After our collective exhale yesterday with the news there was no structural damage to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s knee, Milwaukee Bucks fans are left wondering where the team goes from here? They stand two wins away from the NBA Finals, with home court advantage, and the status of the Atlanta Hawks’s Trae Young still in doubt. There is still plenty of reason to believe this team can pull through, but it’ll start with Game Five.
Where We’re At
Game Four was a crushing disappointment for so many reasons, but secondary to Giannis’s injury was the completely inert performance in the first half. I’m not taking anything away from the second half given the nature of their star’s departure from the game, but Milwaukee still came out flat from jump. PJ Tucker addressed that in his postgame presser.
"It's the Eastern Conference Finals. There's no excuses...You have to fight through it and win." pic.twitter.com/1d0hZUXMNO— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 30, 2021
The comeback starts with Khris Middleton, who outside of his Game Three explosion has shot merely 22.9% from deep on 8.8 attempts per game. That figure has to change immediately if Milwaukee has any hopes of advancing through the rest of this series. He’s actually shot well from midrange and floater territory, so look for him to keep attacking Atlanta’s interior for those buckets. On top of that, he’ll have to carry a greater playmaking burden, although a lot of that will fall upon Jrue Holiday’s shoulders. Holiday has been more consistent than Khris this series, but the Bucks need another level from their “Buck for Life.” His three is falling at 38.5% thus far and Atlanta doesn’t have an answer for him when he attacks the rim; he needs to stay aggressive and find his rhythm inside. Brook Lopez will likely pick up the extra scoring slack. I’m curious how Bud will attack the starting lineup. My inclination would be he’d insert Pat so that he doesn’t have his entire Big rotation on the floor from the outset, but maybe he’d consider Bryn Forbes given he could hide among the higher level defensive players in the starting lineup.
As for Atlanta, they have to be riding high after their teardown of this Bucks team in Game Four. They got contributions from up and down the roster, with Lou Williams scoring 21 on just nine shots, Clint Capela adding 15 and Bogdan Bogdanovic breaking out of his slump to hist 6-14 from deep for 20 points. Even Cam Reddish, who only recently became active, hit 5-9 overall and seemed to lock up Khris Middleton. Atlanta’s defensive intensity and concerted effort to try and shut off the paint made them look decidedly different from prior games in this series. The question mark for this one is whether Trae Young will return, as the old adage is that role players always perform better at home than on the road. Well, basically every single role player performed well in Atlanta, can they replicate that in Milwaukee without their point guard? We’ll find out.
Giannis is listed as doubtful and Donte is out as usual. As for the Hawks, Bogdan Bogdanovic is probable, while both Clint Capela and Trae Young are questionable.
Player to Watch
Brook Lopez has found himself put through the discourse ringer with this series, but I thought one disappointing part of Game Four was the fact the Hawks were still really efficient from floater space over his outstretched contest. They nailed 12-18 from that range, and it opened up the lobs to Capela. The Bucks have won on the back of their defense all postseason, and they need Lopez at his best in this one if they hope to take it. He’ll need to be their anchor there and likely their most stout post presence, along with splashing in a few triples. Here’s hoping he can come through.
Game Five: Against Atlanta, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
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Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)