BROOKLYN, NY – Ahead of the start of these NBA Playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked if he thinks his Milwaukee Bucks are better prepared for the playoffs this year, after the disappointments that plagued them during each. the last two years.
“I don’t know if this year will be any different,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m not going to lie to you. Maybe it’s the same. Who knows.
“The results will speak for themselves in the end.”
It turned out he was right, but not in the way he might have expected.
Behind 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists from their star, the Bucks entered Barclays Center on Saturday night and survived an instant Game 7 classic against the Brooklyn Nets, winning 115-111 in overtime to qualify for the final of the Eastern Conference.
All it took was to overcome the ultimate punch – a Kevin Durant righting jumper on a perfect defense from PJ Tucker with a second left in regulation to tie the game – and survive a marathon competition that saw several. players from both teams reach 50 minutes of play, including Durant and James Harden, who played the 53 minutes.
Durant finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists, setting a new NBA goal record in Game 7.
Ultimately, however, it was the Bucks who got buckets from Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the final 72 seconds of overtime – plus Durant missing almost the same shot he hit at the end of settlement with 0. , 3 seconds left in the extra session – to survive and face the Philadelphia 76ers or the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
This match, like most Game 7s, quickly turned into a tense physical affair, with both teams struggling to get a consistent attack apart from its stars. The result was a performance that looked more like an endurance competition than a basketball game for all involved.
Durant and Harden never left the game, while Middleton sat for 39 seconds. And, as the night wore on, tired legs were evident on both sides, with plenty of hands on knees and hips as play stretched into the fourth quarter, and every player who touched the ground took a moment to recover before slowly climbing up. at their feet.
But, try as both teams could increase the lead, neither could do it by more than a few points, exchanging the lead more than 10 times, along with several other ties.
It was a highlight for a series that, while not quite the epic battle it had to be before it started, still presented a lot of drama from two teams who were on a collision course to meet in the playoffs for the final couple months of the regular season.
The Nets led for most of the fourth quarter before Jrue Holiday – who struggled tremendously throughout the game – finally arrived at the most important moment.
Holiday, who was at one point 2 for 17, assisted on an Antetokounmpo bucket to tie the game, then landed the biggest shot in decades in Milwaukee basketball – a three on the left wing – which has gave the Bucks advance for good with 2:32 remaining.
He immediately followed that up with a basic jumper on the next possession, as he and Durant went back and forth across multiple possessions.
But Durant, who played the entire game for the second time in five days at Barclays Center, went for a jumper with 1:08 remaining who was pushed back by Tucker, and Middleton knocked down a pair of free throws at the other. end to push back the Milwaukee advance to four.
Durant then missed a jumper on the other end, before being bailed out when the Bucks couldn’t block the defensive rebound. He didn’t miss the second time, however, passing the baseline and hitting a pull-up to take the score to 109-107 with 42.3 seconds left.
The same then happened at the other end, as Middleton missed a jumper, but Milwaukee managed to block the offensive rebound. Unlike the Nets, however, the Bucks couldn’t take advantage of it. They took a time out to establish a game with 2.1 seconds on the shot clock which resulted in Brook Lopez being blocked in the corner for a shot clock violation.
It was a mistake the Bucks would live to regret. Durant unloaded a truly iconic shot at the other end, hitting a flip jumper on Tucker – though his foot just spans the 3-point line – to even the game with a second left, raising his arms towards the rafters as he backed up in the other direction.
This still gave the Bucks a chance to avoid overtime. But, after another time out, Milwaukee is not doing any better. Antetokounmpo was overrun and ended up throwing a prayer that hit the side of the backboard, sending the game into overtime.
The extra session was as lousy as you might expect, with both teams having players hitting more than 50 minutes into the game. The only points – by either team – were on a Bruce Brown layup on an offensive rebound on Brooklyn’s first possession until Antetokounmpo scored on Durant in the post with a little more one minute to play.
Then, after Lopez blocked a Durant layup and Joe Harris missed a wide open 3-pointer on an offensive rebound at the other end, Middleton entered the free throw line and calmly knocked down a jumper to give back. lead to the Bucks with 40.1 seconds to go.
Durant had the chance to tie the game twice for the Nets. This time, however, the results were different. First, he missed a midrange jumper who would have tied him with 34.7 seconds to go. Then, after Middleton missed what would have been a decisive jumper on the other end, Durant found himself in exactly the same situation: with the ball high up the sideline and a chance to tie or win the game. .
This time he missed it short. The ball bounced out of bounds with 0.3 seconds left. And, a long review and a few free kicks later, Brooklyn’s season was over.
It was a deflated end to a season that started for Brooklyn with more anticipation and excitement surrounding the franchise than at any time since arriving in New York City from New Jersey nine years ago.
After Durant spent a year on the sidelines recovering from the torn right Achilles tendon he suffered in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and after Irving missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery, this season was the first time the two stars have shared court together since deciding to team up.
Already facing championship expectations, the Nets gave those hopes a huge dose of rocket fuel in mid-January, when Brooklyn threw a successful trade to acquire Harden from the Houston Rockets in exchange for center goaltender Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen and a host of future first-round draft picks.
Brooklyn has spent the entire season trying to figure things out on the fly, as first-year coach Steve Nash was forced to play a different lineup virtually every game as the Nets suffered injury after injury. – including their Big Three, who ended the season with just 15 games played together.
That unfortunate chance of injury carried over to the playoffs – and more specifically this showdown with the Bucks. Just 43 seconds into the first game, Harden suffered another right hamstring injury that kept him from playing for several weeks late in the regular season, and Irving sprained his right ankle when ‘he landed on Antetokounmpo’s foot midway through the second quarter of Game 4 which brought his streak to an untimely end.
Nets owner Joe Tsai sent words of encouragement to Nets fans, tweet after the game that this is only “the beginning of our journey”.
This is just the start of our journey. Appreciate our guys, who left it all down. Appreciate our fans – you are the loudest and the best! @Brooklyn Nets
– Joe Tsai (@ joetsai1999) June 20, 2021
Milwaukee has also entered this season with a lot of pressure on its collective shoulders.
After the Bucks fought in the playoffs in each of the past two years – they’ve lost four straight to fall to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, then were kicked out of the NBA bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. last summer by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals – coach Mike Budenholzer has been asked to ensure that, this time his team was better prepared for the challenges that would arise in the playoffs. And general manager Jon Horst made a huge swing, sending Eric Bledsoe and several first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Holiday, one of the league’s top two-way guards.
It was a formula Milwaukee was hoping to produce different results this time around. Saturday night, that turned out to be the case.