During a postseason defined by fallen superstars, the Atlanta Hawks showed they have what it takes to overcome the absence of a key piece to the puzzle.
The Hawks head into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Milwaukee on Thursday after getting even at 2 in the series while playing without team leader Trae Young. Standout sixth man Lou Williams jumped into the starting lineup in Game 4 and recorded 21 points and eight assists as the Hawks topped the Bucks 110-88.
The Bucks will limp back home with Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as doubtful after Milwaukee’s all-everything performer hyperextended his left knee in the third quarter Tuesday. He did not return as the Hawks put the game away, and his status for Game 5 remains in doubt.
An MRI exam on Wednesday showed no structural damage but the club hasn’t revealed a plan for the rest of the series.
Meanwhile, Young is listed as questionable for Game 5 due to the bone bruise in his right foot. Big man Clint Capela (eye inflammation) is also questionable while guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (right knee soreness) is probable.
Atlanta went from uneasy during pregame, when Young was ruled out with his injury on Tuesday, to joy when they pulled away before the fourth quarter after Antetokounmpo went down.
“Losing Trae was, of course, a big loss for us, but we’ve been in that position before,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “We needed to come out and play a good solid basketball game.
“The guys that are stepping into those roles and getting those opportunities, we just tell them to stay in their lane. We don’t need them to try to be that player that is out; play your game.”
It is advice the Bucks could use as well, especially with Antetokounmpo ailing. Milwaukee already has been without Donte DiVincenzo because of a tendon injury in his foot.
Antetokounmpo was injured as he landed awkwardly while contesting a Capela dunk attempt.
On their heels after Antetokounmpo departed, the Bucks watched the Hawks go on a 25-10 scoring run until the end of the third quarter. Milwaukee’s 25-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter ended up being its largest of the game.
Khris Middleton never got on track for Milwaukee, scoring 16 points and missing all seven of his 3-point attempts. Jrue Holiday scored 19 points with nine assists as Milwaukee shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 20.5 percent (8 of 39) from distance.
“Two games in a row we got off to a bad start,” Middleton said. “(In Game 3) we were able to pull it out and this game we were never able to get it going. They played hard. They hit shots. We just have got to do a better job of getting those 50/50 balls. That was a big part of the game in the first half. Play with more urgency. Get after it more.”
Regardless of whether the Hawks get Young back, they know they can play with the Bucks, even at Milwaukee. They won the opener of the series 116-113 on the road and a victory in Game 5 would put them one victory from the NBA Finals with Game 6 at home.
Williams said he is ready to operate in whatever role is necessary. But he won’t think about it too much. He wants to put his head down and just play basketball.
“Did I look ahead and say we can be a championship contender day one? Probably not,” Williams said about his mindset after he was traded from the Clippers in March. “But we’re two wins away like everybody else, and we feel good about it.”
–Field Level Media