The Milwaukee Bucks are heading to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Nets, 115-111, in overtime on Saturday night in a decisive seventh game for their semifinal series.
It was a disappointing end to the series for the number 2 seeded Nets, who entered the playoffs ready to play a championship, with their stars finally seemingly healthy at the same time. Their top three players – James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant – have only played eight games together during the regular season due to injuries and other absences.
The Nets started the streak favored against the third-seeded Bucks, but again, star injuries piled up, increasing the potential for an upset.
In Game 1, James Harden left after less than a minute with hamstring strain. Nonetheless, the Nets won the first two games of the series at home convincingly.
Then the Bucks won a home victory in Game 3. And in Game 4, the Nets lost Irving to a sprained ankle in the first half. The Nets also lost the game and appeared to be losing momentum with the best-of-seven series suddenly tied for two.
But in Game 5, Durant put in one of the greatest playoff performances of all time, finishing with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists and becoming the first player to record those numbers in a playoff game. Harden came back surprisingly for this game, but was largely ineffective. The Bucks were leading up to 17 points, only for Durant to stifle their lead almost on his own in the second half. Jeff Green emerged to close some of the gap left by Irving, scoring a career-high 27 points, the most benched points by a net in playoff history.
The Bucks hit back with strong performances from their stars in Game 6, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday scoring 89 of the Bucks’ 104 points.
Throughout the series, the Nets attempted to take advantage of Antetokounmpo’s ineffectiveness as a shooter, a weakness that upset him over several playoffs. Defenders regularly left him open on the perimeter or sent him to the free throw line, where he also struggled. This made the two-time MVP winner Antetokounmpo a lesser threat late in the game.
But Antetokounmpo still managed to have one of the best series of his career. In the first six games, he averaged 30.5 points and 12.8 rebounds per game with 56.5% shots. It was good enough to take the Bucks to Game 7 and the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in Antetokounmpo’s career.
The Nets struggled to get production from their actors, many of whom had years of careers. Joe Harris, one of the NBA’s top shooters, struggled in all series – shooting just 35.5% from the field and just 32.5% from 3 in the first six games.
The Bucks’ series victory brings them one step closer to their first championship since 1971, when the team was led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the Eastern Conference final, they will face the winner of the other semi-final clash between the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers. This game heads into Game 7 on Sunday, after the Sixers tied the series behind a strong performance from Seth Curry on Friday. The Eastern Conference finals are scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
The Nets missed a chance to make their first conference final since 2002 and 2003, while in New Jersey under Jason Kidd. In those two years, the Nets made it to the finals. They haven’t won a championship since the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.