NBA playoffs: Hawks aiming to defy history
The Atlanta Hawks kept their hopes of reaching the NBA Finals alive with a 110-88 victory over Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
The result ties the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series at 2-2 and boosts the Hawks’ chances of ending their long wait to win the NBA title.
Their last success was in 1958 and only the Sacramento Kings (1951) have waited longer to win their second NBA championship.
If the Hawks are going to achieve the feat, they will have to do it the hard way, with the odds very much stacked against them.
Recent research by NBA oddsmakers Betway perfectly demonstrated the size of the task the Hawks face over the next few weeks.
The study highlighted the importance of home advantage in the NBA, with 57 percent of regular season games won by the home team over the past five years.
That figure jumps to 61 percent in the Finals – a statistic that will undoubtedly concern the Hawks given that they are the lowest seed left in the play-offs.
If their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Bucks goes all the way to Game 7, two of the three fixtures will be played in Milwaukee.
The Bucks have been formidable at home this season, posting a 32-11 record during the regular season and play-offs combined.
However, the Hawks’ 116-113 victory in the first game of the series showed that they are capable of winning on the road.
That took their record to 6-3 in the play-offs away from home, a vast improvement on the 16-20 record they posted during the regular season.
If the Hawks can see off the Bucks to reach the finals, their opponents will be Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Clippers.
Both teams have a higher seeding than the Hawks and would have home advantage for the Finals, leaving the Hawks with a sizeable task on their hands.
History would be against them, with only 21 of the previous 71 Finals won by the team that did not have home advantage.
Things get even tougher if a series goes to Game 7, with the home team triumphing 15 out of the 19 occasions the Finals have gone all the way.
The last team to achieve the feat were Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and they had sporting superstar LeBron James in their ranks to lead them to victory over Golden State Warriors.
The current 2-2-1-1-1 game format also works against lower seeded teams, with six of last seven Finals won by the team with home advantage since it was reintroduced in 2014.
Given how finely poised their Conference final is, the Hawks are unlikely to be looking any further than their next game against the Bucks.
With Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo likely to be ruled out with a knee injury, the Hawks will never have a better chance of reaching the Finals.
Their deeper roster could prove to be the difference and give them the opportunity to challenge for the second NBA title in their history.
Story by Michael Black