Charles Barkley ain’t the type of dude you agree with 100 percent of the time. Frankly, if you do agree with anyone all the time, you’re probably a weirdo.
But Barkley makes a valid point calling out the Milwaukee Bucks for their lack of a killer instinct, which he did again earlier this week. Tonight, they have to flip that, whether or not Trae Young is out there, because it’s already doubtful that Giannis Antetokoumnpo will be.
And, really, that killer instinct was there in Game 5, so we’re essentially talking about Milwaukee doing that again, but this time on the Atlanta Hawks’ home floor. In Game 5, the Bucks led a wire-to-wire effort, led by the dominance of Brook Lopez, the shot creation of Khris Middleton, the playmaking of Jrue Holiday, and the uprising of Bobby Portis.
Young missed Games 4 and 5 after suffering a bone bruise on his foot in Game 3. Anteokoumnpo hyperextended his knee in the Bucks’ Game 4 loss and hasn’t played since, but hopes to return for Game 7 if needed.
If the Bucks do what they’re supposed to do, Giannis won’t be needed until the NBA Finals.
Let’s look at those Game 5 plays that really established the tone for Milwaukee, using the highlights posted from the official NBA YouTube.
- 0:10 — The very first play of the game, Kevin Huerter gets the switch on Brook Lopez and attempts to drive past the seven-footer, as would many guards. Lopez, a quality defender for his 13 years in the league, swats Huerter’s layup attempt. This sets up their first offensive possession, where Jrue Holiday takes Bogdan Bogdanović right to the rack for two.
- 0:26 — The ensuing Milwaukee play sees Middleton settle for an honestly-not-great look against Bogdanović, but it was an enviable display of confidence from an All-Star who’s a career 39-percent three-point shooter in the playoffs — and he drains it. The crowd gets even more into the game as a result.
- 0:59 — Portis uses his strength to get by Bogdanović (who is getting picked on an awful lot early on) and then finds PJ Tucker in the corner, who swings to Holiday, who even now is shooting just 29.5 percent from three in these playoffs. But he nails it, and the crowd explodes — knowing if he’s on, it makes life so much easier on offense.
- 1:07 — Portis puts up a finesse style floater while surrounded by three defenders, instead of drawing enough contact for at least a foul. The offensive board is tapped out from Tucker to Middleton, who takes a three that is rebounded by Portis while still surrounded. He comes down with the ball, takes a dribble, and goes up over Bogdanović and John Collins with distinct, bully-ball physicality for a blue-collar two.
- 1:28 — Clint Capela secures an offensive board with his Hawks teammates merely watching from afar. Lopez wisely takes advantage of this and guns in for the double team, which Capela turns into… and then subsequently gets stripped. On the fastbreak, Portis ends it with an open, two-handed dunk, further igniting an already confident crowd. 20-7 Bucks.
- 1:54 — The Holiday-to-Lopez alley-oop is self-explanatory once you get past the fact that Lopez can still show off those springs!
And then there were the many, many dunks Lopez had after, including several on Collins. But in the first quarter, the tone was set from these plays highlighting the Bucks aggression and ferocity coming out of the gate. They even led 32-12 late in the first, and it felt like everything else they did in the victory fed off of their early lead. If you have money on the Bucks, or are a fan, you should hope they replicate a similar start in Atlanta, even if Young is there. It takes the crowd out of the game early and might force the younger Hawks into simply trying to do too much, which would play into the literal hands of the Bucks’ defense — and gain them the Finals appearance they’ve let slip away so many times in recent years.