After Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextened knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, his first public message had nothing to do with his injury. Instead, and following the selfless culture the Milwaukee Bucks have built over the past several seasons, Antetokounmpo tweeted, “This is our house! Be loud tonight.”
Well, he’s already been the NBA’s Most Improved Player, an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Now attach successful promoter and hype-man to Antetokounmpo’s accolades, because everyone responded to his memo.
The sellout attendance inside Fiserv Forum was loud, the 15,000 fans hopping up and down in the Deer District were loud, his Bucks teammates on offense and defense were loud and even P.J. Tucker’s florescent green first-half Nike shoes were loud during the 123-112 Game 5 critical victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Bobby Portis got the nod to replace the injured Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup and he relished in the role. Portis set playoff career highs in points (22), minutes played (36), field goals made and attempted (9-for-20) and steals (3). All while the arena crowd echoed one of their newer chants, “Bobby.”
“Milwaukee is a tough city,” said Portis on his connection with Bucks fans. “We were meeting with some people over the start of the season, around January, February and they were telling us about the city and how tough it is to live here and things like that. The city goes through a lot, so, when they see somebody that gives his all and works hard, because it’s a blue-collared city and I’m a blue-collared player (and) whether I’m making shots, whether it’s going or not, I still give my all to the team, give 100% for the name on the front of my jersey, and they love players like that.
“It’s just fun to go out there and play this game and have the home-court advantage as well, and just to get them involved, so we can have that home-court advantage. … Coming here was one of the best decisions for my career.”
Bobby Portis knew his time would come, stepped up big in Game 5
Milwaukee never trailed in Game 5, not one second, and it was largely in part of the dominant play of Brook Lopez. The 13-year veteran also had a playoff career-high 33 points – he averaged 10.0 points per a game in first four Eastern Conference finals games -- on a ridiculously efficient 14-for-18 shooting. In his time spent with the Bucks, Lopez has morphed into more of present-day spot-up shooter, but Thursday night he went to a throwback center performance controlling the paint while taking just two shots from 3-point distance (0-for-2).
“I’m just trying to go out there and help my team however possible,” Lopez said. “Whether it’s playing that new modern 3-ball game, four-stretch game or being inside. What was great about today, we were all just really basketball players playing together both on offense and defense. Playing off one another, making plays, making extra passes. It was a lot of fun tonight.
“I’m prepared for whatever is asked for me from the team, but it’s absolutely everyone stepping up and together to fill that. Obviously, no one can replace Giannis. He’s a freakin’ two-time MVP, so much of what we do, and no one person is going to replace that. It’s a matter of everyone stepping up and I think everyone showed they’re capable of doing that tonight.”
Bucks' Lopez scored playoff career-high 33 pts in Game 5 win
The backcourt duo of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were facilitators all night long and both flirted with a triple-double. Middleton dropped 26 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds and Holiday was aggressive offensively and driving and scoring, and if his shot wasn’t there he found a teammate to score. He finished with 25 points, 13 assists and six rebounds.
“For me it’s just figuring out the game, playing within the game, finding a way to get myself involved, but also others,” Middleton said. “Knowing that the focal point was going to be on me a lot more and Jrue also. I think Jrue did a great job of setting the tone at first. He got himself going, he got other guys involved: Brook, Bobby. But then myself, I just try to pick my spots, find where I can attack and be aggressive and take advantage.”
The Bucks are now up 3-2 in the series and just one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals. Closer than they have been in 47 years and the closest this particular core group has ever been. Game 6 now shifts to Atlanta on Saturday night where the questions still linger if the Hawks will be without star Trae Young for the third consecutive game and if the Bucks will have to go another game without superstar Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks’ two-time MVP was standing the majority of Game 5, fist-pumping and cheering and was the leader in the tunnel huddle pregame, so regardless, his leadership will still be suited up.