Free Picks: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks, 2021 Eastern Conference Finals (Round 3)

Bucks vs Hawks - 2021 NBA Playoffs Finals
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks, Bucks wins series 4-2

The Milwaukee Bucks have been on the cusp of the NBA Finals for a few years now, and after their win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night, they have finally gotten over the hump. It’s 47 years in the making, since the Bucks last reached the end of the postseason in 1974 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson at the controls. This Bucks team is a lot more than a one-two punch, however.

Series Results (Bucks wins series 4-2)

But before we get into what got the Milwaukee Bucks to the pinnacle, let’s give an honorable mention to their valiant opponents, who shocked the basketball world in every series they participated in. As the fifth-seed, they took on and took down the No. 4 and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, finishing both off in front of their home crowds. Ice cold, baby.

They were underdogs in all three of their playoff series, yet they came out and won the opening game of each of those matchups. Considering how hugely they overachieved, it’s hard to feel sad about the Cinderella run this youthful Hawks team just went on.

A lucrative, multi-year extension for ‘interim’ head coach Nate MacMillan should already be in the mail, and once that’s settled, the Hawks can get into the business of deciding if John Collins is going to be a max contract player. Depending on how they handle that move could prove crucial to whether or not the Hawks will have the capacity to do this again in the near future.

Young will be seen universally as a superstar soon enough thanks to his Dame-like range and his Nash-like floater, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter represent two solid shooters beside the 22-year-old point guard. Both have killer instinct, and both can certainly shoot that thang. While injured for most of this postseason, DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish are also very exciting young perimeter talents.

While the Hawks look to a bright future, the Bucks will be focused on a possibly historic present. They will take on the Phoenix Suns—who have never won an NBA title—as the underdogs of an NBA Finals in which Phoenix gets home court advantage. The Suns also have the advantage of health: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is still uncertain to be ready for Game 1 on Tuesday.

If Giannis plays this could be a seven-gamer, but despite impressive showings from Milwaukee’s supporting cast in those last two games of the Conference Final, if the Greek Freak is too far from 100 percent or absent, the Suns should be able to win in six. Either way, we’d stay away from the Bucks and take the Suns in Game 1 with a -5.5 NBA point spread at -111 NBA odds on 888sport. The over on Khris Middleton points props—especially without Giannis—could prove fruitful as well.

Game 1

June 23, 08+30 p.m., Fiserv Forum

(Playoff Betting Record: 37-32, +5.45)

Unlike in the Western Conference Finals, where the Los Angeles Clippers got no extra time off before diving in against their new opponent (who had nearly a week), both teams that have made it through to the Eastern Conference Finals have had a few extra days of rest before clashing in this battle for East Coast supremacy.

The Milwaukee Bucks will have had four days off while the Atlanta Hawks will have had three, which means there will be no rest vs. rust debate for this series. While it is definitely true that most if not all of the pressure to come out and win this series is on the very heavily favored Bucks and not on the surprising and youthful Hawks, this season’s Bucks seem like they can handle the pressure and play some of their best basketball in crunch time.

They swept their arch-nemeses, the Miami Heat, in the first round before coming out on top against the Brooklyn Nets in a clash of titans during the second round. This team has dealt with pressure terribly in the past, but this year’s edition of the Bucks seem to have the right pieces to keep the ship on an even keel when tough moments arrive in spite of their awful head coach, Mike Budenholzer.

Bobby Portis has been criminally underplayed in this postseason, but the enormous impact of additions like PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday cannot be understated in these playoffs. While Holiday has admittedly underperformed on the offensive end, he hit a ton of timely shots to win Milwaukee games against the Brooklyn Nets.

He scored the game-winning layup in Game 4 to tie the series up, and he scored eight huge points in the final five minutes of regulation during Game 7 to help his team beat the Nets once and for all. While those were some very big-time shots, it’s Holiday’s defense that has been most important.

He was giving Kyrie Irving fits in the early part of that Brooklyn series and he was doing the same to James Harden in the later games, though Harden was admittedly not at 100 percent. With the Trae Young-led Atlanta Hawks now coming to town, Holiday is in perfect position to play a crucial role in sending his squad to the NBA Finals.

Holiday is a big, thick 6’3”, 205 pounds, while his likely cover in these Eastern Conference Finals will be Young, who stands a much more diminutive 6’1”, 180 pounds. Not to mention that Atlanta has likely beefed up Young’s numbers there from a more likely 6’0” and 170-175 pounds.

That huge size difference plays into Milwaukee’s hands and is a big reason we like Milwaukee here in Game 1 for our NBA pick. Not only can Holiday physically dominate Young, he can also keep up with him in terms of speed and athleticism.

And if Ice Trae wants to get a switch, good luck. If he doesn’t get Holiday, he’s getting Tucker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Khris Middleton, none of which seems like it would represent a huge mismatch or matchup advantage for Young and the Hawks.

And speaking of mismatches, who in the world is Atlanta head coach Nate MacMillan going to try to use to stop the Greek Freak? Clint Capela is not nearly mobile enough, and everyone else is too small, including John Collins, who will likely draw the defensive assignment on the former two-time MVP. Collins is a solid player, but his defensive chops aren’t quite up to snuff if you’re asking him to guard someone like Giannis.

With his big body and his physicality, Tucker should be able to give those Atlanta perimeter sharpshooters like Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic a tough time as well, though how healthy the latter is remains to be seen. Bogie left Game 6 against Philly and did not return, and while he played in Game 7, the Serbian national did not look himself.

Bogdanovic went 1-for-14 from deep over the final three games of that Sixers series, which necessitated youngster Huerter playing out of his mind to get Atlanta over the line in Game 7. How many more explosions the ginger sniper has in his bag is unclear, but it certainly can’t be very many.

While we’re not a big fan of large spreads in the playoffs—especially in the Eastern Conference Finals for god’s sake—we do really like the Bucks in this series, so there’s naught to do but take their -7.5 NBA point spread at solid -102 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON MILWAUKEE BUCKS TO COVER -7.5 POINT SPREAD (-102 odds, 22Bet)

Game 2 (Hawks lead series 1-0)

June 25, 08:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum

(Playoff Betting Record: 37-34, +3.45)

The Atlanta Hawks and their Cinderella Story just keep getting better as Trae Young led his underdog squad to a Game 1 win on the road in the third straight series during these playoffs—this kid is definitely for real. And once again, just like in the first two games of the Conference Finals, neither side was able to put together a double-digit advantage all night long.

The biggest lead the Hawks could build was eight, which they boasted late in the game, and the largest Milwaukee could muster was nine, which they had earlier in the contest during the first half. Despite a career night from Young, the Bucks were actually ahead by seven points with just over four minutes left in this game and threatened to put this one out of reach with another bucket or two.

But as they did so often against the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers in the last two rounds, the young and exuberant Hawks always had an answer every time Giannis Antetokounmpo and company put a little run together. In the end, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s shocking coaching decisions were simply too much for his uber-talented team to overcome (again).

As if he didn’t even watch any tape on Young before the game, Budenholzer employed drop coverage with a traffic cone like Brook Lopez to try and stop the burgeoning superstar, and it did not go well. Young finished the game with a playoff career high 48 points to go with 11 assists as the diminutive point guard was able to get any and everything he wanted during Game 1, especially when Lopez was on the floor.

The floater, while not a very efficient shot in general, is Young’s bread and butter. That’s plain to see for anyone who even kind of follows the NBA: the 22-year-old led the association in made and attempted floaters during the regular season and has gone 53-for-103 on the shot during this postseason for an impressive 51.4 success rate.

Unsurprisingly, with the drop coverage allowing him so much space to get into the paint and get that shot up without much bother, Young went 8-for-14 on the floater in Game 1. Coach Bud has shown himself to be one of the worst coaches in basketball during this postseason (how he has two COY awards is beyond me), but even he will have had to see that dominance by Trae and make the ensuing adjustments for Game 2, which is why we like Milwaukee with our NBA pick here.

To combat that is pretty simple: bench the immobile Lopez. He’s a solid rim protector on defense and floor spacer on offense, but he’s too much of a liability to play a ton of minutes against Young in the pick-and-roll in this series. The Bucks have always been at their best playing small with the Greek Freak at the five, but even putting Bobby Portis at center would offer the Bucks more athleticism and defensive ability in the pick-and-roll.

Up until about four minutes left in the game, the Bucks had gone 66-44 against Atlanta during the contest when Lopez was on the bench, finishing with a +14 mark without the seven-footer. Lopez will need to be in there once in a while to help with rebounding, but he should be playing just 10-15 minutes.

I’d also like to see the Bucks move back to a tighter rotation as well. Bryn Forbes got it going a little bit in Game 1 with a couple of baskets, so it would be interesting to leave him in there to see if he can get hot and win the Bucks an easy one like he did with seven triples in Game 2 of the first round against the Miami Heat. Pat Connaughton and Jeff Teague wouldn’t seem to offer anything in this series, however.

Jrue Holiday’s two-way masterpiece (33 points, 10 dimes) was also exactly what the Bucks needed, but they’ll need him to play up to or near that level every game, especially when Khris Middleton is as useless as he was in Game 1 (6-for-23 from the field).

Giannis also shot well from the charity stripe (6-for-8) and took just two triples during Game 1, both of which are extremely encouraging signs for Milwaukee that give us a little more confidence in taking them with our top pick here on Friday night.

If the Bucks can mix it up on the Hawks defensively and make Young deal with different looks, the Bucks should have more success. Make them beat you one on one, and we’ll see who comes out on top—not to mention the fact that this is pretty much a must-win game for the Bucks after dropping the first one at home. We’re taking the Bucks on another irresponsibly high -8.5 NBA point spread at solid +106 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON MILWAUKEE BUCKS TO COVER -8.5 POINT SPREAD  (+106 odds, 22Bet)

Game 3 (series tied 1-1)

June 27, 08:30 p.m., State Farm Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 38-35, +3.51)

We did take the Milwaukee Bucks to cover an 8.5 NBA point spread in Game 2, but we and surely no one else expected the whooping that they put on the Hawks. It was truly a holistic beatdown as Milwaukee led wire-to-wire while leading by double-digits for the final 32:53 of this game after a decently competitive first quarter.

The Bucks were clearly not happy at all with their performance in Game 1, and you could tell right away after the game that they were not going to take that result lying down. Even during John Collins’ postgame interview on Inside the NBA, in the background you could see a Bucks player already back out on the court, putting shots up and working on his game.

It was hard to tell who it was exactly, but based on the look of the jump shot and the performance he put up in Game 1, it would be a good guess to say it was Khris Middleton. Milwaukee’s No. 2 man really struggled in the first game of this Eastern Conference Final, shooting 6-for-23 from the field as he failed to make an impact on the game himself or help his teammates get it done.

That was not the story in Game 2 at Fiserv: Middleton came to play on Friday night. He turned the ball over just twice while dishing out eight assists to his comrades, not to mention his 6-for-13 shooting night, a big improvement over the ugly display we saw on Wednesday.

Jrue Holiday also maintained the very high level of play he exhibited in Game 1, contributing 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting with seven dimes of his own. Not to mention his and the rest of the Bucks’ hounding defense on Atlanta’s young phenom Trae Young, who really struggled in Game 2 after putting up an historic performance in Game 1 with 48 points and 11 dimes.

For Game 2, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer made the proper (and obvious) adjustment that we suggested he make. While we suggested reducing Brook Lopez’s minutes to make the defense more agile, coach Bud achieved the same end via a different route, instead entrusting Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bobby Portis in equal measure to defend Young’s lethal pick-and-roll game higher up on the floor and with more aggressiveness.

Holiday, Middleton, PJ Tucker, and the rest kept Young out of the paint and around the perimeter, where he shot just 1-for-8 on the night, with his lone make coming in the first quarter. Overall, the 22-year-old went 6-for-16 from the field while managing a playoff-low three assists against a playoff-high nine turnovers. When Young struggles like that, the Hawks are like a car without an engine, nothing works and it doesn’t go anywhere.

Bogdan Bogdanovic played limited minutes again, Kevin Huerter struggled from the field, and Clint Capela barely had an impact. Those three don’t often happen all in the same game, but when Young is putting up a dud like he did in Game 2, it’s really no surprise.

Going back to Lopez, not only was he a solid presence on defense as he played higher on Atlanta’s vaunted pick-and-roll, he was also a huge plus on offense, going for 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field, including a lovely 3-for-5 mark from downtown. While his one rebound was not ideal, the rest of the Bucks were getting it done in that department.

After getting outrebounded in Game 1, the Bucks won that battle 47-34 in Game 2, while also enjoying a huge 16-7 advantage on the all-important offensive glass. The Bucks were hustling out there on Friday night, with each of the starters swiping a steal and three of the five snagging multiple offensive boards.

After a hiccup in Game 1, we expect the Bucks to have a lot of success for the rest of this series. If Giannis and MIlwaukee can continue dominating in the paint while keeping Atlanta out of it (62-30 Bucks advantage in paint points in Game 2) then there’s really not much that the Hawks can do.

When Giannis gets the ball below the foul line, he’s basically unstoppable, and the fact that he took just three triples during the game shows that he’s shedding those bad tendencies a bit, not to mention that he continues to show a burgeoning ability as a playmaker (six assists in Game 2).  He’s also been taking better care of the ball (one turnover on Friday) while settling down at the free throw line, going 9-for-12 so far in this series.

When coach Bud makes the obvious adjustments and the Bucks play to their strengths, it’s pretty darn tough to beat them, and I doubt Atlanta has the manpower to slow them down enough in this series. The Hawks might steal one more game here, but that’s it.

That game won’t be Game 3, however, as the Bucks will look to take the lead and home court advantage. We like Milwaukee with a much more reasonable -4.5 NBA point spread at solid -102 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

BET ON MILWAUKEE BUCKS TO COVER -4.5 POINT SPREAD  (-102 odds, 22Bet)

Game 4 (Bucks lead series 2-1)

June 29, 08:30 p.m., State Farm Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 40-35, +5.49)

After their embarrassing loss in Game 2, the young Atlanta Hawks showed some real playoff mettle as they came out and snuffed the Milwaukee Bucks right in the mouth in the first quarter of Game 3, going up by scores of 15-2 and 25-10 in the first half of the opening frame on Sunday night.

The big lead would not last, however, as the Bucks continuously chipped into the advantage, never threatening to take the lead, but hanging around close enough that they could make a run to go ahead at any point. They were able to knot it up at 56 apiece by halftime, but the Hawks regained the upper hand with a 9-2 run coming out of the break.

The experienced Bucks did not panic, however, and took their first lead of the game with under two minutes left in the third quarter. They didn’t hold it for long, however, as the Hawks retook an 85-83 lead going into the final 12 minutes.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, their young phenom, Trae Young, was not feeling or looking like himself in that final frame after rolling his ankle on a referee’s foot and going to the locker room for treatment between the third and fourth. The young point guard said after the game that his ankle was sore and hurting, which is not a good sign for the Hawks and a big reason we’re sticking with the Bucks for our NBA pick on Game 4.

Despite Young’s issues, the Hawks still held a seven-point lead thanks to an unlikely dual contribution from Onyeka Okongwu, who put in two buckets during his limited fourth quarter minutes while also putting the clamps on Giannis Antetokounmpo for a few possessions while John Collins sat with foul trouble—though Okongwu seemed like a better Greek Freak stopper than Collins has been.

There are a lot of guys that deserve credit for this Bucks win, like Antetokounmpo and reserve forward Bobby Portis Jr., but there’s no doubt that the guy who should be getting the lion’s share is the much-maligned Khris Middleton.

Middleton was severely criticized for his play early in the Brooklyn Nets series and for seemingly shying away from the limelight in the playoffs in the past, but the performance he put in to close out Game 3 should definitely change that narrative. I can admit, I had been one of his biggest critics, and he certainly showed me and the rest of them on Sunday night.

I was wrong about Khris Middleton: the dude is a bonafide hooper. After struggling in Game 1, Middleton played a smidge better in Game 2 but, considering what kind of a blowout it was, he didn’t need to do much.

With the way Atlanta jumped out in Game 3, it was clear that it would be a much tougher matchup than Friday night, and at first, it seemed like we were getting the same old playoff Middleton. He was 7-for-13 with a couple of turnovers when he came in to start the fourth, and after having his first shot blocked, he got it back and nailed a triple to give Milwaukee an 86-85 lead.

But he followed that up with a couple of bricks and a couple of turnovers as the Hawks seemed like they were beginning to fly away with another W. But Middleton said, not so fast. He would go on to hit seven of his final nine shots as he poured in 20 points in the fourth quarter, including 17 of his team’s final 25 and eight straight to give them a lead that they would not relinquish.

It was truly a watershed performance for Middleton, who finished with 38 points and was not to be outshone by the Greek Freak on this night, though the two-time MVP also put in 33 points and 11 boards. The improved defensive strategy against Young has been paying dividends, and Atlanta’s hot shooting cooling off hasn’t helped the young team’s case either.

Even though the Bucks have the more talented and experienced group, they refused to rest on their laurels during this game and instead ensured that they were the ones making all of the hustle plays. They bested the Hawks in offensive boards (15-9), fast break points (11-7), second-chance points (18-13), and they continued their all-important dominance in the paint, where they outscored their foes 56-34 in Game 3.

If Bobby Portis continues to get solid minutes, the Bucks refrain from playing too much drop coverage on Young, and Giannis stays aggressive and resists the urge to chuck up shots from outside (he’s averaging just 2.3 compared to 4.4 last round), the Bucks should have no problem covering a -6.5 NBA point spread at lovely –102 NBA odds for us. The fact that Young doesn’t seem like he’ll be playing at 100 percent for Atlanta makes it one of our best bets for today.

BET ON MILWAUKEE BUCKS TO COVER -6.5 POINT SPREAD  (-102 odds, 22Bet)

Game 5 (series 2-2)

July 1, 08:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum

(Playoff Betting Record: 40-35, +5.49)

Near the end of Game 3, Atlanta Hawks budding superstar Trae Young got about as unlucky as you can when picking up an injury: as he stepped back to run and defend on a Milwaukee Bucks fast break, the 22-year-old rolled one of his troublesome ankles on the foot not of an opponent or teammate, but of a referee. NBA officials have made some shocking calls during this strange campaign, but this is probably the worst way they’ve affected a game all season.

The unfortunate and extremely rare incident meant a rough fourth quarter for Young in Game 3, which his team lost thanks to Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton going nuclear. It also resulted in a deep bone bruise in Young’s ankle, one that was painful and uncomfortable enough to keep the youngster on the bench for Game 4 as the Hawks looked to even the series at two games apiece.

As you might’ve guessed if you’ve watched the Bucks at all during this postseason or have an idea of who their coach is, the favorites came out extremely lethargic, allowing the shorthanded Hawks to jump out to a 10-2 lead right out of the gate. The Bucks battled back to finish the first quarter down 25-22, but another barrage from the Hawks in a second quarter they won 26-16 left them with a big-time 13-point lead at the halftime break.

The Bucks really couldn’t have played a worse 24 minutes, however, and conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that Milwaukee would wake up at some point and take care of business against this Trae-less Hawks team. They still looked bad coming out of the half, however, as they couldn’t or wouldn’t get into the paint and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free throw issues returned in earnest.

Giannis was likely to turn it around after just four points in a shocking first half performance that saw him inexplicably camped out on the three point line more often than not. He finally started getting to the rack after half, putting up eight points in the early stages of the third quarter, but just when he was getting on a roll, Milwaukee’s worst nightmare occurred.

As he was coming down near the hoop early in the third quarter, the Greek Freak’s left leg hyperextended in one of the uglier looking injuries we have seen during this warzone of an NBA postseason. He did not return to the game, and after such a lackadaisical start, that kind of shock was not something his teammates were going to be capable of overcoming, especially without their best player and leader on the floor with them.

Giannis had just cut the lead to eight points the possession before his injury, but after seeing their Herculean leader limp off the floor, Milwaukee basically lost all heart on Tuesday night. Jrue Holiday scored a bucket on the possession right after the injury to make it 62-54 Atlanta, but the Bucks didn’t score another point for just under four minutes of game action after that.

In the meantime, the Hawks had gone on a 15-0 run to get the lead up over 20 points, where it would stay for most of the rest of the contest, which ended 110-88 in favor of Atlanta. With that, this series was tied 2-2 and this best of seven series became a best of three, with the first of those clashes coming on Thursday night in Wisconsin in Game 5.

Young is questionable with his ailment, but considering that deep bone bruises take some time to heal, it is unlikely that Young will play at 100 percent if he plays at all; it will be all about pain tolerance and comfortability for the Oklahoma alumnus.

While it was some small measure of solace for the Bucks and their fans when news came today that there was no ligament damage in the injured knee of Antetokounmpo, he is still doubtful to play on Thursday night, and I would be shocked if he returned to play in this series. So without those two big stars, it will once again be a tussle between ‘the other guys’ on both sides.

After taking a whooping in Game 4, I like the Bucks, led by Middleton and Holiday, to retake the series lead with our NBA pick on Thursday night. During their second round loss to the Miami Heat last season a similar situation happened where Giannis went down in the middle of a game which the Bucks lost and was forced to miss the next game. Milwaukee fought hard for and won a gritty game for their fallen comrade.

Not to mention the fact that they’re also playing at home on Thursday, where their role players have historically thrived during these playoffs. We expect a similar result to last season against the Heat, as Milwaukee comes together to overcome a gargantuan loss to their team. We’re going with the Bucks on a -2.5 NBA point spread at lovely +100 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

 

BET ON MILWAUKEE BUCKS TO COVER -2.5 POINT SPREAD  (+100 odds, 888sport)

Game 6 (Bucks lead series 3-2)

July 3, 08:30 p.m., State Farm Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 42-35, +7.45)

The Atlanta Hawks came out early and shocked the Bucks with Trae Young on the sidelines in Game 4, and before Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks could counterpunch, the Greek Freak went down with his own extremely unfortunate injury. The Hawks smelled blood in the water after the injury early in the third, and their predatory instinct kicked in on their way to a blowout win and a series lead.

The Bucks were clearly in shock for most of that second half after Giannis went down, but there was no way they would lay down like that again two days later in Game 5.  It’s what we counted on, and Milwaukee’s supporting cast came through for us in spades. Just as they did without their top lad last year in a game against the Miami Heat in the playoffs, the best of the rest for the Bucks was more than enough to get a convincing win.

Milwaukee now sits just one win away from the NBA Finals, a feat that the team has not achieved in nearly 50 years since they did it during the franchise’s glory days in the early 1970s when Kareem Abduel-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson roamed the court and led the Bucks to the 1971 title and the 1974 Finals.

Once again the Bucks have ridden an small-big one-two-punch with Antetokounmpo and shooting guard Khris Middleton. This duo isn’t nearly of the same caliber as the one from the 1970s, but with the wasteland this NBA postseason has turned into with all of the constant injuries to top players, their duo would have been good enough to at least make the Finals.

Even without the Greek Freak, it seems that Middleton and the rest of the crew have enough talent, experience, and grit to get the job done without their fallen comrade. While the Bucks’ No. 2 has been inconsistent at times during these playoffs, he has come up very big for his squad during this Conference Finals series, almost single-handedly winning them a crucial Game 3 to take their first lead of the series.

Middleton was huge in their Game 5 victory as well, putting up 26 points on 50 percent shooting to go with 13 rebounds and eight dimes as he and the rest of MIlwaukee’s starting five absolutely dominated their similarly shorthanded opposition. Brook Lopez was killing Clint Capela in the paint to the tune of 33 points, none of which came from the three-point line, exhibiting an aggression on offense that had been severely lacking in Game 4.

The starting five combined to score 111 of the teams 123 points in the game, with Jrue Holiday contributing 25 points and Bobby Portis—starting his first ever playoff game—putting up a career high 22 points along with his regular energy and intensity. Pat Connaughton also played 21 minutes, but that was it for coach Mike Budenholzer’s tight rotation on Thursday.

If these two groups of players meet again for Game 6, we like the Bucks as our NBA pick, but that may not be the case. While we can say pretty comfortably that Antetokounmpo is out for Game 6 and likely the rest of this series, Atlanta’s Young’s status is much murkier at the moment. While Giannis’ injury seems prohibitive, the bone bruise in Young’s ankle keeping him off the floor is more about pain tolerance and comfort level.

With his team on the brink of elimination, the 22-year-old might feel the need to push himself to get back on the floor, and his mere presence would be a huge boost to his team. So while we like the Bucks to win straight up at +120 NBA odds on 888sport if both Young and the Greek Freak remain out, if Young is able to play, we like the Hawks to cover an NBA point spread instead.

Without Giannis in there, the pick-and-roll game of Young and Capela would be that much more lethal, as the Bucks would not be able to go to the Greek Freak if Lopez starts to become a liability on defense when he’s away from the rim—as he is wont to do. Portis is another option there but still, Young has shown an ability to wheel and deal against pretty much anyone.

With both stars sidelined, it’s clear who the better team is, but if Atlanta gets it’s top dog back near 100 percent for Game 6, they should be the favorites. Young is a great passer so if the ankle discomfort is too much to overcome when he’s shooting the ball, he can always go and get easy buckets for his teammates such as Kevin Huerter—who should be in line for a bounce back game—and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has been excellent over the past two contests.

Capela will also have to take that Lopez performance in Game 5 personally and come out with a lot more energy and fire in Game 6 if he expects to keep Milwaukee’s center from another dominant performance in the painted area. If Young doesn’t play, go with a Bucks moneyline, but if he does, we like the Hawks to cover a -3.5 NBA point spread at lovely +109 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

BET ON ATLANTA HAWKS TO COVER -3.5 POINT SPREAD  (+109 odds, 22Bet)

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Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve. Follow Alex on Twitter

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