In a playoffs marred by injuries, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was shaping up to be a story about resilience in the face of players being out.
Until it became a story about injuries, too.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ superstar and two-time MVP, limped off the court in the third quarter after landing awkwardly following a block attempt where he hyperextending his left knee. It was a gruesome, hard-to-watch injury — Antetokounmpo collided mid-air with Clint Capela and just came down awkwardly — he had to be helped off the court and did not return to the game (although he was moving under his own power).
The severity of the injury is unknown and will likely not be until an MRI is conducted. Coach Mike Budenholzer had no update on his condition after the game but did say Antetokounmpo addressed the team.
This was a game that was already without Hawks star Trae Young, who was out due to a bone bruise in his right foot suffered in Game 3.
But out of that came the other big story of Game 4 — the Hawks’ resilience.
Down 2-1 in the series, and without their best player and primary shot creator, the Hawks came out and played with fierce energy on both ends from the opening tip.
Lou Williams got the start for Young — Williams’ first-ever playoff start — and was phenominal with 21 points and 8 assists, shooting 7-of-9 from the floor and only turning the ball over once. The Hawks acquired Williams at the trade deadline for Rajon Rondo — and the Hawks got picks in that trade, too.
Atlanta came out playing with passion, while Milwaukee played with the energy of someone punching the clock at the assembly line. The Hawks outworked the Bucks all night and the result was a 110-88 Atlanta victory that evens the Eastern Conference Finals 2-2.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Milwaukee. The status of both Antetokounmpo and Young for that game is up in the air.
From the opening tip, the Hawks just played harder and smarter than the Bucks. Atlanta raced out to a 10-2 lead to open the game with balanced scoring. Not only was Williams making plays but Bogdan Bogdanovic, slowed all series by a knee injury, was moving better, hitting shots, and by the end of the game had 20 points himself. It was the kind of night where everything fell for the Hawks — Clint Capela was even hitting shots over the backboard.
CLINT CAPELA. HOW? 😱 pic.twitter.com/Oz0mzHPn9b
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 30, 2021
Atlanta was also sharper on the defensive end, especially on Antetokounmpo’s rolls to the rim. The Hawks’ backside rotations were much sharper. Atlanta took away the paint — the Hawks had 10 shots in the restricted area in the first half to the Bucks seven.
As much as this was an impressive effort for the Hawks, it was a dreadful, flat one from the Bucks in a game where they had a chance to take command of the series. The inconsistent nature of the Bucks’ effort game-to-game is one of the most frustrating aspects of this postseason. There is plenty of blame to go around: Budenhozer and the coaching staff, but also the locker room leadership of veteran players. It is all around disappointing.
Will the Bucks show up for Game 5?
It’s as big a question as whether Young and Antetokounmpo can play.