The Milwaukee Bucks are one game away from the NBA Finals. On Thursday, they hosted the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals with both sides missing key contributors. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, DeAndre Hunter and Donte DiVincenzo all remain out, but the Bucks did a better job of replacing their superstar’s production. After jumping ahead by as many as 20 points in the first half, the Bucks pulled out the victory, 123-112, to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
Four players stood out. Brook Lopez led the way with a playoff career-high 33 points, but three of his teammates were hot on his trail. Khris Middleton scored 26 points of his own to go along with 25 from Jrue Holiday and 22 from Bobby Portis. Combined, they scored all but 17 of Milwaukee’s points for the game. It was a valiant effort from a hobbled Bogdan Bogdanovic to score 28 for the Hawks, but his teammates couldn’t give him enough support to steal this one.
The Bucks and Hawks will now travel to Atlanta for Game 6 on Saturday. If the Hawks win, Game 7 in Milwaukee will be on Monday. If the Bucks win? They’ll meet the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. For now, here are the three biggest takeaways from Game 5.
1. Brook’s time machine
Before Brook Lopez was a stretch big man, he was a traditional low-post threat. He averaged over 20 points per game four times as a member of the Nets, and he got there primarily by punishing opposing bigs near the basket. As the NBA has grown smaller, his combination of size and skill has only grown deadlier inside. He just hasn’t played for a team that has allowed him to use those skills. As good as Lopez is near the basket, Giannis Antetokounmpo is simply better. So he spaces the floor for his MVP teammate and uses the bulk of his energy on defense.
Antetokounmpo’s absence changed the entire geometry of the floor for the Bucks. …