Milwaukee, Wisc— To reach the NBA Finals the Milwaukee Bucks have to figure out a way to win without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for a few games.
The Bucks are one win away from sending the Atlanta Hawks home and earning their first NBA Finals slot in nearly half a century.
Brook Lopez scored 33 points to lead the Bucks to a 123-112 victory over the Hawks on Thursday night that gave them a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. It was Lopez highest career point total in a postseason game.
“It’s exciting. But it’s obviously not done,” Lopez said. “We need to bottle that energy and effort we had tonight and do it again in two days.”
Milwaukee haven’t reached the NBA Finals since 1974. They won their only NBA title in 1971.
The Bucks now have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series while playing without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who sat out due to a hyperextended left knee.
Milwaukee, which never trailed, brought early intensity, jumping out to a 30-10 lead less than nine minutes into the contest. Atlanta struggled with the Bucks’ pace in the first half.
The Hawks regained their composure late in the first quarter and were back within a single-digits at 57-49 with less than two minutes remaining before halftime.
They went into the break down 65-56 and closed within 65-59 on a Bogdan Bogdanovic 3-pointer to open the second half.
Bogdanovic scored 28 points for the Hawks, while John Collins and Danilo Gallinari chipped in 19 points each. The Hawks will return home for Game 6 on Saturday, trying to extend its playoff run.
“It was one of the main priorities, just to be aggressive out of the gate, be the aggressor, be more aggressive than they were,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. “We felt like those games in Atlanta, whether it was energy from the crowd or whatever it was, they swung and punched us in the mouth. We didn’t want to take any chances. We wanted to come out strong and hit first.”
The Hawks were without their own megastar, as Trae Young was out because of a bruised bone in his right foot.
The Phoenix Suns already have locked up the Western Conference title and are awaiting for the Milwaukee-Atlanta winner.
Milwaukee opened up a 9-0 run at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, capped by a long 3-pointer from Bryn Forbes, put the Bucks up 96-78. Atlanta never got within single digits again.
The Bucks shot 50.5 percent from the field while improving to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. The Hawks hit 45.6 percent of its field-goal attempts.
Bobby Portis Jr. scored 22 points and eight boards for the Bucks, and teammate P.J. Tucker grabbed 11 rebounds.
NBA sixth man Lou Williams has gotten the first two playoff starts of his 16-year career filling in for Trae Young, doing an great job at the point while averaging 19 points and more than 35 minutes on the hardwood.
“I was just trying to stay locked in,” Portis said. “Knowing that Giannis went down, we had to step up. I think that’s what makes the game that much better when you have to stay locked in and stay in the moment and be ready.”
Jrue Holiday played big for the Bucks attack chipping in 25 points and 13 assists, and Khris Middleton scored 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
“They were the more physical, more aggressive team from start to finish tonight,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.
The game came down to the paint, the Bucks outscored the Hawks 28-8 in the paint in the first. They ended the game with a 66-36 edge on the blocks.
“We didn’t match their intensity, their energy,” Hawks Gallinari said. “We definitely need to start the game better.”
Hawks: McMillan said he expects Young to be a game-time decision on Saturday. Capela was in the starting lineup after being listed as questionable before the game due to inflammation in his right eye. Capela took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Milwaukee’s Sam Merrill late in Game 4. He had six points and eight boards.
Bucks: During his pregame availability, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer offered no update on when Giannis might be able to return. Budenholzer said Antetokounmpo did some work in the weight room and training area but wasn’t with his teammates on the court Thursday morning. The Bucks made their first two 3-point attempts but missed their next 12 and finished 9 of 29.