NBA playoffs: Short-handed Bucks cruise to dominant win over Pacers in Game 5, avoid elimination

The Pacers hold a 3-2 series lead over the Bucks headed into Thursday's Game 6 in Indianapolis

It turns out the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t need Giannis Antetokounmpo or Damian Lillard after all.

The Bucks, with their two best players sidelined due to injuries, had no issue keeping their season alive on Tuesday night. Milwaukee flew to a dominant 115-92 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of their opening-round playoff series at Fiserv Forum. The win, which the Bucks needed to save themselves from elimination, cuts the Pacers’ lead to 3-2 headed into Game 6 on Thursday night.

The Bucks are now the first team to win a playoff game in NBA history without their top two scorers from the regular season available, according to ESPN, which is a truly wild accomplishment.

The Bucks hung in it early on Tuesday night. Khris Middleton dropped 10 of the Bucks’ first 14 points of the night, and then they used a massive 18-2 run that carried over into the second quarter to push ahead to a five-point lead at the break.

Milwaukee seemed to get into the Pacers’ heads early on, too. Obi Toppin was called for a technical foul after he got into it with Bobby Portis and actually shoved him into the bench midway through the second period. The Pacers were held to just 17 points in the second quarter.

The third quarter, though, is where Milwaukee took off. The Bucks opened the second half on a 9-0 tear, and then they used a 16-6 burst later in the period capped by a huge 3-pointer from Malik Beasley.

The Pacers made just one field goal in the final four minutes of the third quarter — though it was just a layup from Pascal Siakam — and ended up entering the fourth quarter down by 20. Beasley opened the final period with another 3-pointer, too, and the rest was history. The Bucks cruised to the 23-point win without any issue to pick up their second victory in the series.

Tyrese Haliburton led the Pacers with 16 points and six assists, and Siakam finished with 12 points and four rebounds. The Pacers, after their seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, made just five more the rest of the way.

Middleton led Milwaukee with 29 points and 12 rebounds, and he was one of three Bucks starters to finish with a double-double. Portis, who was ejected early in Game 4, added a playoff career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Patrick Beverley finished with 13 points and 12 assists. Beasley put up 18 points after he shot 7 of 11 from the field.

Game 6 of the series is set for Thursday night at Indiana's Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The winner of this series will take on either the New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks kept themselves alive on Tuesday night, but all eyes remain on their two best players.

Antetokounmpo is still recovering from a calf strain he sustained in the final stretch of the regular season. He hasn’t played since, and he’s done very minimal activity since he went down. He’s been considered doubtful to play so far this series, but that could change.

After the Bucks' victory, Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers sounded more optimistic about his two stars' potential availability for Game 6.

"I think they're very, very, very close," Rivers said.

Lillard aggravated an Achilles tendon strain in Game 3 of the series, and he then missed Sunday’s Game 4 as a result. He was also considered doubtful leading into Tuesday’s contest, but he didn’t get much work in earlier on Tuesday.

While the Bucks clearly proved they can win without Antetokounmpo and Lillard available, sustaining the level of play they showed Tuesday night will be no easy challenge. The Pacers are just a win away from their first series victory in a full decade, and are in a tremendous position to pull that off at home now on Thursday.