The Milwaukee Bucks are moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals after eliminating the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls with a 116-100 win in Game 5. Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes with a game-high 33 points as Milwaukee improves to 8-0 in closeout games under head coach Mike Budenholzer.
The defending champions needed just five games to get past the Bulls, who were missing several key players Wednesday night, including Zach LaVine (COVID protocols) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocols) as well as Lonzo Ball, who missed the entire series due to a season-ending knee injury.
The third-seeded Bucks advance to face the red-hot Boston Celtics, who swept the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series.
Here are three key takeaways from Game 5:
1. Giannis leads the way
On the very first possession of the game, Bobby Portis missed a 3-pointer in such a way that it caromed nearly straight up into the air. Waiting for it on the way down was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who slammed it home with authority for the opening basket. An impressive play, to be sure, but all a bit too easy for a player of his caliber.
"He was part of that approach coming out in the first quarter early, some and-ones, getting to the free throw line, playing unselfishly," Budenholzer said. "I thought he just had the right approach, just like the whole group."
That initial play foreshadowed how the rest of the night would go, as Giannis once again made easy work of a Bulls defense that had no answers for him this series. At some points he used his strength to bully his way to the basket; at others he took more of a finesse approach.
Both methods of attack were successful as he shot 11 of 13 in the paint en route to 33 points, nine rebounds and three assists in just 30 minutes. Any time you can get your star that much rest during the playoffs -- let alone a closeout game -- it's a good sign.
"He didn't settle," Pat Connaughton said. "I think for him, he identifies the game very well at the beginning of games, and he's done it great over this series. He's got a much improved jump shot, he can hit the mid-range, he can hit the 3, but he's been in attack mode. And usually when he's in attack mode he's putting pressure on the rim, he's putting pressure on the defense, he's trying to make it collapse and then he's making the right decisions."
2. Bucks smother DeRozan
The Bulls entered this series without one of their best players in Lonzo Ball, and by Game 5 on Wednesday they were also without LaVine (health and safety protocols) and Caruso (concussion). That left DeMar DeRozan as their only real creative force, and the Bucks decided that he was not going to beat them.
All game long the Bucks sat on his right hip, forcing him to go left, and when he did drive they showed multiple bodies. His options were trying to force his way to the rim, shoot contested jumpers or pass. More often than not he had to go with the latter.
Just take this possession from early in the third quarter. DeRozan comes off multiple screens, to try and get some space, and as soon as he catches the ball, Wesley Matthews is so far on his right side that he's nearly behind him. As DeRozan pulls up to try and shoot, three different defenders collapse, and he's forced to drop it off to Javonte Green, who airballs a floater:
[The help defense] was huge," Matthews said. "That was part of the game plan, that was the game plan. Make him see a lot of bodies, force everybody else to beat us. ... The team defense was great this whole series, and that's what we're gonna need going into Boston."
The Bucks' scheme was wildly successful as they limited DeRozan to 11 points on 5 of 10 from the field and just two free throw attempts. With DeRozan taken out of the game, the Bulls often settled for 3-pointers that the Bucks were happy to allow. The Bulls' 52 3-point attempts were a franchise record, and they made just 28.8 percent of them.
3. Bucks advance, set up another showdown with Celtics
The Bucks tanked the final game of the regular season in order to set up a matchup with the Bulls, and the last three games showed why they made that decision. Even without Khris Middleton, the Bucks cruised to three straight double-digit wins and have now advanced to the second round for the fourth straight season -- their longest such streak since the 1980s.
There, they'll face the mighty Boston Celtics, who have arguably been the best team in the league over the last few months. Jayson Tatum and Co. further cemented that status by putting on a defensive clinic in their surprising sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
Middleton will not be ready for the start of the series on Sunday, and may not be available at all depending on how long it goes and his recovery process. Even so, this should be a tremendous series between two of the league's best teams, and the Bucks know they'll have to be at their best.
"It's gonna be fun," Matthews said. "When I think of the Boston Celtics I see a team that's together on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side they've bought in, on the defensive side they've bought in. They've got a lot of talent across the board. They got a lot of talent, they're well coached. It's gonna be a lot of fun, it's gonna be a battle. They're a good team, but so are we."
It's also worth noting that this is turning into something of a rivalry. This is now the third time in the last four years that the teams have met in the playoffs, with many of the key players remaining the same on both teams. The Celtics won in seven games in the first round in 2018, while the Bucks won in five games in 2019. This has a chance to be the best series yet.