Milwaukee – The Milwaukee Bucks finally figured out a way to slow down Trae Young on Wednesday night. They’d love to carry it over into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday.
Only one problem: It cost them Game 1.
Harassed by a smaller, quicker version of a Milwaukee defense that he thrashed earlier, Young misfired on a short-range shot with a chance to put Atlanta ahead in the final minute during the opener of the best-of-seven series.
However, smaller on the perimeter also meant smaller at the hoop, and Atlanta big man Clint Capela converted an offensive rebound into a layup with 29.8 seconds left that gave the visiting Hawks a lead they never relinquished in a 116-113 stunner.
Young went for a postseason-career-high 48 points and the underdog Hawks held the third-seeded Bucks without a field goal over the final 2:08, resulting in fifth-seeded Atlanta’s third straight win in a playoff-series opener this season.
Afterward, Young had a message for the Bucks: They’re not facing Kevin Durant and the one-dimensional Brooklyn Nets anymore.
“They got some good players over there, a lot of lottery people,” the third-year guard said of the Bucks. “We got weapons, too.”
On a night when Young shot 17-for-34, he found time for a game-high 11 assists to get Capela and John Collins involved. They each posted a double-double, Capela with 12 points and a game-high 19 rebounds, Collins with 23 points and 15 boards.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points to complement a team-high 12 rebounds plus nine assists, and Jrue Holiday poured in 33 points to go with a team-high 10 assists for the Bucks, who had gone 5-0 at home in their previous two series.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer admitted afterward he and his staff spent much of the night trying to design an answer for Young, only to never find one for the Hawks as a whole.
That search will continue in a team film session on Thursday’s day off.
“We’re going to have to get a lot better in Game 2,” he said. “We talked about changing up the look. I think we’ll do more.
“Young is a great player. He had a great night, give him credit. We feel we can play better.”
Budenholzer found himself scratching his head during Young’s most impressive stretch on a highlight-reel night, which occurred after Antetokounmpo gave Milwaukee a 65-58 lead in the second minute of the third quarter.
Over the course of the next eight minutes, the smallest man on the court had two 3-pointers, three 2-pointers and four assists, including an off-the-backboard alley-oop to Collins. Young’s work produced a 28-13 flurry that flipped the score in Atlanta’s favor, 86-78.
“Trae obviously is an elite passer, and I’m a freak athlete in my own right,” Collins said. “I feel when the chemistry is right between us, that can happen. I just got to go get it.”
Despite Young’s brilliance, the Hawks, making their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015, found themselves down 105-98 after a Holiday 3-pointer with 4:18 to go.
It was still a four-point game following a Holiday lob to Antetokounmpo with 2:08 to play before Collins countered with a 3-pointer to get the Hawks within one. That set up Capela’s put-back for a 112-111 lead after Young’s errant floater.
“A lot of people overlook us,” Collins said. “For us to come out here and get a win is big-time.”
The Bucks’ only points after Capela’s hoop came on two Antetokounmpo free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but they were sandwiched between a pair perfect trips to the line by Young.
Kevin Huerter had 13 points for the Hawks, who won despite shooting just 8-for-32 on 3-point attempts.
Middleton shot 6-for-23 on a 15-point night for Milwaukee, missing all nine of his 3-point tries. Bobby Portis chipped in 11 points off the bench.
With Antetokounmpo missing both his attempts, the Bucks finished 8-for-36 from long distance.
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