Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 Eastern Conference first round. LeBron James’ “The Block” on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. And now introducing “The Toe,” Kevin Durant’s black-and-red size 18 Nike left shoe on the 3-point line at the end of regulation in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Okay, maybe “The Toe” doesn’t have the same luster as Jordan’s or James’ signature playoff moments, but it doesn’t make the 115-111 series finale overtime win Saturday night over the Brooklyn Nets any less significant for the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the first time all series a road team won on the opponent’s logo. It was Milwaukee’s first road Game 7 win in franchise history and it meant for the second time in three years the Bucks are in the Eastern Conference finals, only four wins away from making the NBA Finals for the first time in half-a-century.
“My big-ass foot stepped on the line,” Durant said. “I just saw how close I was to ending their season with that shot.”
Aside from Durant’s foot, so much else had to go right for the Bucks to get to even reach – and win -- a Game 7. They had to win four of the last five games, which is not an easy feat for any team in the playoffs, let alone against Durant scoring at will. He scored 48 points and played every minute of the game once again, this time 53 minutes due to overtime, both new Game 7 records. Once Milwaukee did get to winner-take-all Game 7, even more had to be perfect to win.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had to score 40 points and make more free throws than he missed (eight-for-14). The team only committing eight turnovers (none in the third quarter) in the 53-minute extended game. Brook Lopez had to get a timely blocked shot on Durant at the rim. Khris Middleton had to become the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive playoff games.
P.J. Tucker had to get under Durant’s skin on defense and contribute 11 points on offense. Jrue Holiday had to keep believing in his stroke during a struggling night (5-for-23) and make clutch shots when the Bucks desperately needed them later in the game, and Pat Connaughton had to come up with nine points (3-for-5 from 3-point range), which were the only bench points for either team the entire game.
“They made a couple plays where you think they would win the game, but we stayed with it,” Middleton said. “We were down the majority of the game, we were down late in the fourth quarter, but we stayed with it, we stayed resilient, we made plays down the stretch, we got the stops that we needed to with Brook getting a huge block for us. But it’s all about just staying with it and playing as hard as we can and being solid.”
After the Bucks handily swept their bubble nemesis from last year, the Miami Heat, in the first round, they went from the shortest length of series possible to the longest vs. the Nets. It wasn’t pretty at times and it most certainly wasn’t easy. Although it was an awe-inspiring series win for Milwaukee, they’re not satisfied or finished and ready to take on either the Atlanta Hawks (2-1 record against this season) or the Philadelphia 76ers (3-0).
“I almost got emotional a little bit out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “Because the team really tried their best and we kept our composure. We were down 2-0, a lot of people didn’t believe we could win back home and protect home with our unbelievable fans.
“I’m really happy for this team, I’m really happy for what we got done, but the job is not done. We got to keep believing in ourselves, we got to keep playing good basketball, and take it game by game. The job is not done, we’re halfway through.”