Injuries have been an unfortunate theme of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and they impacted Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday evening. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) and Trae Young (foot) missed the contest, leaving their teams without No. 1 options under the brightest of lights. The Milwaukee Bucks were able overcome the hole left by Antetokounmpo, however, as they raced to an early lead and never trailed on the way to a 123-112 victory.
After the Hawks came out flying in Game 4, the Bucks returned the favor at the outset on Thursday. Milwaukee led 10-2 at the first timeout, riding seven quick points from Jrue Holiday, and that wasn’t the end of their push. Milwaukee scored on their first 13 (!) offensive possessions, including five offensive rebounds on their first five missed shots. The end result of that onslaught was a 20-point lead in short order, with the Hawks seemingly on the ropes.
Jrue is ON FIRE!
7 quick points so far in the first. pic.twitter.com/RwDyOTQTpM
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 2, 2021
Bobby Portis throwing it DOWN 😤
Bucks are feeling it pic.twitter.com/fjru1Cfvzp
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 2, 2021
While it was a balanced attack for Milwaukee in what became a parade to the rim, Brook Lopez was huge for the Bucks. He scored 16 points in the first half and, on the whole, Lopez was effective in walling off the paint defensively and providing effective offense with his size.
Have a game, Brook Lopez 😳
12 points on perfect 5/5 shooting from the field.
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) July 2, 2021
It seemed as if the Hawks might fade at times in the first half but, to their credit, they punched back. Bogdan Bogdanovic led the way with 13 points before halftime and, little by little, Atlanta chipped away. The Hawks made 16 of their final 26 shots after a dreadful start and, when John Collins connected on a three-pointer in the final seconds, Atlanta took only a nine-point deficit into the locker room.
John Collins just before the half to cut the lead to single digits 💦
· Bucks (-8.5)
· Hawks ML +350
· Bucks ML -450 pic.twitter.com/cMzHxayMQh
— NBABet (@nbabet) July 2, 2021
On the first possession of the third quarter, Bogdanovic connected on his fourth three-pointer of the game, bringing the Hawks to within six. Seemingly on cue, the Bucks put together a response with a 12-4 run to reclaim a 14-point advantage.
Khris, the facilitator. Brook, the finisher!! pic.twitter.com/MkZno3gW4R
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 2, 2021
The rest of the third quarter was a back-and-forth battle, with the Hawks making a push to climb within a nine-point spread. Then, the Bucks scored the final four points of the period, extending their advantage to 13 points with 12 minutes to go.
Milwaukee opened the fourth quarter by scoring the first five points, taking an 18-point lead, and the Bucks were never seriously challenged from that point forward. Atlanta did cut the margin to 13 with less than four minutes left but, when Bobby Portis connected on a dagger three-pointer, the Bucks had enough of a cushion to withstand a late shooting barrage from the Hawks in securing the victory.
It would be fair to say that Milwaukee’s hot start was the No. 1 impetus in their overall success, but the Bucks were able to string together a highly impressive offensive performance, even with middling three-point shooting. The Bucks shot 51 percent from the floor, generating 66 points in the paint and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds that led directly to 19 second-chance points. Lopez (33 points) and Portis (22 points) both set new playoff career highs in scoring, and the shorthanded Bucks also received high-end efforts from Khris Middleton (26 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) and Jrue Holiday (25 points, 13 assists, six rebounds).
On the other side, Atlanta was simply unable to overcome their early hiccup, even as they got hot from three-point distance, making 15 of their 38 attempts for the night. Bogdanovic led the way with 28 points and seven three-pointers, but the Hawks couldn’t protect the defensive glass and struggled to contain Milwaukee’s attack near the rim.
From here, the series shifts back to Atlanta for a win-or-go-home situation for the Hawks as they trail 3-2 in the series. Nate McMillan’s team has been highly resilient, though, and the Bucks will need to put forth a top-tier effort to close out the series, no matter what the injury situation is for both teams.