It all came down to a Game 7 between Milwaukee and Brooklyn. It wasn’t the prettiest of games but what a game it was, the Bucks going on the road to beat the Nets and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals – and needing overtime to do it. It was an intense, exhausting and at times frustrating game. But, dare we say, it was a classic.
Here’s five things we learned from Milwaukee’s 115-111 overtimes win over Brooklyn in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals:
Giannis put the team on his back
If you watched the game, you saw Giannis Antetokounmpo expressing pain and fatigue throughout. But he never lost his intensity or will to win. He finished with 40 points – his high for this year’s playoffs and his fifth straight game with 30+ -- 13 rebounds and five assists. Giannis made 15 of 24 shots, the 62.5% his second-best effort of this series (of course, we could do without him taking six 3-pointers, of which he made two; it also means he made 72.2% of his 2-pointers). With much of his teammates struggling throughout, Antetokounmpo was the constant. He had three of his rebounds in the five-minute overtime, where he took just one shot – but it was a big one – scoring Milwaukee’s first points of the extra period with a little four-foot hook which tied the game at 111. A much-needed hoop from a big-time player. Antetokounmpo became the first player in NBA history with a 40-10-5 game in a Game 7 win. He left it all on the court.
Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo: 'The job is not done'
It’s an old basketball axiom but it’s true. Just because a player is missing shots doesn’t mean he’s going to stop taking them. It’s all about confidence and knowing eventually the shots will fall like they usually do. Case in point Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Neither had what one would call a stellar shooting performance – but neither gave in and both had clutch shots down the stretch. After three quarters, Holiday was 2-for-16 from the field including missing all five of his 3-point attempts. In the fourth quarter, though, he hit 3 of 5 shots, 2 of 3 from deep. After what looked like a game-defining moment when the Nets stole the ball right after the Bucks stole it leading to a Kevin Durant 3-point play and a five-point lead, Holiday drained a 3 to cut it back to two points with 5:23 remaining. His stepback 3 with 2:32 left broke a 101 deadlock and after a Durant bucket he answered with a 16-footer. Middleton was 2-for-11 shooting at the half and 4-for-16 after three quarters. He then scored a team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter and, of course, hit the go-ahead (and as it turned out game-winning) shot, a turnaround 13-footer with 40 seconds remaining in OT.
This team is mentally tough
It would have been easy for this team to fold after losing that Game 5 – or even the way Milwaukee was handled in the first two games of this series. It didn’t. It would have been easy for Holiday and Middleton to crumble after shooting the ball so poorly. As noted above, they didn’t. It would have been easy for Brook Lopez to be downcast after passing the ball as the shot clock ran out on Milwaukee’s final possession in the fourth quarter and then see Durant tie the game. He didn’t, coming up with a tremendous block on a Durant drive with just under a minute to play in overtime, keeping the game tied at 111. P.J. Tucker never relented in his defense on Durant, no matter how many points the superstar scored (and take a look again at Holiday’s defense on that final Durant airball). Everything thrown at the Bucks, they conquered.
Budenholzer rolled with his horses
Remember in recent playoffs how some fans and media members complained about head coach Mike Budenholzer not playing his starters – and particularly Antetokounmpo – enough? Well, take that criticism and roll it up and throw it in the trash. As in Game 6, Bud barely used his bench with Pat Connaughton playing the only extended minutes, with almost 23 1/2 (ironically, he also had a team high in box score plus/minus, with a +10). Four of the five starters played 46+ minutes each, with Giannis and Middleton both over 50. Tucker played 38:19 and undoubtedly would have seen more court time if he wasn’t in foul trouble (eventually fouling out). We’re guessing this was done in part due to matchups – Tucker was going to play a lot because of Durant and the Nets play small, making tough matchups for Bobby Portis. Either way, the plan worked – and the Bucks get a few days to rest, at least. It won’t be that way in the Eastern Conference finals, though, as games will be played every other day beginning Wednesday.
This was just the conference semifinals
As incredible as this series was, with all the indelible moments, the Bucks are only halfway home. For one, though, it reminded us that history only means so much when predicting future events. The Nets hadn’t lost at home in the playoffs this year. The Bucks hadn’t won a Game 7 on the road in franchise history (0-7) and the last Game 7 win was 20 years ago. None of that mattered. All that does is the present. The question now is was this series so draining that it will be hard to get up for the Eastern Conference finals? Judging by what we observed above, not to mention what is on the line, we doubt it.