When the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks compete for the Eastern Conference title, more than just a spot in the NBA Finals is at stake.
The winner of the series, which begins on Wednesday, will also put an end to decades of frustration.
Milwaukee Bucks lone NBA championship came in 1971, and the team last made the Finals in 1974. The Hawks won their only title in 1958 and lost in the Finals in 1957, 1960, and 1961 while still based in St. Louis.
“Obviously, this is a fantastic chance, a fantastic opportunity for us,” Bucks centre Brook Lopez said. “But, what, you can’t put the cart before the horse or something? We still have a lot of business to attend to. We have to go grab Game 1.”
The Bucks advanced by sweeping the Miami Heat and beating the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets in a seven-game series. Atlanta defeated the New York Knicks in five games and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.
Both the Bucks and Hawks won Game 7s on the road for the first time in their second-round series.
The Hawks, who were 14-20 and 11th in the East standings when they dismissed coach Lloyd Pierce in early March, have made a stunning comeback. Under Nate McMillan, the Hawks finished the regular season with a 27-11 record and an 8-4 playoff record.
Trae Young has led the way by scoring 29.1 points per game in his first postseason.
“I think our players did a really excellent job of just locking into that specific game and not thinking about what occurred in the past or anything other than what we needed to do in that game,” McMillan said.
For the first time since 2017, the Hawks are in the playoffs. The Bucks seem more at ease on this stage.
Milwaukee had the best regular-season record in the league in 2019 and 2020 but couldn’t carry that success into the postseason. The Bucks dropped a 2-0 lead to Toronto in the 2019 East finals and were eliminated in the second round by Miami the previous year.
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