Deflated. That was the feeling after Giannis went down with a hyperextended knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks were taken advantage of after that, as the Atlanta Hawks molly wopped Milwaukee for the win.
The series tied 2-2, and heading back home, the Bucks realized there is still a series to be won. Giannis or no Giannis, they still had to fight. Game 5 could not be a repeat of Game 4.
Milwaukee got off to a far better start, brought the fight, and took a wire-to-wire win, 123-112. A complete team effort was needed and it’s exactly what the Bucks put together.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, needed to lead the charge in a world without Giannis. They answered the call by combining for: 51 points/19 rebounds/21 assists/3 steals. Great news, but you still needed more from others. Enter: Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis.
Mike Budenholzer did something that should have been done more in this playoff run; realized Lopez is a 7-footer who is adept in the paint and played him as such. No longer making him camp out beyond the arc, Lopez dominated the paint and dropped a playoff career-high 33 points, with 4 blocks. He was a big reason for the disparity in points in the paint. (Bucks outscored the Hawks 66/36 in the paint.)
Bobby Portis, who vowed to stay ready when he disappeared from the rotation in the Nets series, has done just that. Starting in place of Giannis, Portis poured in a playoff career-high 22 points and snagged 8 boards. Most importantly, his grit and energy was infectious.
In the end, Bucks starters were responsible for 111 of the 123 points scored. Couple that with a stellar defensive effort by everyone who played, and you see why victory was the result.
Milwaukee now holds a 3-2 series advantage. They are one game away from the NBA Finals. The work, the opportunity, nor the series, was over just because Giannis went down with injury. Everything is still there for them. They must take advantage of this opportunity because it doesn’t come around often.
Saturday night will be a monumental task for the Bucks. Atlanta will be home, their crowd will be rough, the play will be desperate.
Yes, Milwaukee has two opportunities to win one game, but why wait? Bring the fight and finish this in Atlanta.