First, they started the season out 14-20 and fired their head coach Lloyd Pierce. Then they replaced him by slapping an interim head coach title in front of Nate McMillan’s name. The Hawks then went on a regular-season run going 27-11 under McMillan and finishing the season in the 5th playoff spot in the east. Next, they handled the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. This was then followed by a game 7 win against the 76ers in Philadelphia. Improbable yes, but should we be surprised if the Hawks keep on progressing through the playoffs?
“This year, we were trying to flip a switch,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter said. “The whole mindset changed. The development process, I guess, is over.”
Lets’ start with Lloyd Pierce who went 63 – 120 during his tenure as head coach of the Hawks. Pierce who was handed a bunch of young talent was tasked with figuring out how to shape them into a winning team. To be fair to Pierce, he was asked to oversee a rebuild and rarely does a young coach survive a rebuild. Still, the facts don’t lie and the decision to make a coaching change is the first reason the Hawks have been on what some are calling a miracle run.
As for Nate McMillan as an interim head coach, he has certainly done an excellent job getting his young talent to mesh together. The question is can he keep things going against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals?
From a game-plan perspective and in-game adjustments, McMillan is one of the best remaining coaches in the playoffs. If you will, McMillan is the coach who can get more out of less than any other coach. The issue for McMillan isn’t coaching, it is depth in the middle.
The reality is the Hawk’s uphill battle is about to get even more real as they have to figure out a strategy to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and a cast of strong defenders that are going to make life difficult for the Hawks 3-point specialists.
Is Being Pesky Going to be Enough?
One of my favorite ways of describing this Hawks team is with the word pesky. They are like a team full of Patrick Beverly-style defenders which have served them well to this point. While I believe Nate McMillan will outcoach the Bucks coaching staff, I worry that too many bad shooting nights will be the reason the Hawks run stops at the Eastern Conference finals.
Look, I would love to see Trae Young and this Hawks team in the NBA finals, but I predict the talent of Greek-Freak and the depth of the Bucks will be too much for the Hawks to overcome.