The Milwaukee Bucks moved to within one game of their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974 with a 123-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at their Fiserv Forum home.
Now with a 3-2 series lead, the Bucks have two opportunities to secure a Finals place against the Phoenix Suns, who reached the season showpiece with a 4-2 Western Conference series victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The victory was even sweeter given that star player Giannis Antetokounmpo was absent through injury, with four of Mike Budenholzer’s five starters pulling together to register at least 22 points apiece.
The Bucks’ coach will want to call on that spirit in game six, with the return of two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo for the crucial game six far from a certainty.
The best sides across all sports possess several players who can step up when needed most, and the Greek star’s absence wasn’t felt as hard as it might have been with Brook Lopez scoring a season-high 33 points to provide a platform for the Bucks to build upon.
While Lopez was the star of the evening, he was quick to praise his fellow teammates with Khris Middleton battling to 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Jrue Holiday added a further 25 points and 13 assists.
“I thought we just did a great job of playing together,” Lopez claimed.
“Khris, Jrue did their normal job of making play for everyone. When everyone is scoring, everyone is doing their thing, that's tough for a defence. It's tough for them to make a decision and a commitment.”
The result looked like a foregone conclusion when the Bucks took an early 30-10 lead, although the Hawks managed to claw their way back to 65-59 despite missing the influential Trae Young.
Bogdan Bogdanovic led the way for the visitors with 28 points, with John Collins and Danilo Gallinari scoring 19 points each.
Despite their battling qualities to reduce that early considerable deficit to just six points, Hawks coach Nate McMillan rued the lack of physicality from his side.
“They were more physical,” the 56-year-old admitted. “They hit us in the mouth and we just did not recover from that.”
They’ll be desperate for Antetokounmpo to return sooner rather than later, with the Athens native suffering from a postseason injury for the second successive campaign.
It has now been 50 years since the Bucks won their sole NBA title, and they’re now just one game away from reaching the Finals against a Phoenix outfit who lost their only two Finals appearances. History looks like it is about to be made one way or another.