Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said the franchise are awaiting to discover the severity of Giannis Antetokounmpo's injury after the two-time NBA MVP hyperextended his knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks' 110-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks – who levelled the series at 2-2 despite the absence of Trae Young – was compounded by a knee injury to superstar Antetokounmpo on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo (14 points) landed awkwardly on his left leg with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter in Atlanta, where he jumped up to contest an alley-oop from John Collins to Clint Capela, but his knee buckled before hobbling to the locker room.

The third-seeded Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – now face an anxious wait regarding the fitness of their best player heading into Thursday's Game 5 in Milwaukee.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Budenholzer said. "We'll take everything as it comes. We'll evaluate it. We've got a heck of a team, a heck of a roster."

"We'll take everything as it comes," Budenholzer continued. "We have a heck of a team, a heck of a roster. The guys will be ready to compete and play. That's what it's about. We got a Game 5."

Antetokounmpo has been averaging a career-high 29.2 points in the playoffs, along with 13.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

The 'Greek Freak' had averaged 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and a career best-tying 5.9 assists per game in the regular season.

Budenholzer added: "Obviously, Giannis is a big part of our soul, our fibre. I'm sure there is the human element, the concern, the care for him is real."

"It's not good," Bucks veteran P.J. Tucker told reporters. "But this is the Eastern Conference Finals. There is no excuse. It doesn't matter whoever is playing, not playing.

"They've got guys hurt. Everybody is hurt. Everybody is banged up. Everybody is injured. You've got to fight through it.

"It's not good losing anybody on your team. You lose your best player, it stinks."

Milwaukee had shot 50 per cent or better from the field in each of their last two games after not reaching that mark in any of their first 12 playoff games this year. The Bucks had won nine straight playoff games going back to 2018 when making at least half of their shots.

However, the Bucks were just 39.3 per cent from the field as Jrue Holiday (19 points) and Khris Middleton (16 points) were the only other players aside from Antetokounmpo to finish in double-digits.

Holiday's nine assists took his tally to 121 this postseason – the third most in franchise history behind Oscar Robertson (149 in 1974 and 124 in 1971) after eclipsing Sam Cassell (120 in 2001).

"They had a lot of guys play well tonight, for really the whole game," Budenholzer said. "Credit to Atlanta. They played well from the start. They played well coming off the [Trae Young] injury.

"We've got to be better on both ends. Our group will gather. The character of our group will come through. We are going home. It's 2-2. We are going back to Milwaukee."

Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextended left knee in the Milwaukee Bucks' 110-88 Game 4 loss as the Atlanta Hawks levelled the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo (14 points) landed awkwardly on his left leg with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The two-time NBA MVP jumped up to contest an alley-oop from John Collins and Clint Capela, but his knee buckled before hobbling to the locker room, with the Bucks trailing 62-52.

Atlanta – already missing star guard Trae Young due to a bone bruise in his foot – made the most of Antetokounmpo's absence as they levelled the series at 2-2.

Young was ruled out of the clash after suffering the freak injury when he stepped on referee Sean Wright's foot in Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

But the Hawks showed they are more than a one-man team as Lou Williams and Bogdan Bogdanovic starred at home to the third-seeded Bucks.

Williams was efficient with 21 points on seven-for-nine shooting in his first ever playoff start as Bogdanovic added 20 points of his own.

The Hawks took control after outscoring the Bucks 26-16 in the second period and 36-24 in the third quarter.

Milwaukee had shot 50 per cent or better from the field in each of their last two games after not reaching that mark in any of their first 12 playoff games this year. The Bucks had won nine straight playoff games going back to 2018 when making at least half of their shots.

However, the Bucks were just 39.3 per cent from the field as Jrue Holiday (19 points) and Khris Middleton (16 points) were the only other players aside from Antetokounmpo to finish in double-digits.

Holiday's nine assists took his tally to 121 this postseason – the third most behind Oscar Robertson (149 in 1974 and 124 in 1971) after eclipsing Sam Cassell (120 in 2001).

 

Suns at Clippers

The Phoenix Suns have another chance to clinch their spot in the NBA Finals when they visit the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday. Fuelled by Paul George, the Clippers – trailing 3-2 – will look to force a Game 7.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young will miss Tuesday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals due to a right foot bone bruise.

Young hurt his foot in the third quarter of Sunday's 113-102 defeat as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs.

Hawks guard Young suffered the freak injury when he stepped on referee Sean Wright's foot in Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

Young hobbled off and was taken to the locker room to get his injury assessed, but was able to return to the court early in the fourth quarter.

The 22-year-old was able to post 35 points in a losing effort at home to the third-seeded Bucks, who were fuelled by Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Atlanta had been 15-0 this season (regular and playoffs) when Young scored 35-plus points before Sunday as he had a team-high 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting. It was his eighth 30-point game this postseason, second most in a single playoff in team history (Bob Pettit, nine in 1963).

Young began the series last week by scoring 48 points and 11 assists as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

He tied Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James (2007) and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (2001) for the most points scored in a playoff game in NBA history before turning 23 years old.

The 2020 All-Star (22 years and 277 days) also became the second youngest player in league history to record 45-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game, with Luka Doncic (22 years and 98 days) the youngest to do so.

Young's 48 points were also the third most scored in a playoff game in Hawks history, behind only Bob Pettit (50 in 1958) and Dominique Wilkins (50 in 1986).

In Game 2, Young was held to 15 points but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young is questionable for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals as he deals with bone bruising in his right foot.

Young hurt his ankle in the third quarter of Sunday's 113-102 defeat as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs.

Hawks guard Young suffered the freak injury when he stepped on referee Sean Wright's foot in Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

Young hobbled off and was taken to the locker room to get his injury assessed, but was able to return to the court early in the fourth quarter.

The 22-year-old was able to post 35 points in a losing effort at home to the third-seeded Bucks, who were fuelled by Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He began the series last week by scoring 48 points and 11 assists as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young tied Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James (2007) and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (2001) for the most points scored in a playoff game in NBA history before turning 23 years old.

The 2020 All-Star (22 years and 277 days) also became the second youngest player in league history to record 45-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game, with Luka Doncic (22 years and 98 days) the youngest to do so.

Young's 48 points were also the third most scored in a playoff game in Hawks history, behind only Bob Pettit (50 in 1958) and Dominique Wilkins (50 in 1986).

In Game 2, Young was held to 15 points but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

We could soon know who will be fighting it out for the NBA title, with both Conference Finals in danger of being decided emphatically.

The Phoenix Suns have surged into a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, while title favourites the Milwaukee Bucks have recovered from a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to lead 2-1.

The coming week will decide who will face off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and, in this edition of Heat Check, Stats Perform looks at which players are on form heading into the decisive matchups, as well as those who need to step up.


RUNNING HOT

Reggie Jackson - Los Angeles Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard showing no sign of making a return from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past six games, the Clippers need players to improve if they are to save their season.

Los Angeles face an elimination game on Monday in the Western Conference Finals, but they can take heart from what Jackson has done in Leonard's absence.

Jackson has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games, including a 27-point performance in the Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz.

He averaged 20.67 points per game last week, exactly 10 points more than he did in the regular season. The Clippers must have another big effort from him in Game 5.

Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns

Ayton enjoyed one of the defining moments of these playoffs with his game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. He is blossoming into the star center the Suns thought they were getting when Phoenix selected him first overall in 2018.

His dramatic final basket in the second game capped a superb performance in which he produced 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Not content with just one double-double, Ayton produced another in Game 4, putting up 19 points and tallying 22 rebounds.

Over the course of the three matchups last week, Ayton recorded 20.33 points and 15 rebounds per game, both significant increases on his averages of 14.15 points and 10.54 rebounds in the regular season. No wonder Ayton has received such effusive praise from team-mate Chris Paul.

Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks' hopes of upsetting the odds once more against the Bucks hang in the balance with star point guard Trae Young having been diagnosed with a bone bruise, making him questionable for Game 4.

If he is ruled out, it will be a great shame as Young has played phenomenally in the playoffs, including making a superb start to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He began the series last week by scoring an astonishing 48 points as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young was held to 15 in Game 2 but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

GOING COLD...

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Atlanta Hawks

Young's presence is even more important given one of Atlanta's secondary scoring threats is having to fight through a knee injury.

Bogdanovic has continued to battle knee soreness and the impact on his play has been obvious.

He averaged over 16 points a game in the regular season, but has put up only 6.67 so far in this series.

The Hawks may need him to produce more amid the pain to improve their odds of stunning the Bucks.

Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks also haven't quite got the desired production they desire from center Capela.

That may be a slightly unfair statement given that Capela has tallied double-digit rebounds in two of the three games in the series, including a double-double in the Hawks' opening win.

Yet in terms of putting up points, his output has disappointed in comparison with his regular-season numbers. Tallies of 12, two and eight give him a per-game average of 7.33 that is in stark contrast to the 15.17 he delivered in helping the Hawks clinch the fifth seed in the East.

In a series with a Bucks team whose leading lights are firing on all cylinders, that isn't going to cut it.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers competing in a place in their first Finals without Leonard, it is a bad time for George to go cold from deep.

Having made 3.17 threes per game in the regular season, George was off the mark from beyond the arc in three games against the Suns last week.

He made an average of 1.67 threes per game, hitting on one triple in two contests, including the Game 4 loss that has put the Clippers on the brink of elimination.

George simply must rediscover his aim to keep their season alive.

Trae Young hopes to be fit for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals after the Atlanta Hawks star suffered a freak injury in a 113-102 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

The point guard sprained his right ankle late in the third quarter when he stepped on referee Sean Wright's foot in Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

Young hobbled off and was taken to the locker room to get his injury assessed, but was able to return to the court early in the fourth quarter.

The 22-year-old's movement was restricted when he was returned and he will undergo a scan on Monday after doing damage in a game he finished with 35 points - a tally only bettered by Khris Middleton.

Young said following the defeat: "It's sore right now. It's hurting, it's frustrating. It's hurting a little bit and it's sore.

"I got some treatment on it. I'm going to go get some more in the morning. That's all I can do right now, is to get treatment."

Young said he had not spotted official Wright, who was out of bounds when he stepped on him.

"I didn't see him. I guess I’ve got to have eyes in the back of my head now to see who's behind me," he added.

 

Hawks coach Nate McMillan withdrew Young with a minute to go and is unsure if he will be able to call upon such a key man in Game 4 on Tuesday.

"I don't know right now," McMillan said when asked if Young will be fit. "When he returned to the floor, he was obviously limping on that [ankle]. When I subbed for him, we just decided to keep him out."

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds and Middleton put up a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds for the third-seeded Bucks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he witnessed "greatness" after Khris Middleton led the Milwaukee Bucks past the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

While Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds, Middleton fuelled the Bucks with a monster fourth quarter in Sunday's 113-102 NBA playoff victory away to the Hawks.

Middleton scored 20 of his career high-tying 38 points in the final period, singlehandedly outscoring the Hawks (17), to help give the third-seeded Bucks a 2-1 series lead.

After Middleton's big display, which also included 11 rebounds, seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it was the second time ever a Bucks player had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

Bucks superstar and two-time MVP Antetokounmpo hailed Middleton post-game.

"What he did today was unreal," Antetokounmpo said. "He was unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. ... What I saw today was greatness. Simple as that."

"He turned the ball over like two times and after that he was locked in. Like, 'Pass me the ball,' and we gave him the ball. ... We know when to set screens for him, we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment.

"We were like, 'Get the hell out of the way, get him the ball, take us home Khris.' And that's what he did."

Of two-time All-Star Middleton, Antetokounmpo added: "The day you retire is going to be the toughest day of my career.

"He's special for a reason and he showed it tonight."

Middleton said: "I just finally got them to go. I've been struggling some with the ball going in the basket. Finally they started dropping for me at the right time. I'm thankful for that."

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer also lauded Middleton as attention turns to Tuesday's Game 4 in Atlanta.

"Just being around him a lot, he starts to see it go in, he starts to feel good, he gets in a rhythm, he can score different ways.

"He and Giannis in a two-man game, it's a tough choice. So huge fourth quarter. I think he had 20 in the fourth quarter and yeah, just glad he's on our side."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way with dominant double-doubles as the Milwaukee Bucks overpowered the Atlanta Hawks 113-102 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds and Middleton put up a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds to lead the third-seeded Bucks to a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs on Sunday.

The Hawks led 85-83 at the end of the third quarter before Middleton took matters into his own hands in the final period.

Middleton outscored the entire Hawks team in the fourth quarter – 20-17 – as the Bucks used a 30-17 period to seize control of the matchup.

After Middleton's big display, which also included seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it is the second time ever a Bucks player has had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

As for two-time MVP Antetokounmpo, he joined Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with 10-plus 30/10 games in a single postseason since 1963.

Trae Young huffed and puffed with 35 points and four assists, but the fifth-seeded Hawks lost to the Bucks on home court in Atlanta.

Hawks star Young entered the contest with 61 assists across five home games in the 2021 playoffs (12.2 per game). The last player to have 60-plus assists in their first five career home postseason games was Chris Paul in 2008 (67).

 

Clippers at Suns

The Phoenix Suns can clinch a spot in the NBA Finals with victory at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Monday.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dismissed suggestions he should get on with it from the free-throw line after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a series-levelling win over the Atlanta Hawks.

The Eastern Conference Finals could sway on how Giannis performs over the coming games, with the teams now poised at 1-1 following the Bucks' storming 125-91 win on their home court.

The Hawks are reportedly annoyed at NBA officials ignoring Antetokounmpo repeatedly taking longer than the allotted 10 seconds at the line.

It was reported by The Athletic that Antetokounmpo took between 11.5 seconds and 13.3 seconds for each of his eight free-throw attempts in Game 1 against the Hawks.

"Usually I take eight to nine seconds. So it was borderline 10 seconds," Antetokounmpo responded on Friday night.

"When my coaching staff tells me to speed it up I know I'm maybe around 10 and sometimes the referee will talk to me and say, 'You've got to speed it up'.

"Then I make an effort to take it a second or two seconds faster. But my mindset going into this game was to do my routine, get as many dribbles as I can, get my breath and just shoot my shot."

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks made light work of the fifth-seeded Hawks.

 

Antetokounmpo said the key for the Bucks after their 116-113 setback in Game 1 was to take a measured approach into the second clash in the series.

"I was calm, it wasn't the end of the world – if we had lost today I would have been a little bit more nervous," he said.

"I trust my team-mates, trust our habits. I think everybody's on the same page and know what we have to do. We knew we had to come in here and get this game and that's what we did.

"There's got to be some urgency, but you still have to enjoy the fact that we're here. We worked extremely hard to be one of the last four teams standing.

"We're going to try to play good basketball. The way I think about it is I'm going to be doing this for a long time so I've got to enjoy each game."

He relished the home support but added: "Also, there's an enjoyment factor when you're on the road and everyone's booing you and counting... '1, 2, 3, 4...'.

"What I do is enjoy each moment. You never know when it's going to be taken away from you, you can never take it for granted."

Ahead of Sunday's Game 3, Antetokounmpo said the Bucks would keep learning from each performance.

"We've got to focus on ourselves and how can we get better and put ourselves into position to win a game. We've got to keep getting better, each game at a time," he said.

"From Game 1 to Game 2 we've been better, we're happy about that, and hopefully from Game 2 to Game 3 we can get better."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee Bucks trounced the Atlanta Hawks 125-91 to square the Eastern Conference Finals series at 1-1.

After dropping the series opener, the third-seeded Bucks responded by routing the visiting Hawks in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in just 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks eased past the fifth-seeded Hawks in Milwaukee.

The Bucks – ahead 103-63 at the end of three quarters – never trailed against the Hawks, leading by at least 30 points through the second half as both teams rested their starters for the entire fourth period.

In Game 1, Antetokounmpo and Holiday became the first pair of team-mates to each attempt 25-plus field goals and make at least half of them in a playoff game since Kyrie Irving (16-for-29) and LeBron James (15-for-27) did it for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.

While they did not reach those numbers in the second showdown, Antetokounmpo (11-for-18 shooting) and Holiday (nine-for-14 shooting) were heavily involved again as the Bucks bounced back on home court.

Brook Lopez (16 points) and Khris Middleton (15 points) were the only other players to finish in double digits for the Bucks, who blew out the Hawks 43-17 in the second period.

Hawks star Trae Young came into the clash on the back of a 48-point, 11-assist performance in Game 1 but he was unable to replicate those numbers.

Young finished six-for-16 shooting for a team-high 15 points as starters John Collins (11 points), Clint Capela (two points and eight rebounds), Bogdan Bogdanovic (eight points) and Kevin Huerter (eight points) struggled.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers, still missing Kawhi Leonard (knee) can level the Western Conference Final at 2-2 when they host the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 on Saturday.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young believes there is no ceiling for the fifth seeds, who continued their fairytale run after upstaging the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Young fuelled Wednesday's 116-113 win away to the Bucks in Milwaukee, dominating with a game-high 48 points along with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the Hawks drew first blood.

Atlanta's run has been improbable, having sacked their head coach Lloyd Pierce in March at 14-20, before storming into the NBA playoffs under interim Nate McMillan.

The Hawks have eliminated the fourth-ranked New York Knicks and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers en route to their first Conference Final since 2015.

Young shook his head emphatically and responded with a clear "no" when asked if there was any ceiling on this Hawks side.

"I've been getting asked that a lot at the beginning of the season and I told everybody then, 'I didn't believe we had any ceiling, we can go as far as we want to'," Young told the news conference.

"I don't think there is a ceiling unless you put the finals on it. I believe in this team and we all believe in each other.

"It's definitely unique. It's one of my favourite teams I've been a part of it. It's special. It's definitely a unique group."

The Hawks have won Game 1 in all their postseason series and Young insisted there was a high level of belief within the Atlanta group which came from McMillan and the leaders.

"It really just comes from the leaders," he said. "The leaders from Nate down just believe.

"We have a group that believes in each other and is fighting for each other. Anything can happen. Our team believes that."

Young tied LeBron James (2007) and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (2001) for the most points scored in a playoff game in NBA history before turning 23 years old.

The 2020 All-Star (22 years and 277 days) is also the second youngest player in league history to record 45-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game, with Luka Doncic (22 years and 98 days) the youngest to do so.

Young's 48 points are also the third most scored in a playoff game in Hawks history, behind only Bob Pettit (50 in 1958) and Dominique Wilkins (50 in 1986).

"I'm all for the biggest moments," Young said afterwards.

The Atlanta Hawks and their fairytale season continued after Trae Young's monster performance inspired a 116-113 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Seeded fifth in the NBA playoffs in the east, the Hawks – who sacked head coach Lloyd Pierce in March following a 14-20 start to the season – upstaged top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday to reach the Conference Final for the first time since 2015.

The Hawks – amid the second-longest active drought without reaching the NBA Finals (59 straight seasons entering this year) – produced another shock result to tame Giannis Antetokounmpo and the third-seeded Bucks in Wednesday's series opener.

Young put on a show, erupting for a game-high 48 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to lead the high-flying Hawks in Milwaukee midweek.

Entering the contest, All-Star Young had been averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game in the playoffs. No player in NBA history has finished a single postseason averaging 28.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists (minimum 10 games played), according to Stats Perform.

John Collins (23 points and 15 rebounds) and Clint Capela (12 points and 19 rebounds) also contributed double-doubles as the Hawks used a 34-26 third quarter to pull clear of the Bucks away from home.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo and star team-mate Jrue Holiday flexed their muscles for the Bucks, but it was not enough against the Hawks.

Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, while All-Star Holiday finished with 33 points and 10 assists.

Khris Middleton had at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in each of his last two games. The last four players to do that in back-to-back games prior to Middleton (regular season or postseason) were Ron Harper (1994), Scottie Pippen (1991), Clyde Drexler (1989) and Charles Barkley (1986).

However, Middleton was just six-for-23 shooting for 15 points, five rebounds and four assists at home to the Hawks.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Western Conference Finals heads to Staples Center as the reeling Los Angeles Clippers host the red-hot Phoenix Suns, who lead 2-0.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are the last two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference - but who will be going through to the NBA Finals?

While the Bucks survived a deluge of points from Kevin Durant to see off the Brooklyn Nets in a thrilling Game 7, the Hawks caused another upset as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in a tense series decider.

There is little time for either to dwell on the past, however, as they meet in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Bucks have dominated against Atlanta, going 11-2, though a six-game winning streak came to an end on April 25 as they lost 111-104 at home in the regular season.

The Hawks have already knocked out higher seeds in both the New York Knicks and the 76ers, seeing them become just the fifth franchise since 1980 to reach the Conference Finals following a mid-season coaching change. The other four all went on to win the title, too.

Nate McMillan stepped up from his role as assistant to replace Lloyd Pierce following a 14-20 start to the season. He is now just four wins away from steering them to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise moved from St Louis in 1968.

Standing in the way are a Milwaukee roster who have made it this far for a second time in three years – they went 2-0 up on the Toronto Raptors in 2019, only to then lose four on the spin to the eventual champions.

While seeing off the Nets was impressive, Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear in the immediate aftermath that the focus must remain on the bigger picture, saying: "The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we've got to keep our heads in the game."

The Bucks start the series as overwhelming favourites, but the Hawks have shown they have no issues playing the role of dangerous underdogs during a postseason that has already thrown up plenty of surprises.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton 

Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in NBA history to reach 40 points and have 10 or more rebounds in a Game 7, but it was by no means a one-man show in the battle against Brooklyn.

Middleton is averaging 23.3 points per game during the playoffs, a number boosted by scoring 38 in Game 6 against Brooklyn to help get Milwaukee back on level terms. He is also set to be part of the Team USA roster for this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, alongside fellow Buck Jrue Holiday.

Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Huerter

Trae Young is undoubtedly the lead act for Atlanta, but Huerter stole the show in Game 7 in Philadelphia. 'Red Velvet' smoothly managed a team-high 27 points – his best performance in the postseason so far – as he went 10 for 18 shooting.

He had been shut out in Game 5 yet rediscovered his scoring touch when it mattered to help the Hawks progress, raising his postseason average to 11.6 points per outing.

KEY BATTLE – Young v Holiday in PG match-up

Both Young and Holiday had Game 7 outings to forget, despite their respective teams coming out on top. The former finished with 21 points but landed just five of his 23 shot attempts from the field, with two of those successful efforts coming from long range.

Still, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft is averaging 29.1 points per game in these playoffs, making him the focus for the Bucks on defense. Holiday could well be charged with keeping quiet one of the frontrunners to be crowned the MVP of the playoffs.

HEAD TO HEAD

There is nothing to split the teams in terms of playoff meetings – they have each won 11 apiece. The most recent series came in the first round in 2010, with the Hawks coming out on top in Game 7 having at one stage been 3-2 in arrears.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan praised forward Kevin Huerter for his remarkable performance in the side's 103-96 Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Huerter stepped up to score a team-high 27 points, while Trae Young erred with his shooting, as the Hawks booked a spot in the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 22-year-old had struggled for impact in the series but shone in the decider, shooting 10-from-18 from the field, including two three-pointers, with three assists and a steal.

"Kevin came out tonight and was very aggressive," McMillan said.

"We pretty much fed the hot hand. Our guards, Trae and Lou [Williams], did a good job of calling the game and keeping Kevin involved.

"He did a great job of making plays for us tonight. We needed that. He came through. He really struggled last game shooting the ball but we believe in him.

"We wanted those guys to stay aggressive. No hesitation. Tonight he came up big for us."

Young put up his worst display of the series in Game 7, only managing five-from-23 from the field, shooting at 21.7 per cent.

McMillan felt Young still contributed, ending with 10 assists but also hailed a side which does not rely on one player.

"Trusting in other guys and trusting in our game plan," he said. "Trae, we wanted him to be aggressive. His shot wasn’t falling but he got the ball to some other guys and they were able to make some plays.

"Kevin led us tonight. Galo [Daniro Gallinari] did a good job tonight. John Collins continues to be consistent. I thought Clint [Capela] did an outstanding job of guarding Embiid.

"It was a team effort. One guy didn’t shoot the ball well, but other guys we trusted. They came through for us."

The Hawks will take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the Conference finals starting on Wednesday.

"Giannis is a great player, two-time MVP," McMillan said. "We know what Milwaukee is all about, that's a really good team.

"Our focus has been on Philadelphia and right now we'll go enjoy this and we'll start preparing for Milwaukee tomorrow."

Doc Rivers said he is unsure whether Ben Simmons can play point guard on a championship team as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach casted doubt over the embattled All-Star's future following Sunday's NBA playoff exit.

Simmons and the 76ers were subjected to boos following their shock 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who won Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

After another failed run at a first NBA title since 1983, Simmons was particularly in the firing line having attempted just four shots for five points in the series decider, while tallying 13 assists and eight rebounds.

The debate around Simmons – an elite defender and creator – centres on his offense or lack thereof, with the 76ers often handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, Rivers told reporters post-game: "I don't know the answer to that right now.

"I don't know. He struggled from the free throw line and that became a factor in the series. There's no doubt about that. Still believe in him.

"But, we have work to do. We're gonna have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go from there."

It remains to be seen whether Simmons – who had at least eight assists in a half for the third time in his career, the most such performances by a 76ers player since 1996-97 – will still be in Philadelphia for the 2021-22 season.

Simmons was reportedly at the centre of trade talks in January as the 76ers tried to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets before Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets prised the former MVP to the Barclays Center.

Booed by 76ers fans, with videos circulating on social media of some supporters burning Simmons jerseys, the Australian said: "I love being in Philly. I love this organisation.

"The fans are great, great people. I had a bad series. I expect that. It's Philly."

Philadelphia team-mate Joel Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) also appeared to aim a jab at Simmons following the postseason elimination.

Simmons passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws.

"I'll be honest," MVP runner-up Embiid said. "I thought the turning point was when we—I don't know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw.

"We didn't get a good possession on the other end and Trae [Young] came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it's on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point."

Asked whether he would like to see the 76ers run it back next season, Embiid replied: "That's a tricky question".

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