The Atlanta Hawks got hit in the mouth and weren’t able to shake it off.
That’s how their head coach Nate McMillan described the events of Game 5, which was won by the Giannis-less Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hawks were Trae-less, but that isn’t news and shouldn’t have been a factor. In Game 4, Trae Young also sat on the bench in his hoodie and celebrated as his team got the W without him.
This time it was different, though. Without Giannis from the tipoff, the Bucks were a different team. They played with the energy of a household whose parents were out of town. Not that Giannis was holding them back or anything like that, but they just felt…free.
The paint, in particular, was as free as an open highway.
Bobby Portis replaced Giannis on the floor and brought the pain to the Hawks’ bigs inside. Along with Brook Lopez, Portis hit the Hawks—metaphorically, of course—in the mouth over and over again. They combined for 55 points, which, if you do the math, was well over what Giannis could contribute to Milwaukee on the offensive end.
The Hawks simply had no answer in Game 5. Whereas in Game 4 they activated Lou Williams as their prime counterpuncher, this time around it was the Bucks with the answers. Even the 28 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic didn’t matter much.
Coach Nate said the team that has been more aggressive to start has won each of the games. He couldn’t be more right.
This is the point in the playoffs where aggressiveness gets you to that next level, where if you feel you’re being backed into a corner, you fight back.
The Hawks did that in Game 4 minus Trae; the Bucks did it in Game 5 without Giannis.
Looking ahead to Game 6, it is now back to where the Hawks want it — with their season on the line and seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them. This is where the Hawks become more aggressive, and yes, more dangerous.
Coach Nate likened Game 5 to a slugfest, rightfully so, because it did look like the Bucks wanted to give the Hawks the beating of their lives. Every Bobby Portis highlight was a punch to the jaw.
But more than an exchange of blows and a game of physical violence, what this series has turned to be, really, is a cerebral exercise. It’s more of a chess match than a fight.
Both teams have always been able to counter every move the other team has made. You got Trae? We’ll hit you with Giannis. Kevin Huerter your hitman? We got Khris Middleton. Starter LouWill, huh? How about Bobby in the first five.
Game 5 was about the Bucks deploying, in perfect timing, a move they’ve been waiting to execute. Whether it had always been part of the game plan to beat the Hawks inside or not, it worked. At least for the time being.
Your move, Atlanta.
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