The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks will meet in an Eastern Conference Finals that few saw coming. While Milwaukee has been viewed all season as one of the top championship contenders, Atlanta was given virtually no chance to win the title, even in the middle of their second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

After upsetting the No. 1 seed 76ers and beating them in Game 7 on the road, the Hawks continue to be viewed as heavy underdogs. Atlanta has +360 odds to win the East, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Milwaukee is a -460 favorite.

The betting odds suggest that the most likely result is a five-game series victory for the Bucks. Milwaukee in five leads the way at +220. That’s followed by Bucks in six (+400) and Bucks in seven (+410).

Atlanta’s best chance is to win in six games (+900), since they would be able to close out the series at home. The Hawks (+950) are long shots to win another seven-game series. Atlanta beat the New York Knicks in five games in the first round, but eliminating the Bucks in five games (+2300) is considered to be a highly unlikely scenario.

The Hawks have been more impressive than the Bucks this postseason. Atlanta dismantled New York before winning three games on the home court of the top seed in the conference. Trae Young is off to a historic start to his playoff career, averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game while making shots in the biggest moments. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter have all contributed in their roles.

The Bucks narrowly escaped their second-round series against a banged-up Brooklyn Nets’ team. Kevin Durant nearly beat Milwaukee by himself. It’s pretty clear that if either James Harden or Kyrie Irving was able to stay healthy, the Bucks would be at home, facing similar questions to the ones being asked of the 76ers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the best players in the league. The two-time MVP put up big numbers against Brooklyn, averaging 31.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Antetokounmpo also has offensive flaws, along with his teammates that have been on full display during the 2021 NBA playoffs.

Antetokounmpo’s inability to hit jump shots and free throws at a high percentage makes it difficult for him to score in the final minutes of close games. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee’s second and third-leading scorers, are not superstars and have struggled to carry the load, at times.

Holiday is averaging 15.2 points on less than 40% shooting this postseason. Middleton shot 30-91 in four road games in the last series. 

Milwaukee only scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions against Brooklyn. That would’ve ranked as the NBA’s second-to-worst offense over the course of the entire regular season. The Nets had the 22nd ranked defense in the regular season. 

The 76ers were second defensively in the NBA. The Knicks ranked fourth. The Hawks averaged 108.6 points per 100 possessions in 12 playoff games against those two teams.

Injuries have been the story of the entire postseason, and it’s possible that health could stand in the way of Atlanta reaching the NBA Finals. DeAndre Hunter is done for the playoffs after undergoing knee surgery. Bogdanovic was limited at the end of the last series because of a knee injury, and it’s unknown how effective he’ll be against Milwaukee. 

The Hawks found a way to beat the 76ers without Hunter for the entire series and with Bogdanovic totaling just 17 points in the last three games. Milwaukee could experience many of the same offensive issues that Philadelphia had against Atlanta.

Antetokounmpo is the best player in the series, but Young is the most reliable player in crunch time. Even in the midst of a poor shooting performance in Game 7, he made big shots down the stretch that sent Atlanta to the conference finals.

Young and the Hawks continue to overcome the odds. They have what it takes to do it one more time against another flawed playoff opponent.

Eastern Conference Finals Prediction: Hawks in seven 

Clint Capela_Trae Young_Atlanta Hawks 2021 Atlanta Hawks all-star Trae Young (L) high-fives Clint Capela (R) during one of their wins in the 2020-2021 NBA season. Photo: Atlanta Hawks/Twitter