Brook Lopez leads Bucks within one win of NBA Finals

With two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo watching Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals from the bench, his Milwaukee Bucks moved within a win of the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1974.

One night after 36-year-old Chris Paul’s playoff career-high 41 points sent the Phoenix Suns to their first Finals showing in 28 years, 33-year-old Brook Lopez’s 33 points marked the best postseason performance of his 13-year career in a 123-112 victory against the Atlanta Hawks that gave the Bucks a 3-2 series lead.

“Hey, man, Brook’s the MVP,” Milwaukee teammate Jrue Holiday told reporters.

Holiday (25 points, 13 assists), Khris Middleton (26 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) and Bobby Portis (playoff career-high 22 points) also filled the massive void left by Antetokounmpo’s hyperextended left knee, as Milwaukee’s starters combined for 106 of the 123 points. Four Bucks scored 20 points in a playoff game for the first time since Terry Cummings, Sidney Moncrief, Jack Sikma and Paul Pressey did it in 1988.

It is the bar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set 14 years earlier that the Bucks will be chasing in Game 6 on Saturday in Atlanta at 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT. Antetokounmpo’s status for the close-out opportunity remains uncertain.

“We’ve got to get ready to do it again now,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters.

Hawks star Trae Young was still sidelined with the bone bruise he suffered in his right foot in Game 3, and his teammates did not mask his absence the same way they did in Atlanta in Game 4. Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points. John Collins, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams also scored in double figures. They now must hope the old playoff adage of role players playing better at home rings true on Saturday.

Young’s status for Game 6 is also to be determined. He is expected to be a game-time decision.

Playing in front of their home crowd, the Bucks jumped out to a 30-10 lead in Game 5 on the strength of their defense and interior scoring, holding the Hawks to 6-for-22 shooting and scoring 28 points in the paint over the first quarter. Veterans Holiday and Lopez played like their one-time All-Star selves, respectively serving as a lead playmaker and starting a perfect 6 for 6 from the field in their superstar leader’s absence.

“They hit us in the mouth,” said Atlanta coach Nate McMillan, “and we just did not recover from that.”

The Hawks would not quit without their own offensive mastermind. Lou Williams was again a creative force in place of Young, and 3-pointers from Collins and Kevin Huerter cut the Bucks’ edge to single digits inside of two minutes remaining in the first half. A Bogdanovic triple to open the third quarter cut that deficit to 65-59, but Milwaukee was determined not to allow Atlanta’s confidence in a comeback gain more traction.

“They punched us in the face right away, and we couldn’t find the rhythm,” said Bogdanovic. “We couldn’t find a way to stop them later on. It’s hard to chase a 20-point lead the whole game. It takes a lot of energy.”

Starting in place of Antetokounmpo, Portis provided the erratic energy he usually unleashes from the bench throughout Game 5, outworking everyone in the paint, running the floor in transition and firing up the crowd.

“His passion is infectious,” Budenholzer said of Portis, who started 7 of 10 from the field and added eight rebounds. “His teammates love him. The fans love him. He brings that passion for the game, for life. He’s fun to be around. The crowd can feel that. His teammates can feel that. Coaches can feel it. He’s a worker.”

Once a Lopez tip-in pushed Milwaukee’s lead to 89-78 with a minute left in the third quarter, the Hawks never again got within single digits. Atlanta was outscored by 30 points in the paint and never once led.

The Hawks have one more chance in another 48 hours, with or without Young, to extend their miracle run.

“We need to get the next one,” Gallinari said, “and we will.”

Milwaukee Bucks stars Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez made up for Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence in a Game 5 win over the Atlanta Hawks. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Milwaukee Bucks stars Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez made up for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence in a Game 5 win over the Atlanta Hawks. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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