Wizards

Kevin Huerter: Hawks playing with 'house money'

Wizards

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone picking the Hawks to make the Eastern Conference Finals before the start of this season, and it would've been impossible to find someone who thought Kevin Huerter would be the one to get them there with a fantastic Game 7 performance on the road. 

But here we are. 

The Hawks beat the Sixers on the road in Game 7 to secure the franchise's first Eastern Conference finals berth since 2015. It's been an incredibly quick turnaround for the Hawks, who were easily one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference over the last two years and now find themselves four wins away from a shot at the title. 

RELATED: Former Terp Huerter comes up big against 76ers

"It's been a long couple of years," Huerter said after the game. "It's been a long two years being at the bottom of the East and using those two years, and all you keep hearing is 'development and guys getting better and playing all our young guys and preparing for the future,' and all that.

"This year, trying to flip a switch our whole mindset changed," he said. "The development process was over, and the culmination up to this point, guys just working, guys believing in what we're trying to build here in Atlanta and what we're going to try and continue to keep building. It's been a great three years, but hopefully the ride is just starting."

Huerter finished Game 7 with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Trae Young had an off shooting night, going 5-for-23 from the floor, but the former Terp stepped up and delivered with a smaller Seth Curry on him most of the night. 

 

After two seasons dwelling at the bottom of the East, the Hawks spent big in free agency on Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari to put together a team that could win now. Despite a slow start and injury troubles during the season, they achieved their goal of making the playoffs. 

"When we got [De'Andre Hunter] back and we went into that New York series, we knew we were good," Huerter said. "We're a pretty complete team when we have everybody. We're right back banged up but we've had guys filling in all year, we went on that eight or nine-game winning streak and we had a lot of different guys stepping up. 

"There's just a belief, you can't explain it," he said. "It's house money. Nobody expects much from us, we're going out there confident every game and trying to do what we can."

The Bucks await them in the conference finals and will present the Hawks with their biggest challenge yet. Milwaukee has its flaws, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing some of the best basketball of his career and the Bucks are coming off an emotional series win over Kevin Durant and the Nets. 

Atlanta isn't a team that gets rattled under pressure. They've won on the road with regularity through the first two rounds and will need to do it again to advance to the Finals. 

"This crowd didn't faze us, just like the crowd didn't faze us in New York," Huerter said. "Going back to college, sometimes playing on the road is more fun. You have your group of 20 people and it's so tight-knit, every huddle is the only group in the building that wants you to win. On the road, you gotta lock-in and come together, and we seemed to do that at the right time."

Game 1 of Hawks vs. Bucks is set for 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.