turnovers and made just 6-of-17 FGAs. Middleton had 16 points, eight boards and five assists, while Antetokounmpo finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes of action.
As of late Wednesday morning, there were no injury updates available. You would think we’ll find out the results of an MRI on Antetokounmpo’s knee by later this afternoon or tonight.
After Game 4 last night, McMillan said Young would be game-time decision for Thursday’s Game 5.
According to reporting from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Young did everything he could to play last night, but he just wasn’t able to move well enough without significant pain.
With about four minutes remaining, Capela took an elbow to the eye and went down in pain. He eventually got to his feet and walked off the court to the locker room with a trainer covering his eye with a towel.
According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Capela was examined last night by the team’s ophthalmologist and will be given a follow-up exam today. Bontemps’ sources informed him that the team was optimistic that Capela hadn’t sustained any sort of significant injury.
Nevertheless, the status of both Young and Capela for Game 5 is in question. However, it certainly seems that either or both players have a better chance of being on the court than Antetokounmpo.
As of late Wednesday morning, William Hill and DraftKings had Milwaukee (56-31 straight up, 40-47 against the spread) installed as a 2.5-point favorite for Game 5. DraftKings had been at -4.5 a few hours earlier. Circa had the Bucks at -3. The total was anywhere from 215.5 to 216.5 points, while the Hawks were +120 on the money line.
FanDuel has updated its odds to win the NBA Finals: Phoenix -165, Milwaukee +450, Atlanta +550 and the L.A. Clippers +700.
The Westgate SuperBook has updated its East finals series price, listing the Bucks as -135 favorite with the Hawks as +115 underdogs.
Mike Budenholzer’s squad is 32-11 SU and 22-21 ATS at home this year, while Atlanta (51-37 SU, 49-38-1 ATS) is 22-23 SU and 22-22-1 ATS in 45 road assignments.
The ‘under’ has cashed in three straight games in the series since Game 1 went ‘over.’
Game 5 on Thursday is set for an 8:30 p.m. Eastern tip on TNT.