Hawks soar to Eastern Conference Finals

Trae Young gets into the lane during the Hawks’ series win against the 76ers. Young was instrumental in Atlanta’s eventual win, leading the team in points and assists. // Photo courtesy of James Lang USA TODAY Sports

Fans of the Atlanta Hawks have long been yearning for an NBA Championship, and they now find themselves just a handful of wins from playing in the NBA Finals. The Hawks have put together a memorable season thus far. In March, the Hawks had recently fired their head coach and were in 11th place in the conference.

From that point on, interim head coach Nate McMillan coached them into the playoffs where they knocked off the New York Knicks and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers en route to a conference finals matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Rather than the perennial superstar names, this year’s NBA playoffs have been defined by the up-and-coming young stars. In the Western Conference, Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell put together record-breaking performances that had been seen only from veteran players. Phoenix’s young duo of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton made big plays when it matters most and have led their team to the brink of the NBA Finals in their first playoff appearance. On the other side, in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have led their team past the league’s top stars as they defeated the Brooklyn Nets’ big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Likewise, the Hawks’ playoff run has been spurred by their young stars, namely Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Clint Capela. This confident group of players has never been fazed by the moment, shown firstly in the first game of the playoffs. In his playoff debut in the famous Madison Square Garden, Young hit the game-winning shot with under one second left in the game. This set the tone for the team’s playoff run and showed their ability to hit timely shots. Throughout the series, the Hawks were able to limit the production of the Knicks’ leader and Most Improved Player award recipient Julius Randle with their stifling defense. This helped lead to Atlanta winning their first round series in five games.

During their second-round matchup, they saw more adversity, but demonstrated their poise in spite of it. After three games, they found themselves in a 2-1 deficit. In game four, Philadelphia took an 18-point lead and appeared to be headed in the direction of a 3-1 series lead, but the Hawks had other plans. The team looked to their stars to fight their way back into the game, with all five starters recording at least ten points. Atlanta pulled off the comeback and tied the series 2-2.

After giving up an 18-point lead, Philadelphia came out strong in game five, taking a commanding 26-point lead. Similar to the previous game, the Hawks fought back into the game. Young put up 39 points while also breaking the defense through his passing with seven assists.

Young’s ability to take over games through his elite passing and three-level scoring are what have made him and Atlanta’s offense juggernauts. The Hawks completed a second consecutive comeback win. From being on the brink of a 3-1 deficit, the Hawks went up 3-2.

After the series went to game seven, the Hawks rose to the occasion, led by Kevin Heurter’s career game. While there were times in the series where the Hawks were not as efficient, the playoffs can be more about the timing of big shots and making the right play at the right time. Big shots and timely plays helped the Hawks return to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In game 1 of the conference finals, the Hawks had a chance to win game one on the road, continuing the trend set in the first two rounds. Trae Young ensured the Hawks did just that with his performance, putting up 48 points and 11 assists.

He had a huge highlight play when he crossed Jrue Holiday, shimmied, and knocked down an open three-point shot. He once again showcased his high level of confidence on the court and showed that no moment is too big for him.

The Atlanta Hawks have put together an incredible postseason run led by their young stars that forecasts a bright future in the years to come. The Hawks’ journey this season has been filled with unique twists and turns, including a mid-season coaching change. They hope to end their memorable season as NBA Champions.