Nate McMillan, Atlanta Hawks looking to reach the next level of their play

Friday night in Milwaukee illustrated what many thought would be the case throughout the Eastern Conference Finals between the Atlanta Hawks and Bucks. The Hawks trailed by six after the first quarter. Then, the Hawks gave up 69 points over the next two quarters. Finally, after a fourth quarter where no starters played, the Fiserve Forum scoreboard read 125-91, with the home team taking Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It wasn’t the Hawks’ best night as a team, with more turnovers (19) than assists (13). Trae Young led the Hawks with just 15 points––his first game scoring under 20 in the playoffs––but turned the ball over nine times. 

“That’s all on me,” Young said. “I’ve got to be better at taking care of the ball and just doing a better job of at least giving us a shot and not turning it way too much. I’ve got to do better, and I will do better next game.”

John Collins scored 11 while Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic combined for 18 points on 7-21 shooting. Aside from the starters, the night allowed for Nate McMillan to give every single player minutes tonight. Nobody was happier to be on the court than Cam Reddish, who scored 11 points in 17 minutes.

Reddish relished his first playoff game and first 5-on-5 work in four months.

“It felt good. I was excited to get back out there,” Reddish said. Obviously, it [felt] a little bit weird at first, but as the game went on, got better, got more comfortable. I’m just looking forward to getting onto the next game.”

Reddish needed four months to rehab, but he got to watch one of the best stories of the NBA season live and from the front row every night. When the Hawks beat the Denver Nuggets 123-115 at home on Feb. 21, the team was 13-17. They went on to win 28 of their next 42 games, most of which were under McMillan. 

“It’s been unbelievable to watch. I’ve been able to watch all of it. Just seeing it unfold, seeing the guys come in every day and just put that work in and seeing that camaraderie grow day by day has been pretty cool to see,” Reddish said.

Aside from Reddish’s return, the actual game itself never seemed to be in the Hawks’ hands. The Hawks went into halftime, trailing 77-45, and at one point, the Milwaukee lead stretched to 41 points. Atlanta never led in the game.

“What you tell your team is [to go out and try to win the third quarter]. At the start of the third quarter, you want to try to get a rhythm,” McMillan said. “You just watch that first half and we just were never able to get a rhythm tonight. They pretty much controlled the game from start to finish.”

Milwaukee adjusted well from Game 1, bothering Young in pick-and-roll situations and seemingly using their size to their advantage to pressure the Hawks all night. The Bucks outrebounded the Hawks 47-34, led by Giannis Antetokpunmpo’s nine. He also added 25 points for the Bucks, followed by 22 points and seven assists for Jrue Holiday, 16 points for Brook Lopez and another 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists for Khris Middleton.

However, McMillan is looking ahead and knows that there’s plenty more basketball to be played as the series heads to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4.

“Anytime you can go .500 on the road, that’s a good thing, especially in the playoffs. We had an opportunity to [win two games]; we got one, so we’re happy with that. But there’s another level we have to get to where we are right now,” head coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “You’re playing for a trip to the Finals, and they showed us that there’s another level that we have to get to play at in order to win games and advance.”

How does he envision the Hawks reaching that level?

“We’re going to have to play harder. That intensity that they came out with, it wasn’t a surprise to us. But they showed that there’s another level that we have to get to. They totally just dominated the entire game.”

Game 3 of the Eastern conference FInals will tip-off at 8:30 on Sunday night as the Hawks look to take a 2-1 lead in front of their home crowd at State Farm Arena.