The Milwaukee Bucks are the latest NBA team to suffer a loss to a star player. And does it come at a terrible time as Giannis Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, left Tuesdays game with a knee injury. Now, the Bucks will have to do what the Atlanta Hawks did in Game 4: win without their best player.
Milwaukee will have to do it the way Atlanta did: with defense. The totals are set at 216 points on the online sportsbook even if last game totaled just 198. The Bucks scored just 88 points and shot under 35 percent. Now they look to flip the script on Atlanta with their playoff-leading home defense on Thursday in Game 5.
Hawks: Defense First
The NBA odds didn’t favor them. “Experts” (like yours truly) counted them out. But the Hawks played Game 4 without Trae Young and beat the brakes out of Milwaukee thanks to some inspired defense. Even when Antetokounmpo was in the game, Atlanta was in total control.
Six Hawks players scored in double digits, including guard Cam Reddish and forward Danilo Gallinari off the bench. Lou Williams shined in place of Young in the starting lineup with 21 points and eight assists on 7-of-9 shooting. Bogdan Bogdanovic chipped in 20 with six three-pointers.
The Hawks held the Bucks to their second-lowest scoring game in the playoffs at just 88 points. Antetokounmpo was scoring at will, but the rest of the Bucks shot just 35.1 percent and hit just 21 percent of their three-pointers. Don’t look now, but it looks like Atlanta’s turned its defense to a new level.
Bucks: Knock Them Down
Milwaukee has been here before. To be exact, in Game 4 of the semifinals last year in the bubble. The Bucks stepped up and beat the Miami Heat in overtime. That would be their only win of the series. They’ll have to channel that performance with their defense, especially if their offense can’t get going.
The Bucks went 6-5 without Antetokounmpo, who suffered a hyperextended knee on Tuesday. But the team was nearly seven points worse with him off the court and almost 11 points worse during the playoffs. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday shot bricks and combined for 35.3 percent shooting and two three-pointers in 14 attempts in Game 4.
The one thing standing in the way of a Milwaukee Bucks title is the Milwaukee Bucks
Riley Feldmann (@RileyFeldmann) June 26, 2021
Holiday was just in poor form, but Middleton was at least knocking down mid-range shots. The Bucks will need to figure out how to create better shots from deep without Antetokounmpo assaulting the paint. If they can’t, it will be “Brick City” all over again.
Pick: Brick City
Losing Young was a big blow to Atlanta, but the Hawks had arguably their best defensive showing. As spectacular as Young is on offense, the Hawks are much better defensively when he sits.
Atlanta has a 113.1 defensive rating when he’s on the floor, which ranks eighth. That drastically improves to 102 when he’s on the bench, which would be the best mark in the playoffs. Losing Young also decreases their offensive efficiency by a whole 12 points.
On the other hand, Milwaukee’s defense gets significantly more potent at the Fiserv Forum. The Bucks lead the playoffs with a 96.7 rating. They allow the third-fewest three-pointers and the fourth-lowest field goal percentage for the season. With improved defenses on both ends, expect this game to be another low-scoring one.
Pick: Under 216 (-110)
Bonus Pick: Hawks Down
Atlanta is better on defense and worse on offense without Young. That is a recipe for this team to have a harder time scoring.
But even if Young (foot) plays, four of the Hawks’ last five road games have gone under. They average just 105.7 points on the road and hit just 31.3 percent of their threes. It’s their turn to struggle scoring.