With his team’s season on the line, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo entered Game 6 with a clear goal in mind: attack every opportunity he could.
After much of this series has been dominated by talk about his rebellious jumper shot, Antetokounmpo made sure Milwaukee would survive and force a Game 7 Saturday night in Brooklyn to play relentlessly on his way to the rim.
The result? Milwaukee posted a 104-89 victory, while Antetokounmpo finished with 30 points, 17 rebounds and three assists in 41 minutes, all without taking a single three-point shot.
“So it was,” Antetokounmpo said. “I didn’t shoot 3s tonight, but I’m just trying to be aggressive. Going downhill, making the right play, I think maybe there was a play or two that was open at the 3-point line and maybe I could have shot.
“But what I do know is that I enjoy the game when I’m aggressive, I can go to the basket and I can get my teammates involved, and when I play to my strengths. That’s when I enjoy the game the most and that’s what I try to do.”
It’s certainly what he did in Game 6 and, for the Bucks, with great results. Of Antetokounmpo’s 12 field hits Thursday night, 11 came in the paint and 10 in the restricted area, according to data from ESPN Stats and Information.
“Giannis coming into the game was at a good time,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He just went attacking and created for his teammates, created for himself. He came into a good place today, and we have to stay that way in Game 7.”
Antetokounmpo’s mindset was indicative of the approach the Bucks collectively brought to this elimination game. Budenholzer leaned heavily on his stars, essentially playing a six-man rotation until both teams emptied their benches in the final minutes. Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton (38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five steals) and Jrue Holiday (21 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals) combined to equal Brooklyn’s 89 points for themselves. Milwaukee dominated in transition, beating Brooklyn 26-4 in fast break points, and the Bucks threw twice as many free throws as the Nets.
Thus the Bucks were able to continue the trend of both teams winning their home games in this series, ensuring that the winner takes it all at the Barclays Center 48 hours later.
“It didn’t seem like we had a lot of energy all night,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “I think we wanted it. We just couldn’t find it. And when you can’t find that rhythm, it makes it even more difficult, so it’s like the chicken and the egg. Is it the rhythm why not? aggravate because you don’t have a rhythm?
“It just wasn’t our best game. We didn’t play well … Now it’s about how we respond.”
The Bucks set the tone for how the game would go from the first tip. Antetokounmpo opened the game with a layup to give Milwaukee an advantage it would never give up by claiming a cable-to-cable victory. He kept attacking, scoring seven points as part of an 18-5 run that gave Milwaukee an immediate cushion and helped erase some of the bad memories of Brooklyn’s return from a 16-point deficit to claim Game 5.
Brooklyn periodically made efforts to get back into the game, and only in those final moments when both benches were emptied did the game really feel over, especially since the Nets had Kevin Durant at their disposal.
But while Durant still led Brooklyn with 32 points Thursday night, it took him 30 shots to do so, a far cry from the brilliant 49 points on 16 of 23 shots he gave the Nets in their impressive Game 5 win.
“I wasn’t even trying to duplicate the [Juego 5]”said Durant.” I was just trying to get out there and play every possession. I am not trying to be a hero. I know I can’t win a basketball game on my own so I try to play the right way, take Some of them felt like I rushed in just to try and get us back on track and change the momentum a bit, but for the most part I thought he was aggressive and put pressure on the defense.
“I have to keep the ball in my hands a little longer, but being aggressive is always a good thing for us, especially when I’m going downhill. I try not to duplicate great nights like that. I just try to let the game flow.” and tonight was not our night. “
While several Bucks took turns trying to slow down the world forward, it was PJ Tucker who again drew the main assignment. And while he finished with just 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting, Tucker was one game plus 30, doing an excellent job of giving Durant everything he could handle while also making several crucial plays to extend possessions.
“Listen, Kevin Durant is maybe the best scorer of our generation,” Tucker said. “He’s going to score the ball a lot. Everybody knows that. I don’t know why people act like it’s a surprise. It’s a chore for anybody. I don’t think anyone can close it.
“But what you can do is try to make it work.”
Beyond Durant’s heroics, the other Game 5 story was James Harden’s surprising return from the hamstring injury he suffered at the start of Game 1. And while he still didn’t look like the player he normally is. , was more involved and effective in Game 6, scoring 16 points, including 14 in the first half, along with five rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 40 minutes.
“It’s not even about rust,” Harden said. “It’s about being able to move, and I think that as I go on from day to day, I keep getting better.
“The last game, Game 5, was the first day that I made a move like that since I got hurt, so tonight was no different, you know? I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win. To be better. on both ends of the ball, which I’ll be in Game 7. “
Milwaukee’s goal going into Thursday night was to simply make sure Game 7 took place. And, after the disappointment the Bucks felt after letting Game 5 slip away, Antetokounmpo made sure to set the tone and take his team to Saturday’s showdown in Brooklyn.
Now that the Bucks have come this far, he said, they will be ready to seize the opportunity.
“We knew what kind of game this was, and there was only one option: to win the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “We knew that if we didn’t win the game our season would end, and we’ve talked about it several times in the locker room among the guys that it’s not going to be easy.
“As I have said throughout the year, we are made for this moment. Simple as that. Nobody said it was going to be easy. It could be difficult. But we are able to do it. So everyone had a great mentality, he came to play, He came to compete and hopefully we can do it in Game 7. “