The Milwaukee Bucks go on the road for game six, taking on the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night from State Farm Arena. The series has been a back and forth affair between the three seed and five seed and the Bucks can clinch their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974, while the Hawks are just looking to stay alive and force a game seven on Sunday. The talk of the game will be the status of stars Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf) and Trae Young (foot), both of whom are questionable. If one of those stars can play, it will surely tip the scales in what has been a back and forth series already, but was missing the flair of having one of the league's brightest young stars on Thursday in game five. Assuming both stars remain out, the key will be finding out which team has the more consistent supporting cast for the second straight game to determine whether we'll see a game seven, or get a Bucks vs Suns NBA Finals.
Bucks Again Without GiannisAll eyes for Milwaukee fans have continued to be Giannis, but on Friday it was reported that he would be doubtful for game six, paving the way for another team-wide performance predicted to pick up his slack on Saturday. Thursday's win without him saw Bobby Portis make the most of his first start of the playoffs, while Brook Lopez also had a career game, as the starters dominated the minutes en route to the home win. On the season, the Bucks took two of three games against the Hawks, and have taken three of five games so far in this series. If the Bucks can get the improved production from their supporting cast again on Saturday, they have a good chance to take the series on the road.
Khris Middleton didn't disappoint in his first game as the focal point of the offense, nearly dropping a double-double and exposing the mismatches he can create on offense. His 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists helped pave the way for the Bucks and they'll need him to replicate that performance in game six. One issue for the Bucks is that they likely won't get anywhere close to 33 points from Lopez again and then the question becomes where will those points come from? P.J. Tucker dominates the minutes and that won't change, but neither will his inability to score, while Jrue Holiday is already doing all he can to balance out the offense after going for 42 minutes on Thursday. The biggest issue for the Bucks now is their bench, or lack thereof, with them only getting 12 points combined from Pat Connaughton and Bryn Forbes in game five. Without a better game from the bench, it'll be a struggle on the road for the series favorites.
One place where Milwaukee can make a difference is in the pace of the game, taking more shots per game. If they can get Atlanta playing in transition without Trae Young, they can also force some turnovers as well. It might be more difficult with Giannis, but the Bucks were the top team in the NBA in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and total rebounds, and if they can crash the boards hard in game six, it'll generate second possessions and will allow them a better chance to stay in the game into the fourth.
Atlanta Eyeing Young ReturnWhile the Bucks are preparing for life without Giannis, the Hawks are hopeful that their young star, Trae Young, will be back in the lineup. He remains questionable, which is better than the doubtful designation for Giannis and will surely at least give it a go in warmups with the season on the line. Thursday's game saw Bogdan Bogdanovic lead the way with 28 points, but with two other starts only scoring in single digits in 59 combined minutes, there was little the Hawks could do to replicate Young's scoring. While the Hawks need a better scoring output from the team as a whole, what they really need is the return of their most electric player in Young to test spread the floor and really test the Bucks' defensive resolve in game six.
The entrance of Lou Williams into the starting lineup was a crucial move for game four but in game five his bench scoring was missed and the depth of the Hawks was tested. the x-factor continues to be the two big men, John Collins and Clint Capela, as their ability to compete on the boards can take away on the Bucks' biggest advantages. Capela only had six points in game six, while fellow starter, Kevin Huerter, only had eight points, where both won't cut it for the Hawks to find success.
The Hawks appear to not match up well with the Bucks from a statistical perspective, but with Giannis out in all likelihood, Atlanta can cut down on those disadvantages, especially for rebounding. Atlanta is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the league and if Young can come back, they'll have a huge advantage from the line and can make those free points count.