The Atlanta Hawks evened their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Milwaukee Bucks at two games apiece after defeating the visitors 110-88 at State Farm Arena on Tuesday.
The Hawks dominated for all four quarters, but the game was marred by a scary injury suffered by Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who departed the game with a left knee hyperextension in the third quarter.
He was helped off the court by his brother, Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and other staff members.
The shorthanded Hawks, who were without star guard Trae Young due to a bone bruise in his right foot, led 62-52 with 7:14 left in the third quarter at the time of Antetokounmpo's injury.
Following a floater from Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, the Hawks responded with a 15-0 run that included a trio of Bogdan Bogdanovic three-pointers to give themselves a 77-54 edge. Atlanta led by 19 or more for the remainder of the game.
Lou Williams, who entered the starting lineup for Young, scored 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting (5-of-6 from the foul line). He led six players who scored 10 or more, including Bogdanovic with 18 on six three-pointers.
Milwaukee is looking for its first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. The Hawks haven't been to the championship round since 1961, when they were based in St. Louis.
Hawks G Lou Williams: 21 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds
Hawks G Bogdan Bogdanovic: 20 points, 5 assists, 4 steals
Hawks G Kevin Huerter: 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds
Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 14 points, 8 rebounds
Bucks F Khris Middleton: 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists
Bucks G Jrue Holiday: 19 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds
Lou Williams Saves the Day
The three-time Sixth Man of the Year hadn't seen much action in this season's playoffs before Tuesday, averaging 6.5 points in 13.0 minutes per game. He only played more than 18 minutes in a game once in this entire postseason.
That all changed Tuesday as head coach Nate McMillan opted to start Williams for Young as the shorthanded team faced difficult odds to take down the Bucks.
Williams flipped the script, though, propelling the Hawks to a huge win that not only knotted the series but forced an eventual return to Atlanta for Game 6.
The veteran got Atlanta off to a great start, scoring seven points in a 15-5 game-opening run. He capped that effort with a three-pointer over Bucks forward Khris Middleton:
He went back to work in the second quarter, finding rookie center Onyeka Okongwu with an early dunk:
However, Williams' biggest play came on a five-point swing near the end of the frame.
Middleton missed a three-pointer that would have cut the Hawks' lead to six. Instead, Williams corralled the long rebound and took care of business himself by hitting a jumper over Antetokounmpo, giving the Hawks a 47-36 edge:
He finished the first half with 13 points.
It was the Williams and Bogdanovic show in the third quarter. Williams had six points and four assists, knocking down a clutch three to give Atlanta a 60-50 advantage:
Williams expertly guided the offense, though, finding Bogdanovic on multiple occasions for threes:
Williams set off the good vibes in State Farm Arena, to the point where Clint Capela even hit this circus shot over the backboard:
With that, the Hawks rolled to the win and moved two victories away from the NBA Finals.
Giannis Injured as Bucks Blown Out
Obviously, everything else that happened to the Bucks on Tuesday pales in comparison to the health and wellness of Antetokounmpo.
Injuries have unfortunately been commonplace this entire season, but it's especially been the case during the playoffs, to the point where some All-Star teams can be formed with the players forced to miss time:
NBA All-Star teams this season<br><br>West:<br>Chris Paul<br>Mike Conley<br>Donovan Mitchell<br>Kawhi Leonard<br>Anthony Davis<br><br>East:<br>James Harden<br>Kyrie Irving<br>Jaylen Brown<br>Giannis Antetokounmpo<br>Joel Embiid<br><br>That’s actually the list of injured All-Stars this playoffs 😭 <a href="https://t.co/Vx8lZqylEc">pic.twitter.com/Vx8lZqylEc</a>
Past the first round, every single playoff team has had an injury to their best or 2nd best player.<br><br>76ers: Embiid<br>Nets: Harden/Kyrie<br>Clippers: Kawhi<br>Suns: Chris Paul<br>Jazz: Mitchell<br>Nuggets: Murray<br>Hawks: Trae<br>Bucks: Giannis <a href="https://t.co/3PrLuE8Jlo">pic.twitter.com/3PrLuE8Jlo</a>
The hope is that Antetokounmpo (and Young) can come back for Game 5 as the two teams fight closer to full strength.
On the Bucks' end, Antetokounmpo is clearly very difficult to replace:
Milwaukee wasn't playing well on either end before Antetokounmpo's injury, but the Bucks weren't out of it either down just 10 points with 19-plus minutes left in the game.
However, Milwaukee couldn't recover after he left, and Atlanta outscored the Bucks by 12 for the remainder of the game. The Bucks even waved the white flag and cleared out the bench with four minutes remaining.
The playoffs have been rough on stars, and that's continued to be the case.
In the Western Conference Finals, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul missed Games 1 and 2 due to COVID-19 protocols, and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has been out all series with a right knee sprain.
It's at the point where an unfortunate record has been set, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Marc Stein @TheSteinLine
A record nine All-Stars have already missed at least one game in these playoffs.<br><br>Trae Young (ankle) missed out on that designation this season so did not officially add to that total.<br><br>Neither Young's nor Giannis' status, obviously, is yet known for Game 5 Thursday in Milwaukee.
Ultimately, this was a night for the Bucks to forget, but from a broader standpoint, another NBA star was forced to miss time with an injury.
Perhaps Antetokounmpo is fine and returns to Game 5, but his ailment is another reminder of the bleak nature of this year's playoffs.
Milwaukee will host Game 5 on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET at Fiserv Forum.