NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Giannis injury a blow for Bucks as hurting Hawks target Game 5

By Sports Desk July 01, 2021

A series that only appeared to be heading one way has suddenly been blown wide open again, with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks locked together at 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Having put paid to the Brooklyn Nets in the previous round via a thrilling Game 7, the much-fancied Bucks appeared to have overcome an early setback at home to take charge in the series.

Successive victories put them 2-1 ahead, but their playoff tale took an unexpected twist on Tuesday, quite literally in the case of Giannis Antetokounmpo. With his team trailing in the third quarter, the two-time MVP was hurt while trying to challenge a dunk.

The diagnosis of a hyperextended knee leaves his availability in doubt, not just for Game 5 on Thursday but also for the rest of this series and, potentially, beyond. The Phoenix Suns lie waiting in the NBA Finals.

Atlanta know all about dealing with the absence of an injured star: Trae Young – who is averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 assists in the postseason – has missed the previous two games with an ankle issue.

The point guard has been a key part of a roster that has surprised many in making it this far, knocking out the higher-seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers along the way. Still, the experienced Lou Williams proved quite an able deputy for Young in Game 4 at home.

Now the teams switch back to Milwaukee amid an air of uncertainty. Where once the Bucks appeared to have seized control, now this series feels right back in the balance.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

With Giannis at best slowed by his knee issue, the other leading names for Milwaukee must step up. Khris Middleton has had a productive playoff campaign, but Holiday can do more. The point guard is averaging 16.5 points per outing and outside shooting has been an issue. His 28.7 per cent success rate from three-point range is well below his career mark of 34.6 per cent in the postseason.

Atlanta Hawks – Lou Williams

A three-time Sixth Man of the Year known for his scoring prowess off the bench, Williams had only reached double digits for points in two previous playoff outings during this postseason before managing 21 on Tuesday. That output came on seven-for-nine shooting, too. If Young is out, the Hawks will need the 34-year-old Williams to try and fill the void again.

KEY BATTLE – Survival of the fittest

While Antetokounmpo was officially determined as 'doubtful' by the Bucks on Wednesday, the Hawks listed both Young and center Clint Capela as questionable.

An arduous regular season played out amid the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the players. While the Suns now have a chance to rest up, their next opponents face the prospect of playing at least twice more before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Neither Milwaukee nor Atlanta can afford any further injuries to key personnel at this stage.

HEAD TO HEAD

The two franchises have won 13 playoff games apiece in the rivalry. Both have recorded road victories in this series, with the Hawks needing at least one more triumph on their travels if they are to be crowned winners of the Eastern Conference.

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    Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd was left frustrated by his side's shot selection as they went 2-0 down to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

    Despite a strong lead after the second quarter thanks to a best-in-show Luka Doncic, who posted 42, the visitors were pegged back for a second consecutive loss at Chase Center.

    The Mavs blew several chances to keep daylight between themselves and their hosts in the third quarter, but an over-reliance on attempts to bags 3s left them to suffer.

    "When you go 2-for-13 and you rely on the 3, you can die by the 3," Kidd said. "And we died in the third quarter by shooting that many 3s and coming up with only two.

    "If you make [3s], that's great, but you just have to understand, if you miss four in a row, you can't take the fifth.

    "You've got to make it. That just puts too much stress on yourself and on your team because, if you're not getting stops on the other end, it turns into a blowout."

    The Mavs face a tough road back into contention, but will take consolation from the fact a 2-0 deficit is far from insurmountable, having been knocked out by the Clippers last season with a similar advantage after two games.

    They also boast Doncic, one of the best form players in the NBA right now, and the Slovenian admitted his side could have put more in.

    "We weren't attacking the paint that much," he added. "But we got to attack the paint more, like they did. They attacked the paint a lot.

    "They have two of the best shooters in the world, and they still attack the paint. So I think we've got to rely less on the 3."

  • 'Luka is nice like that' – Stephen Curry pays respect to unguardable Doncic 'Luka is nice like that' – Stephen Curry pays respect to unguardable Doncic

    Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry feels his side has become a well-oiled machine over the course of the season, but admitted sometimes there is nothing you can do about Luka Doncic's brilliance.

    The Warriors came back from 53-34 down with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, holding the Dallas Mavericks to 13 points in the third period, before winning the last frame 43-32 to run over the top late.

    Curry top-scored for the Warriors with 32 points on 11-of-21 shooting, while Jordan Poole was terrific off the bench with 23 on seven-of-10 shooting, including 12 in the fourth quarter.

    Despite the loss, Doncic scored a game-high 42 points on 12-of-23 shooting, while also dishing a game-high eight assists.

    During Curry's post-game media appearance, he said he feels like the Warriors have figured a lot out defensively over the course of the season, but players like Doncic are simply "nice like that".

    "[Chemistry] is something that's been slowly building over the course of the regular season," he said. 

    "It didn't always show on the court, but the roles, and how we play on both ends of the floor, everybody is comfortable with what they're being asked to do.

    "Even [Wiggins] – he has a tough challenge of chasing Luka pretty much everywhere, every time he's out there on the floor. 

    "He understands he's going to get scored on – because Luka is nice like that – but over the course of 48 minutes you figure out how to wear him down a little bit, and go back at him on the offensive end."

    He went on to say he does not think about the Mavericks' lack of playoff experience, with the Warriors instead focusing on imposing their will.

    "It's not [Dallas' lack of experience] – it's just the supreme confidence in what we do," he said.

    "You don't really know what they're talking about in the huddle, you don't feel what's going through their mind, it's just you imposing your will.

    "For us, the experience, and the chemistry – obviously this group is a bit different – but we have that attitude and spirit that we feel we're never out of it. I think only one game in this playoff run we've been severely outmatched from start-to-finish.

    "That belief then turns into execution in the game, and you can feel the momentum. It's more focused on what we do, and when you have the opportunity to stick in the dagger, or come up with three stops in a row, those are the times when you feel that good energy."

    Curry also touched on the Mavs' hot start, which saw them put up 72 points in the first half, and how the Warriors can make large deficits disappear in a hurry.

    "We knew they were going to come out aggressive, and making shots," he said. 

    "We didn't think they were going to be that hot – it seemed like no matter what we did they always found the right guy, and they had no hesitation to shoot it.

    "They had 15 threes in the first half – it felt like a lot – but all of a sudden you look at the scoreboard and we got it down to two at one point, and then it ballooned out to 14.

    "14, for us, is more than manageable if we come out and influence the game, starting on the defensive end.

    "When you can limit a team like that to 13 points [in a quarter] – it wasn't like a flurry, but it seemed like we regained the momentum, and slowly, and methodically walked them down.

    "The first six minutes of the fourth quarter was kind of the real momentum shift – it gave the crowd some life, and gave us some life, and allowed us to run away with the win."

    Game 3 and Game 4 will head to Dallas, and if the Warriors can win just one, they will head back to Golden State for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead.

  • Curry and Poole lead fourth-quarter Warriors eruption in Game 2 win Curry and Poole lead fourth-quarter Warriors eruption in Game 2 win

    The Golden State Warriors produced a spectacular comeback in front of their home fans to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 126-117 and take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

    It appeared early that the Mavericks would be the ones heading back to Dallas for Game 3 and Game 4 with momentum, as Luka Doncic had 24 first-half points to help his side to a 72-58 half-time lead.

    But the Warriors went up a level defensively in the third period, holding the Mavericks to just 13 points as they chipped away at the margin, which peaked at 53-34 with seven minutes to play in the second frame.

    While the third quarter was a defensive struggle, allowing the Warriors to pull the margin back to two points, the fourth was an offensive explosion as the two teams combined for 75 points.

    Ultimately, the Mavericks could not keep up as the Warriors piled on 43 points in the term, including 12 of Jordan Poole's 23 off the bench (seven-of-10 shooting), and 10 of Stephen Curry's 32 (11-of-21 from the field, six-of-10 from long range).

    Warriors center Kevon Looney was also a difference-maker, scoring 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds, while Andrew Wiggins had 16 points (five-of-14 shooting) and Klay Thompson had 15 (six-of-10).

    For the Mavericks, Doncic finished with a game-high 42 points on 12-of-23 shooting, as well as game-highs in assists (eight) and steals (three).

    He was supported strongly by Jalen Brunson, who had 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and Reggie Bullock, who shot six-of-10 from three-point range for his 21 points.

    Game 3 and Game 4 will be nearly must-wins for the Mavericks, because if they lose just one of the two, the Warriors will head home for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead.

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