Hawks coach Nate McMillan made a simple but accurate assessment of the Bucks’ performance on Friday night: “They totally dominated the whole game.”
The 2021 NBA Playoffs featured some dramatic scoring swings and insane comebacks, but Milwaukee assured Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals would be a nap, rolling Atlanta down the path to a victory 125-91. The Bucks had built a 32-point halftime lead, their third-biggest halftime lead in playoff history, and had a 40-point advantage at the end of the third quarter. A single starter for each team eclipsed the 30 minutes played, as the final frame turned into an opportunity for the late-rotation guys to speak.
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For all intents and purposes, Game 2 ended after 24 minutes, and there was a primary culprit for much of Atlanta’s first-half woes. The Hawks just couldn’t stop giving the ball back to the Bucks, which allowed them to get easy buckets on quick breaks.
Milwaukee scored 22 points on turnovers in the first half, most points on turnovers in a single half these playoffs. In the second quarter, Atlanta had more turnovers (eight) than scoring possessions (seven).
|Game 2 (first half)||Total points||Turnover||Points on turnover||Quick break points|
“We’re not talking about turnovers per se, to be honest with you. We’re talking about being strong, active, having hands,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said during his media availability for post-game. “And sometimes when you’re really active and you’re really good defensively, sometimes turnovers just happen naturally.”
The Bucks were certainly more aggressive defensively in Game 2 than Game 1 of the series. Hawks star Trae Young, who scored 48 points in Game 1, scored just 15 points on 6 of 16 shots and had nine turnovers. Jrue Holiday stalked Young all over the floor, and the Milwaukee bigs didn’t back down that far on scouting actions, giving Young less room to operate.
“I think you just have to mix it up, make it hard for him, not have too many easy looks,” Holiday said of Young’s defensive effort. “The last game he lived in in the paint, had a lot of floats. These are pretty much lay-ups for him, so we didn’t really want that to make him start early.”
While Milwaukee deserves credit for their level of intensity and attention to detail, Atlanta has also been extremely sloppy with the ball. Hawks players were far too casual with their passing, often turning their possessions into a transition exercise for Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates.
Atlanta averaged just 13.2 turnovers per game during the regular season and 12.1 per game in the playoffs heading into Friday’s game. By the end of Game 2, the Hawks had committed 19 turnovers, many of which were of the live ball type. It’s just not a winning formula against this Milwaukee team.
After seeing Young light up the scoreboard in Game 1, the Bucks set the tone early and never gave up, sending a message to the Hawks in a resounding victory.
“They showed us that there is another level that we have to reach, play to win games and improve,” said McMillan.
Atlanta can’t reach that level if they keep spitting the ball out before they get there.