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2021 NBA Playoffs Action: Backing Hawks Game 2 in Bad Matchup for Bucks


Backing Hawks for game 2 cover vs. Bucks porous mid-range defense


The Milwaukee Bucks ranked 27th at taking mid-range jumpers away from their opposition this past regular season. On the one hand, one impact of the analytics revolution is that the game has largely evolved away from shots not at the rim or from deep, so the Bucks' style might be viewed as a defensive evolution appropriate for the times (or not).


For teams facing Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, as Milwaukee is in the 2021 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals, this trait is likely a flaw. The Hawks' undersized star guard specializes in the mid-range area on offense. Accordingly, Atlanta ranked 11th by mid-range attempts during the regular season.


These tendencies have persisted into the post-season. Of the 20 teams that participated in the play-in tournament and the playoffs, the Bucks rank 18th by opponents' mid range attempts. Further, Milwaukee has allowed competition to connect at a clip 3% higher than the playoff average on two-pointers attempted at least four feet from the basket. The Hawks have taken more mid-range shots than all but three teams this post-season, and have connected at a higher rate than all but five.


Thus, we regard Atlanta as a bad matchup for Milwaukee and are backing the Hawks to cover in game 2. Per data from CleaningTheGlass.com, the visiting team posted about 115 points per 100 possessions in the Eastern Conference Finals opener, roughly four points per 100 possessions better than their post-season average. We attribute this excess to Milwaukee's defensive struggles versus the mid-range game, and think Atlanta can again leverage this advantage to at least hold within striking distance Friday.



(The Bucks offense performed approximately inline with its average output for this post-season, and both teams allowed roughly five points per 100 possessions more than their playoff norm, so, while an off night--or a heater--is possible anytime, we do not expect a ton of regression Friday based on game 1 statistics.)


Historical context also appears to favor the road dog cover in game 2. We identify below a few angles that support the notion of the ATS win for the Cinderella Atlanta Hawks Friday (FiveThirtyEight gave Atlanta a 1% chance of making the Finals before the season started; that figure is 45% today).


  • In Conference Finals game 2's, underdogs are 19-14 overall ATS since 2004-05,

  • Teams taking points outside their division in Conference Finals games 1-2, after missing the prior post-season, are a 9-4 ATS,

  • Underdogs off game 1 Conference Finals wins over non-divisional opposition are 7-2 ATS next out


Happy betting!!