NEW YORK (AFP) – Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a knee injury as the Milwaukee Bucks slumped to a series-leveling defeat against the Atlanta Hawks in their NBA Eastern Conference finals clash on Tuesday.
An all-round offensive effort from the Hawks secured a 110-88 victory at the State Farm Arena to square the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
Lou Williams, starting in place of the injured Trae Young, led the scoring with 21 points for Atlanta while Bogdan Bogdanovic had 20 points. Six Atlanta players finished in double digits.
“We had great and great ball movement – all the things we needed, we got that,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan.
“It started with our guys. It was a total team effort and guys continue to step in and take advantage of opportunities when they get them.”
Jrue Holiday led the Bucks scorers with 19 points while Khris Middleton finished with 16 points.
But the main talking point from a comprehensive Atlanta victory was the injury to Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player collapsed to the court in agony after landing awkwardly following a tussle near the basket with Clint Capela.
Replays showed Antetokounmpo’s left knee buckle and a hushed silence descended as the 26-year-old Greek star received treatment on the court.
He was later led off the court and back to the locker room.
He returned unassisted shortly afterwards before eventually being ruled out of the game with what the Bucks said was a hyper-extended left knee.
The incident appeared to rattle the Bucks, who trailed by 10 points 62-52 when the injury occurred.
With Antetokounmpo off the court, the Hawks sought to ram home their advantage and surged into a 25-point lead at 87-62 by the end of the third quarter.
The Hawks kept the throttle down in the fourth quarter, maintaining a comfortable lead to close out a convincing win.
A somber Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had no further information about Antetokounmpo, describing the injured star as “part of our soul, our fiber.”
“He’s in the locker room with the guys and just addressed the group,” Budenholzer said. “But nothing above and beyond that. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
Budenholzer however backed his team to respond in game five on Thursday when the series heads back to Milwaukee while paying tribute to the Hawks all-round performance.
“They had a lot of guys play well tonight for really the whole game so credit to Atlanta,” he said. “We’ve got to be better at both ends. We’ll get better. The character of our group will come through. We’re going back to Milwaukee and it’s 2-2.”
Budenholzer also backed the Bucks to be competitive with or without Giannis.
“We’ve got a heck of a team, a heck of a roster,” he said. “The guys will be ready to compete and play — that’s what it’s about.”
Atlanta had dominated from the outset, surging into an early 25-22 lead in the first quarter and then outscoring Milwaukee by 10 points in the second to lead 51-38 at the half.
A miserable night for Antetokounmpo saw him once again struggle from the free throw line to the delight of a merciless Atlanta crowd.
Hawks fans repeatedly counted down loudly in order to throw Antetokounmpo off his rhythm, and jeers rang out as the Bucks star aimed multiple airshots at the basket from the free throw line in the first half.