Unable to lean on their superstar, the Milwaukee Bucks moved one victory away from the NBA Finals with old-fashioned teamwork Thursday while defeating the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Milwaukee.
Given a choice, the Bucks would have preferred to have two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, but they made the best of their opportunity as four of their five starters scored at least 22 points and the Bucks took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Without their own star, Trae Young, on the floor, the Hawks looked discombobulated early and never recovered while moving one defeat from the end of a surprising playoff run that has them within a series victory of the Finals. Young was a spectator on the Hawks’ bench with a bruised bone in his right foot.
Brook Lopez stepped into a leading role for the Bucks with a season-high 33 points as Antetokounmpo watched from the bench with a hyperextended left knee.
Jrue Holiday also loomed large in a balanced attack with 25 points and 13 assists for the Bucks, while Khris Middleton added 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Lopez posted his highest point total in a postseason game.
“I thought we just did a great job of playing together,” Lopez said. “Khris, Jrue did their normal job of making plays for everyone. When everyone is scoring, everyone is doing their thing, that’s tough for a defense. It’s tough for them to make a decision and a commitment.”
Milwaukee, which never trailed, brought early intensity, jumping out to a 30-10 lead less than nine minutes into the game. The Hawks were within single digits late in the third quarter before the Bucks pulled away.
“We had to figure out a way to give ourselves a chance and (getting) Brook into the paint, Brook scoring there was good,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s done it really his whole career and just a credit to him. … We have to get ready to do it again now.”
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 28 points for the Hawks, while John Collins and Danilo Gallinari added 19 points each. Atlanta will return home for Game 6 on Saturday, attempting to extend its deepest playoff run since 2015.
Lou Williams, who rescued the Hawks in Game 4 with 21 points while starting for Young, scored 17 in another starting role in Game 5.
“They were more physical. They hit us in the mouth and we just did not recover from that,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan, who referenced the Bucks’ 28 points in the paint in the first quarter. “They were the more physical, more aggressive team from start to finish tonight.”
Antetokounmpo was injured in the third quarter Tuesday at Atlanta. With no timetable for his return, he is in danger of missing Game 6 as well. Young, who also missed Game 4, was listed as questionable for Game 5 before the Hawks decided he would sit.
The Hawks regrouped late in the first quarter and were back within 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 Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer to open the second half.
A 9-0 run between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, capped by a 3-pointer from Bryn Forbes, put the Bucks up 96-78. The Hawks never got within single digits again.
“They were just the more aggressive team — intense, with energy,” the Hawks’ Gallinari said. “We didn’t match their intensity, their energy, and they were just able to do whatever they wanted. That was similar to what we did in Game 4. We definitely need to start the game better and not let them be the aggressive team.”
Bobby Portis Jr. had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Bucks, and teammate P.J. Tucker grabbed 11 rebounds.
Milwaukee shot 50.5 percent from the field while improving to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. Atlanta hit 45.6 percent of its field-goal attempts.