LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Milwaukee Bucks showed they are more than a one-man show Thursday, using a balanced attack to dominate the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in game five of the Eastern Conference finals.
Brook Lopez had a season-high 33 points, Jrue Holiday had 25 points and 13 assists and Khris Middleton finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Bucks, who grabbed a 3-2 series lead and are one win away from reaching the NBA finals for the first time since 1974.
Milwaukee won despite playing without two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is out with an injured knee. He watched the game from the sidelines, standing with his teammates almost the entire game.
In his absence, four Bucks starters scored more than 20 points, including Bobby Portis who had 22 points and eight rebounds.
“We came out tonight and just did our best to dominate at both ends of the floor,” said Lopez. “We did a great job of playing together. When everyone is scoring and everyone is doing their thing it is tough on their defence.”
The best-of-seven series now switches back to Atlanta for game six on Saturday. The winner of the series will face the Phoenix Suns, who eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday to reach the finals for the first time in 28 years.
Role players and reserves were forced to step into the limelight Thursday as both clubs were missing their top scorers.
Antetokounmpo injured his knee in a loss in game four, and Hawks star Trae Young sat out his second straight game after he suffered a bone bruise in his right foot in game three.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a team-high 28 points for the Hawks in the road loss. John Collins and Danilo Gallinari each scored 19 points and Lou Williams chipped in 17 for the Hawks, who need to prove in game six they can compete with a key piece of their puzzle missing.
Young was a spectator on the Hawks’ bench during the game.
“They were more physical. They hit us in the mouth and we just did not recover from that,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.
McMillan spoke to the team in the dressing room after game five and reminded them that the next one is do or die.
“This is a one game season now,” McMillan said. “There is still a lot of basketball to be played. We got to go back home and take care of business. It is as simple as that.”
Milwaukee improved to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They were 6-5 without Antetokounmpo in the lineup during the regular season, and 40-21 with him.
The 26-year-old Antetokounmpo sustained the injury during the third quarter of the Bucks’ 110-88 loss in game four on Tuesday. He was contesting an alley-oop attempt by Hawks center Clint Capela when he landed awkwardly and twisted his knee.
– Fast start –
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had plenty of praise for the way Lopez stepped up in game five.
“It was a great opportunity for him to get the ball more and to use him a little more,” Budenholzer said. “He came through big time. He did it on the pick and roll, he did it on the offensive glass, and he got to the free throw line. Just an overall impressive effort.”
The Bucks got off to a blistering start and led by as much as 20 in the first quarter before the Hawks battled back to cut the lead to single digits at the half.
Milwaukee led 12-5 after the first three minutes, then Lopez made a dunk on a pass from Holiday to extend the lead to 30-10 with 3:18 left in the first.
Atlanta got back into it in the second by outscoring the Milwaukee 34-29 to cut the Bucks lead to 65-56 at the break.
The Bucks went on a 9-0 run spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth that put them up 96-78. The Hawks never got within single digits again.