Game 4 had a win-or-go-home feel for Atlanta.
It wasn’t, because win or lose, the Eastern Conference Finals were headed back to Milwaukee for Game 5. But avoiding going down 3-1 was all-important for the Hawks, who were playing without the injured Trae Young. Young was sidelined with a bone bruise in his right foot, suffered near the end of Game 3 after he stepped on an official's foot, but the Hawks didn’t seem to need him.
Atlanta’s supporting cast led from start to finish in Tuesday night's 110-88 win. Giannis Antetokounmpo left the game and did not return after a gruesome-looking knee injury in the third quarter. The Bucks, already down when Antetokounmpo went out, didn’t put up much of a fight after his injury. Now, Young and Antetokounmpo are both question marks for Game 5 of these injury-riddled playoffs.
Here are three thoughts on Atlanta evening up the series in Game 4 without their star.
Antetokounmpo joins a long list of All-Stars injured in the postseason
Leaping to make a defensive stop with his team trailing, Antetokounmpo came back down to Earth hard, his left knee bending under him in a way it shouldn’t. The Bucks’ franchise player immediately fell to the ground, grimacing and clutching his knee. The crowd at State Farm Arena, raucous just seconds before with their Hawks leading by 10 after an alley-oop to Clint Capela, fell silent as Milwaukee’s medical staff tended to the two-time MVP.
Eventually, Antetokounmpo returned to his feet and walked to the locker room with assistance from his brother Thanasis. He briefly returned to the sideline minutes later before once again retreating to the back of the arena. The Bucks announced soon after that Antetokounmpo would not return due to a hyperextended left knee.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer did not have any updates in the postgame press conference.
The turnaround to Game 5 Thursday night in Milwaukee isn’t long. And in potentially the last game of the series on Saturday night, both teams will be back in Atlanta for Game 6.
These playoffs, regardless of how exciting they have been, have been defined by injuries. Young was out for this game, Kawhi Leonard has not yet played in the Western Conference Finals, Chris Paul missed time and now Antetokounmpo is hurt. And that’s just the teams that are still alive. Injuries have shaped the road and will continue to as these teams head toward the Finals.
Without Young, Atlanta’s offense still hummed
Young could only watch from the bench as a blowout played out in front of him in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. That was Friday night when his Hawks dropped Game 2 in Milwaukee.
He did the same in Game 4, only this time it was his Hawks beating down on the Bucks, and they were doing so without him. The Game 2 loss was about what Young’s supporting cast couldn’t do when he wasn’t playing his best. Atlanta's win in Game 4 was about what the team could do without him.
Atlanta found scoring in all the places one would expect with Lou Williams, starting in Young’s place, scoring 21, and Bogdan Bogdanovic adding 20. But the Hawks also had a few surprise performances including 12 points off the bench from Cam Reddish and seven from Onyeka Okongwu.
The Hawks’ playmaking didn’t suffer with Young and his creative passing sidelined, finishing with a series-high 26 assists on 43 made field goals. Williams lead Atlanta with eight dimes and Kevin Huerter added seven, creating offense on a night where his outside shot (1-7 on three-pointers) was not falling. The Hawks' roster was prepared to play without its star and Clint Capela even did his best Young impression, connecting on a circus shot behind the backboard with the shot clock expiring in the fourth quarter. That’s just how good things were going for Atlanta.
Even before Antetokounmpo went down, the Hawks were in control
The story from Game 4 will rightfully be Antetokounmpo’s injury. But that shouldn’t overshadow what the Hawks were doing before Antetokounmpo went down.
Milwaukee started strong offensively in each game leading up to Tuesday. But with Young out and the Hawks’ less focused on a shootout and more on limiting Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, Atlanta was able to emerge victorious.
The Bucks were held to 38 points in the first half, their lowest scoring half of the series. Containing an offense that hadn’t scored less than 113 in the series started in the paint. That effort extended to the three-point line, where Milwaukee didn’t shoot much better (8-39).
Through three games, Milwaukee outscored Atlanta 188-118 in the paint. The Hawks just barely won the fight inside, 46-44 in Game 4. Maintaining any advantage there likely hinges on Antetokounmpo’s health moving forward.
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