The night began with the Hawks trailing 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals and without their best player. As midnight approached, the Hawks had evened the series and could well be the favorite if Trae Young returns soon. They might also be the favorite if he doesn’t. Yes, this is incredible.
With Young watching from the bench in a festive hoodie, the Hawks overwhelmed Milwaukee. They won 110-88. They led by 10 in the first quarter. They led by 13 at the half. They led by 25 after three periods, and by then nobody who follows the Bucks cared that Game 4 was gone. They were worried – nay, terrified – that Giannis Antetokounmpo, twice the NBA’s MVP, mightn’t play again for a long time.
With 7:14 left in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo rose to challenge Lou Williams’ lob to Clint Capela. (Williams started in Young’s absence and was terrific.) The Bucks’ big man would have been better off letting this go. As it was, Capela slammed the ball home and the two fell to the floor. Neither was quick to rise. Finally Capela did. Antetokounmpo did not.
Those who saw the replay – the clip wasn’t re-aired on the scoreboard at State Farm Arena – saw Antetokounmpo’s left leg buckle in a way legs shouldn’t buckle. When at last he arose, he was helped off the court by Thanasis, his older brother who also plays for Milwaukee. Giannis returned to the bench in a few minutes. Then he was gone again, back to the locker room, not to be seen for the rest of the game.
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
The Bucks announced he had suffered a hyperextended knee and, duh, wouldn’t return to the game. If that’s all Antetokounmpo sustained, Milwaukee is a lucky franchise. As for the remainder of this series … by this point, who the heck knows anything?
The Hawks will again have to win in Milwaukee to reach the NBA Finals, but they won Game 1 with Giannis healthy. So was Young, and he scored 48 points. It’s unclear if either will play in Thursday’s Game 5, but you’d have to guess that Young, listed as “questionable” for Game 4 two nights after suffering a bone bruise on his right foot, has a better chance of being ready than Antetokounmpo. If Young plays again in this series and Antetokounmpo doesn’t, the Hawks will win. If neither plays again, the Hawks will win.
Urgent care centers around Atlanta should prepare for a morning rush. Everyone in State Farm Arena suffered a whiplash Tuesday night. At tip-off, the Bucks were overwhelming favorites to win this Trae-less game and take a 3-1 lead, surely leading to a clinching Game 5 in Wisconsin. Then Game 4 began, and the Trae-less Hawks played the Bucks off their feet, which made no sense, but here we note the Hawks faced Milwaukee on April 25 without Young and – whoa, Nellie – won.
That one required a fourth-quarter rally. The Hawks never trailed this time. Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a 3-pointer. Kevin Huerter made a short jumper. Williams hit a pull-up. Capela jammed down a Williams lob. Just like that, the Hawks led 10-2, and Mike Budenholzer was raging that his Bucks had done the thing he warned them not to do, which was believe the game was theirs because Young wasn’t in it.
After what was surely a high-decibel halftime briefing, Bud’s Bucks began the second half by acting interested. Antetokounmpo had been woeful in the first half, managing but six points, air-balling a 3-pointer and two free throws and seeing his team outscored by 14 when he was working. He scored eight points over the first 4-1/2 minutes of the third quarter, bringing the Bucks within eight. Then he leaped one last time, and his night – maybe his season – was done.
We cannot understate how good the Hawks were in Game 4. Williams had 21 points and eight assists. Bogdanovic, who missed 13 of 16 shots in the Game 3 loss, hit six of 14 trey tries and scored 20. Capela scored 15, making six of seven shots, including one outrageous cast from behind the backboard. Danilo Gallinari hit two huge first-quarter 3-pointers. Cam Reddish, who hadn’t played under interim coach Nate McMillan until a cameo in Game 2, scored 12 points in Game 4.
Said McMillan, whose splendid work since March 1 reached yet another peak Tuesday: “We’ve had this situation where we had a lot of men out, and we’ve had guys step up and played solid basketball. We had good basketball movement tonight. All the things we said we had to do, we did.”
Then: “I thought our pressure was much better tonight. This was the first time in this series we established our defense.”
Said Williams: “We’re pros, too. We can play basketball as well. … Everybody has to throw something in the pot when a superstar-caliber player can’t go.”
Hawks 110, Bucks 88 (box score)
Over the final 7:14 of the third quarter, the Hawks outscored the reeling Bucks 25-10. Here, though, we emphasize: They were reeling the whole game. We also emphasize: McMillan didn’t know Young couldn’t play until an hour before the game, and only then did Williams get the nod. The Hawks reacted to the loss of their best player as if it were no big deal. Then they went out and made it so.
Said McMillan: “We’re playing as a fist — a tightened fist.”
They took that (figurative) fist and punched the Bucks in the (figurative) mouth. Most of us figured they’d be down 3-1 and all but gone Tuesday night. Instead they basked in the giddy glow of what McMillan called “the biggest” victory of this astonishing run, and they stood and listened as the home crowd chanted, “Hawks in six! Hawks in six!”
It could happen, folks. It really could.