Five Keys to the Eastern Conference Finals

What will decide the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals?

Here are five factors. 

 

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Khris Middleton playing like a star similar to how he played vs Miami and Brooklyn. The first round series vs Miami wasn’t competitive (sorry Heat fans). The second round series vs the Nets showed much more the X -Factor Middleton is in determining a win or loss for Milwaukee. In losses vs the Nets Middleton shot 32% from the field and 26% from three and 18 ppg. In the wins vs the Nets he shot 47% from the field, 58% from three and 28 ppg. Ten points is a lot in a playoff game not to mention the large differences in shooting percentage. When Middleton is hitting his shots, it creates more open looks for other players and most importantly takes attention away from Giannis.

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Trae Young scoring over 30 ppg. In game one of the Eastern Conference Finals Trae scored 48 points and the Hawks upset Milwaukee on their homecourt. There were times in this game where Trae looked simply unguardable even with Giannis switching out onto him he still was able to score. When Trae is scoring at that level it creates so many other possibilities for Atlanta’s offense. Many other players on the Hawks rely on Trae to create for them and when he’s scoring at will it opens the floor up. An example of this is when teams are playing Trae so far out on perimeter he can then drive in the lane and lob it up to John Collins or Clint Capela. Kevin Huerter is another player that is important off of Trae in the backcourt. Huerter scored 27 points in the pivotal game 7 win vs the 76ers in the second round. Without all the attention on Trae that wouldn’t have been possible. 

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Hawks must win the 3-point shooting battle. To have any chance the Hawks must outscore the Bucks from 3 and we saw that in game 1 Wednesday night. The hawks shot 25% from 3 versus the Bucks 22% and it took 48 points from Trae Young to win by three. If they don’t have the three-point advantage it will take similar heroic performances from Young to even have a chance. The Bucks have two all-stars in Giannis and Middleton along with a borderline all star in Jrue Holiday while the Hawks had no all-stars this year. Trae Young certainly should’ve been named an all-star but regardless the bucks are defiantly the more talented team. To make up for the talent gap Atlanta needs to win from the three-point line. 

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Giannis needs to play the 5 position more than he has in previous series if the Bucks want to advance to their first NBA Finals in 50 years. This isn’t a series for Brook Lopez as we saw in game 1. When Lopez is in the game the Bucks often play their drop coverage and have Lopez sagging off leaving plenty of space for Atlanta’s guards. When this happens Trae Young eats that coverage alive all game. He can either use his floater game or simply lob it up to Capela for an easy two points every time. When Giannis is at the 5, they don’t play drop nearly as much and some of those lanes for Young and Capela aren’t nearly as wide open. If the Bucks make it as hard as possible on the Hawks in terms of getting in rhythm and easy buckets, it will make it much harder for Atlanta to win games in the series. The Bucks are the more talented team, but they must make the in-game adjustments as well or this series will be longer than anyone in Milwaukee wants. 

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Jrue Holiday needs to play up to his max contract and be a top 5 player in this series. While guarding Trae Young will be a lofty task for Holiday he can’t forget about the offensive end as well. Jrue was excellent in the Miami series and a clear difference maker but was less efficient vs the Nets on the offensive side of things. In the second round series Holiday averaged 15ppg, 36% from the field and 26% from the three-point line. Those numbers need at least a slight increase in this series for Milwaukee to feel good about winning the series. The Nets were missing Kyrie Irving for most of the series and James Harden was playing on about one leg when he did play the final three games. If either of those guys were healthy Brooklyn most likely advances and Milwaukee can’t count on the Hawks being shorthanded, so they need all hands-on deck this series. In game 7 vs Brooklyn Holiday shot 5-23 from the field including being 2-17 before hitting a three late in the fourth quarter. They were lucky to escape with an overtime victory but that won’t happen with a healthy Hawks team. On the flip side if Jrue plays up to his capability on both ends it will be nearly impossible for the Hawks to beat the Bucks. 

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