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NBA East Finals, Game 4 Preview: Can Hawks Even Series?

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The Milwaukee Bucks took a 2-1 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks after a 113-102 victory in Game 3 on Sunday night.  Can the Hawks even up the series tonight, or will the Bucks take a commanding 3-1 series lead?  Oddsmakers have installed the Bucks as a six-point favorite for tonight’s Game 4 contest at State Farm Arena in Atlanta (ESPN).

Atlanta has shown a remarkable amount of resiliency the entire postseason by knocking out the Knicks and 76ers.  Milwaukee shocked most of the basketball world by upsetting the heavily favored Brooklyn Nets in the East Semifinals.  Here’s a recap of Game 3 as well as the biggest key for each team in Game 4.

Game 3 Recap

The first quarter couldn’t have started off any better for Atlanta, as they ran out to a quick 7-0 lead.  The Hawks stretched that lead to as high as 13 points before Giannis Antetokounmpo found his shooting stroke.  The Hawks enjoyed a five-point lead at the end of the first.

Milwaukee bounced back strongly in the second period with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Bobby Portis, Jr. all playing at a high level.  Pat Connaughton nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 56 apiece just before halftime.

The third quarter was a back-and-forth slugfest. However, the turning point in the game happened late in the period when Hawks superstar point guard Trae Young stepped on an official’s foot and sprained his ankle.  Atlanta clung to a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but the damage had been done.  

With Young’s explosiveness limited, the Bucks dominated the final period with hot shooting from Middleton, who poured in 38 points and 11 boards.  Milwaukee ended up outsourcing Atlanta 30-17 in the fourth quarter and the game’s result was never in doubt down the stretch.

Biggest Key for Hawks in Game 4:  Young’s Health

If the Hawks expect to tie this series up, Young’s ankle has got to heal up quickly.  The 22-year old is Atlanta’s team leader and their offensive spark plug.  Young is a tough kid and he’ll definitely play tonight, but how effective will he be?

Unfortunately, if Young is severely limited, Atlanta has no other dominant scorers on their roster.  Young is averaging almost 30 points per game this postseason.  Atlanta’s next leading scorer is John Collins, who is only averaging 14.3 per game.

Biggest Key for Bucks in Game 4:  Middleton Staying Hot

Antetokounmpo is Milwaukee’s team leader and their most consistent scoring threat.  However, the Bucks won Game 3 because of Middleton’s hot shooting.  The 29-year old small forward had struggled the first two games of the series, as he only scored 15 points in each contest.

Middleton found his touch in Game 3, especially from three-point range where he hit 6 of 12 shots.  When Middleton is on his game and Antetokounmpo is dominating down low, the Bucks are nearly impossible to beat.  The Bucks are 7-1 this postseason when Middleton scores 20 or more points.

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