Bucks dominate paint, win comfortably behind big night from starters, lead series 3-2

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In the year of our Lord 2021, in the era when the 3-pointer dominates all things NBA, the Bucks proved you can still win a high-stakes, deep-in-the-postseason game the old-fashioned way.

Milwaukee dominated the paint.

On both ends of the floor.

And that has them one win away from the NBA Finals.

The Bucks scored 66 points in the paint on 66% shooting inside, plus grabbed 14 offensive rebounds (making up for another rough night from 3, where they hit just 9-of-29). On the other end, Milwaukee had Brook Lopez, who blocked four shots and altered more, taking away some of the drive-and-kick game the Hawks thrive on.

The Bucks got monster nights from their biggest stars: Khris Middleton had 26 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists; Jrue Holiday 25 points and 13 assists; and Lopez led the way with 33 points.

With all that the Bucks dominated Game 5 from the start, putting up 36 points in the first quarter and leading by 20 early, then holding on the rest of the way to win 123-112.

Milwaukee takes a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Atlanta on Saturday night.

This was a game without Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) and Trae Young (bone bruise in foot), both stars out with injuries. Their status for Game 6 is unknown, although there was some optimism in the Atlanta camp Young could return for the must-win Game 6.

Milwaukee has more talent still healthy on their roster — the Bucks still have two Olympians in Middleton and Holiday — and they played up to it from the opening tip.

The Bucks started the game shooting 9-of-14 and they grabbed the offensive rebounds on all five of those missed shots. Milwaukee scored on its first 13 possessions of the game. The Bucks scored 36 points in the first quarter, 28 of those in the paint.

“No defense on the ball. No defense off the ball,” was how Hawks coach Nate McMillan described his team’s start to the game.

On the defensive end early, the Bucks harassed the Hawks ball-handlers and forced difficult shots late in the clock (something easier to do with Trae Young out, allowing Lopez to switch and not get roasted). As a result, Milwaukee led by as many as 20, although by the end of the first quarter the Hawks had trimmed the lead down to 14.

And that’s the way most of the rest of the game went, with the Bucks holding a low double-digit lead — it got down to eight a couple of times, it was nine at halftime — and pushing back whenever the Hawks made a run.

Bobby Portis, getting the start with Antetokounmpo out, was a big part of that, scoring 22, hitting timely buckets, and pumping up the crowd with the best game of his playoff career (which, admittedly, is not that long).

Atlanta got 28 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was 7-of-16 from 3, as well as 19 from both John Collins and Danilo Gallinari. But it was never enough to close the gap.