Bucks Unselfish Offense Stingy Defense Keys Crucial Game 5 Win
With both teams' stars sidelined, Bucks bully Hawks to the brink in … Thu, 01 Jul 2021 20:00:00 -0700-Without Giannis, Milwaukee got production all the way down its rotation to take a 3–2 series lead and put it one win away from the NBA Finals.
Heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the two biggest storylines revolved around a pair of franchise players who were not healthy enough to compete. Hawks guard Trae Young was hampered by a bone bruise to his foot and Bucks two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t go after hyperextending his knee near the end of Game 4.
It’s reductive but also true: How each team would respond without their on-court leader up and ready to go would ultimately decide the game. The Bucks aren’t deep. But in a pivotal Game 5 that they won 123-112, it didn’t matter. Here’s more on how Milwaukee took its penultimate step towards the NBA Finals.
The Bucks' starters played like stars
Once again: the Bucks aren’t a deep team. Also: In the very near-term, they may not have to be.
Jrue Holiday spent most of the night looking like a man among boys. He repeatedly drove to the paint, forced help from whoever was supposed to be guarding Brook Lopez—who finished with a playoff career high 33 points on only 18 shots—before feeding the seven-footer. There were lobs. There were dump offs. There was destruction.
Most of Holiday’s 13 assists (and 25 points) came this way. And in the first half, when he could already smell blood in the water, the Bucks' first-team All-Defense guard decided it was time to start ripping the ball away from poor Hawks who simply wanted to initiate a set. We can’t know if that same Holiday will show up in Game 6 (he played a ferocious 42 minutes and has been up and down throughout the playoffs) but to help his team climb ahead in a series that’s officially up for grabs, he was arguably the most aggressive offensive player on the floor.
I say “arguably” because Bobby Portis is alive and well. Portis’s 22 points (on 20 shots) were a playoff career high. When he wasn’t getting hunted by Lou Williams or Bogdan Bogdanović in pick-and-rolls that did a good enough job putting him on an island, Milwaukee’s sixth man looked like Karl Malone, manhandling smaller defenders in the post, creating countless second chances whenever a teammate missed, drilling wide open jumpers and capitalizing in transition whenever the Bucks forced a turnover.
Khris Middleton’s 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists felt superfluous because the Bucks were up double digits for almost the entire game, but it was anything but. All the while knowing he might have to go the distance, Middleton’s humdrum, methodical attack was supplanted by aggressive downhill drives, step-back threes, and early pushes that seemingly came off every Atlanta basket. When he started to cook and draw two to the ball, it created easy looks for anyone who felt like diving to the rim.
Together, this group did just about everything right and together. In addition to scoring 111 points as a starting five (aka one fewer point than the entire Hawks roster), they cut, passed, set picks, boxed out, drove gaps on offense then clogged them on the other end, often behind bigs who were switched out on the perimeter. Speaking of…
Mike Budenholzer made a big adjustment
In the second round, it didn’t matter how many pull-up jumpers Kevin Durant hit over a dropping Brook Lopez. The Bucks were going to be stubborn and sag their big back into the paint whenever his man set a high ball screen. Sure, sometimes he’d try and pick the ball up a bit higher to offer a late contest, but the fundamental strategy stayed true.
As the playoffs have gone on, the Bucks have switched quite a bit more, especially during their big Game 3 win in this series. But before tonight, that shift didn’t apply to Lopez. Game 5 is where all that changed, as Budenholzer shrewdly surprised the Young-less Hawks by repeatedly allowing Lopez to scamper one-on-one 25 feet from the rim against guards and wings.
The adjustment worked like a charm. By the time Atlanta’s offense was able to find any consistent traction against a defense that was dialed in to reduce ball movement and induce hero ball, it was too late. The Bucks leapt to an early lead by grinding their defensive possessions to a halt—keeping the ball in front of them and staying out of rotation—and then pouncing in the open floor, whether the Hawks made their shot or weren’t even able to get one up.
When Young sits, the Hawks have only been able to generate 100.4 points per 100 possessions. Their offensive rating in Game 5 was a somewhat-deceiving 117.9, spurred on by a late rally in a game that constantly teetered in a “maybe we can steal this thing!” zone. Obviously they never did, because their defense failed them.
Atlanta’s defense was bad
The Bucks grabbed a whopping 41.2% of their misses. It’s a mark they breached once during the regular season (in January against the Hawks, because of course) and once against the Heat in Round 1. The second-chance opportunities Atlanta allowed in this game might be the single most significant reason Nate McMillan's crew lost. Not only did Milwaukee annihilate the glass, but when it came time to capitalize they averaged 32.5 points per 100 misses—a soul-crushing number. The Hawks were undisciplined in transition and over-helped a bit, too.
Some of that’s just effort. But there were also some lineups in this game that had never played a second of meaningful basketball together before it tipped off. Kris Dunn is trying his best but is a beat too slow right now. Cam Reddish is quick enough to recover when he bites on a fake, but he’s also prone to on- and off-ball breakdowns. The Hawks might have more useful talent in their rotation, but not enough of it showed up on the defensive end to ever make this game appear as competitive as it could’ve been.
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Bucks' Unselfish Offense, Stingy Defense Keys Crucial Game 5 Win Thu, 01 Jul 2021 20:00:00 -0700-Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young both sat out with injuries, and the Bucks beat the Hawks, 123-122, to move within a win of the NBA Finals.
MILWAUKEE — As the Milwaukee Bucks processed their shock and despair over Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury, they kept returning to an altogether different sentiment: self-disgust.
Losing their franchise player indefinitely to a hyperextended left knee during the Eastern Conference finals was a terrible twist of fortune. But the Bucks dwelled on their poor first-half play during a Game 4 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday well before their franchise player had to be helped off the court. They had squandered a chance to take control against the Hawks, who were without star guard Trae Young because of a foot injury.
“We just thought we were going to walk in and win the game,” Bucks forward P.J. Tucker moaned.
The Bucks didn’t make that same mistake in a 123-112 victory in Game 5 on Thursday, building a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes before going up by 20 points in the first quarter. With Antetokounmpo and Young both sidelined, Milwaukee collected itself after the emotional loss of its two-time MVP and compensated for his absence with relentless attacks on Atlanta’s interior defense to take a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
The Bucks now sit one win away from their first Finals appearance since 1974 and a date with the Phoenix Suns, who eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers from the Western Conference finals Wednesday.
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Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, who had lamented his team’s lack of “desperation” in Game 4, set the tone early with hard drives and kept the Bucks organized all night, posting 25 points, 13 assists and six rebounds in a strong bounce-back performance.
“I’m a bigger guard,” Holiday said. “I like being physical and getting into the paint. Especially with Giannis [out], who is our main guy getting into the paint, I felt like I had to do my part today.”
The Bucks’ slow starts and occasional duds have been confounding given the heights they have reached during this postseason run, but they didn’t lack for intensity in Game 5. Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer opted to fill Antetokounmpo’s starting spot with forward Bobby Portis rather than guard Pat Connaughton, thereby maintaining a large and physical front line.
The Hawks, who have struggled with Milwaukee’s size all series, spent the night on their heels and trailed by double digits for much of the game. Milwaukee had 28 points in the paint in the first quarter — thanks to Holiday’s drives and strong play from Portis and center Brook Lopez — and finished with a whopping 66-36 scoring advantage in the paint.
“They were more physical,” Hawks Coach Nate McMillan said. “They hit us in the mouth, and we did not recover from that. No defense on the ball. No defense off the ball.”
The 33-year-old Lopez took advantage of an expanded offensive role, finishing three forceful dunks, including a highflying alley-oop, on his way to a game-high 33 points. Portis, best known for his soul-piercing stares, finished with a postseason career-high 22 points and eight rebounds, drawing deafening chants of “Bobby! Bobby!” from the Fiserv Forum crowd.
“Milwaukee is a tough city,” said Portis, who was left out of the rotation at times during Milwaukee’s second-round series victory over the Brooklyn Nets and found out Thursday morning that he would start. “The city goes through a lot. This is a blue collar city, and I’m a blue collar player. They love players like that.”
While the Hawks managed well without Young in Game 4, they badly missed his playmaking and shot-making Thursday. Atlanta’s offense lacked rhythm against a motivated Milwaukee defense, with Lou Williams, Young’s replacement at point guard, scoring 17 points but registering six turnovers. An inspired Lopez added seven rebounds and four blocks for the Bucks, smothering several Atlanta drives to the hoop and controlling the paint without Antetokounmpo alongside him.
“It’s everyone stepping up together to fill that,” Lopez said. “No one can replace Giannis. He’s a two-time MVP and so much of what we can do. … It’s exciting [to be one win from the Finals], but it’s obviously not done. We need to bottle that energy and effort that we had tonight and do it again in two days.”
Whether or when Antetokounmpo and Young will return to this series remains unclear. Antetokounmpo, who avoided ligament damage while landing awkwardly in Game 4, didn’t participate in any basketball activities at the team’s shoot-around Thursday and was ruled out hours before tip-off.
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Young, who developed a bone bruise on his right foot after inadvertently stepping on a referee’s foot and rolling his right ankle in Game 3, went through a light shooting workout on the court before Game 5. Shortly thereafter, McMillan ruled out his star guard during his pregame news conference, saying that Young was “feeling a little better” but “just didn’t feel comfortable enough to go.”
With the Hawks now pushed to the brink, the pressure will mount for Young to return to the court for Game 6 in Atlanta on Saturday.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, seemed to be itching to get back on the court, standing watch from the sideline throughout the game, offering instructions during dead balls and cheering Portis’s hustle plays along with the rest of the crowd. During a fourth-quarter timeout, Antetokounmpo got hold of a ball and pantomimed jump shots while his teammates huddled up.
“[Antetokounmpo] was trying to find a way to help the team any way he can,” Budenholzer said. “I saw a guy that was locked in and trying to talk to his teammates and be there with them. That’s what we need from everybody.”
Together, the Bucks reciprocated by doing what they needed to do in Game 5 to give Antetokounmpo a chance to rejoin them on their title quest.
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– July 2, 2021
hawks vs bucks, Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Brook Lopez