The quality of a team’s depth is always tested in the NBA postseason, but this postseason is unlike any other.
Prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in that situation when Trae Young was ruled out prior to tip-off with a bone bruise in his foot. However, the Hawks did not roll over and die on Tuesday night; they fought. Without Young on the floor, Atlanta held Milwaukee to just 38 first-half points and a 82.6 offensive rating. They led by 10 points when Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered an unfortunate knee injury in an attempt to defend a lob to Clint Capela. Just like that, a Bucks team that was underperforming against a team without its star, found itself starless and in a second half hole, and the Hawks pounced.
From that moment, Atlanta ripped off a 12-2 run -- scoring in every way possible thanks to Lou Williams, who scored or assisted on 10 of the 12 points during that run. It was part of a brilliant effort from Williams, who finished with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor and eight assists. Milwaukee failed to do what Atlanta had done all night: step up in the absence of your star player. Now, they head back home in a series tied 2-2 with some questions about how this offense, and defense, will operate without The Greek Freak.
In the regular season, when Antetokounmpo was not on the floor, Milwaukee was an atrocious defensive team. In those minutes, they were outscored by 0.6 points every 100 possessions, due largely to a 116.7 defensive rating; they allowed just 109.1 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo on the floor. The drop-off in defensive prowess was evident in the immediate three minutes following the former MVP’s injury, and it will be more glaring over the course of a full game should he be unable to play.
The injury is a blow to Milwaukee’s title hopes and to basketball fans and bettors who enjoy watching Giannis play. This is yet another star player forced to miss time in an insane season that has seen a laundry list of All-Stars suffer a long-term injury of some sort. But, that should not take away from what these teams are doing without their stars on the floor.
The Los Angeles Clippers won a series without Kawhi Leonard and blew out Phoenix without Ivica Zubac to force a Game 6 in Los Angeles. The Hawks were already up in that game without Trae Young on the floor. These teams are still quality units, rife with talent, so don’t let the injuries put a blemish on this postseason. There is still plenty of fun left to be had.
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Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers (PK, 215.5)
With Ivica Zubac sidelined because of a right knee MCL sprain, the Clippers went to work with their small-ball lineup in Game 5 and worked wonders. The size advantage held by DeAndre Ayton was of no consequence, as Los Angeles outscored Phoenix by 22 points in his 37 minutes of action. Even if Zubac is healthy, one would figure the success of five-out offense forces Ty Lue’s hand and the Clippers go small once again. If that is the case, Los Angeles has a real chance at forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 in Phoenix.