The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t technically playing an elimination game on Friday, but for all intents and purposes, their season is on the line at home against the Atlanta Hawks. Teams that trail a playoff series 2-0 have a cumulative record of 30-403 in those series as a whole. Overcoming such a deficit, in itself, is hardly impossible. The Bucks just did it against the Brooklyn Nets, after all, and the Los Angeles Clippers have done it twice this postseason.
But the later in the postseason a series goes, the less likely such a comeback becomes. There have been 12 2-0 comebacks in the first round of the postseason, eight in the second round, six in the conference finals and four in the NBA Finals. Among those six comebacks in the conference finals, all six were accomplished by the lower seed. It’s not hard to see why. A higher seed down 2-0 has only two possible home games remaining. A lower seed has three. Win or lose on Friday, the Bucks will have only two possible home games remaining as the higher seed.
State Farm Arena isn’t exactly impenetrable. The Philadelphia 76ers won there twice. But one of the reasons these comebacks are rarer in the later rounds, aside from pure volume, is that teams that reach this stage are often too good to lose four out of five games. The Hawks have done so only once since Nate McMillan took over as head coach, and that stretch came on a brutal Western Conference road trip. So no, the Bucks won’t be eliminated if they lose on Friday, but they might as well be. They’re playing for their season. Keep that in mind as you sift through today’s top picks.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks
Game 2: Atlanta leads series 1-0
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: TNT
I can’t say I feel great about this pick, to be honest. Both teams shot poorly in Game 1, but Milwaukee’s defensive scheme is far more vulnerable to positive shooting regression from Atlanta than the reverse. But with Bogdan Bogdanovic clearly still hobbled, Atlanta is just so heavily reliant on Trae Young to generate offense that if Milwaukee can figure out how to slow him down even slightly, they should be in much better shape. The Bucks struggle to contain Young’s mid-range shooting, but will likely play more small-ball minutes to limit their exposure on drop coverage after Brook Lopez was a minus-14 in only 20 minutes. Jrue Holiday is just too good to allow Young to score 48 points again, so I reluctantly take the Bucks knowing that a hot Hawks shooting night might wipe away the logic behind the choice. The pick: Bucks -7.5
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I’m on board with pretty much any under on a Lopez prop here. I’d heartily endorsed under 5.5 rebounds as well, especially considering how well Atlanta rebounds as a team. But I’m taking points specifically because Lopez attempted just three 2-pointers in Game 1. That makes sense. The last thing Milwaukee wants is a crowded paint for Giannis Antetokounmpo, so if Lopez is a low-minutes jumpshooter with limited put-back potential, I’m assuming he’ll stay in the high single digits for points. The pick: Lopez under 10.5 points
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored only four points in Game 1 and easily could have been held out of Game 7 against Philadelphia entirely due to his knee soreness. He is clearly far from 100 percent, but the Hawks just don’t have any alternatives with DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish hurt. They have to play Bogdanovic, and as long as they are, you’re free to cash in on his under. The pick: Bogdanovic under 11.5 points