BROOKLYN, New York – Before these NBA Playoffs began, Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked if he thought his Milwaukee Bucks were better prepared for this year’s postseason, after the disappointments that befell them over the past two years.
“I don’t know if this year will be different,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m not going to lie to you. It could be the same. Who knows.
“The results will speak for themselves in the end.”
It turned out that he was right, but not in the way he expected.
Trailing 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists from their star, the Bucks arrived at the Barclays Center Saturday night and survived an instant Game 7 classic against the Brooklyn Nets, winning 115-111 in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was only necessary to get past the last blow to the stomach: a crazy Kevin Durant jumper over PJ Tucker’s perfect defense with one second left in regulation to tie the game, and survive a multi-player marathon competition. of both teams reached 50 minutes. they played, including Durant and James Harden, who played all 53 minutes.
Durant finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists, setting a new NBA scoring record in a Game 7.
Ultimately, however, it was the Bucks who received baskets from Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the final 72 seconds of overtime, plus Durant missed nearly the same shot that he hit at the end of regulation time with 0.3 seconds to go. the extra session. survive and move on to face the 76ers or Atlanta on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
This game, like most Game 7s, quickly became a physical and tense affair, with both teams struggling to achieve consistent offense outside of their stars. The result was a performance that felt more like an endurance competition than a game of basketball for everyone involved.
Durant and Harden never left the game, while Middleton remained seated for 39 seconds. And, as the night wore on, the tired legs became apparent on both sides, with many hands on the knees and hips as the game stretched into the fourth quarter, and each player who fell to the ground took a time to recover before slowly climbing. At his feet.
But, as much as both teams tried to extend the lead, neither team was able to do so by more than a few points, trading the lead more than 10 times, in addition to several other draws.
It was an appropriate highlight for a series that, while not the epic battle that was expected to be before it began, has still featured a lot of drama from two teams that were on a collision course to meet in the playoffs for the final couple. months of the regular season.
The Nets led most of the fourth quarter before Jrue Holiday, who struggled immensely throughout the game, finally arrived when it mattered most.
Holiday, who was at one point 2 of 17, helped out on a Antetokounmpo bucket to tie the game, then hit the biggest shot in decades in Milwaukee basketball, a three on the left wing, which gave the Bucks the lead. good with 2:32 left.
He immediately followed up with a baseline jump on the next possession, as he and Durant went back and forth on multiple possessions.
But Durant, who played the entire game for the second time in five days at Barclays Center, threw a jump shot with 1:08 remaining that was pushed by Tucker, and Middleton hit a pair of free throws at the other end to push the ball. Milwaukee lead back to four.
Durant then missed a jump shot at the other end, only to be rescued when the Bucks failed to corner the defensive rebound. However, he did not miss the second time, going from the baseline and taking a jump shot to make the score 109-107 with 42.3 seconds left.
The same thing happened at the other end, when Middleton missed a jump shot, but Milwaukee managed to corner the offensive rebound. However, unlike the Nets, the Bucks couldn’t take advantage. They took time out to set up a play with 2.1 to go on the shot clock that resulted in Brook Lopez getting stuck 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 spinning jump over Tucker, albeit with his foot just crossing the 3-point line, to tie the game with a second to go, raising his arms to the rafters as he stepped back. to the other side.
That still left the Bucks with a chance to avoid overtime. But, after another time out, Milwaukee didn’t do better. Antetokounmpo went wild and ended up throwing a sentence that hit the side of the board, sending the game into overtime.
The extra session was as ugly as you might expect, as both teams had players over 50 minutes of play. The only points, by either team, were a throwback layup by Bruce Brown on an offensive rebound on Brooklyn’s first possession until Antetokounmpo scored on Durant with just over a minute to go.
Then, after Lopez blocked a Durant layup and Joe Harris missed an open triple on the offensive rebound at the other end, Middleton ducked inside the free throw line and calmly downed a jump shot to return the Bucks. the advantage with 40.1 seconds to go.
Durant twice had a chance to tie the game for the Nets. This time, however, the results were different. First, he missed a mid-range jump shot that would have tied him with 34.7 seconds to go. Then, after Middleton missed what would have been a decisive jump shot at the other end, Durant found himself in exactly the same situation: the ball at the top of the key and a chance to tie or win the game.
This time, he missed little. The ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds with 0.3 seconds to go. And, an extensive review and a couple of free throws later, Brooklyn’s season was over.
It was a discouraging end to a season that began for Brooklyn with more anticipation and enthusiasm around the franchise than at any time when it moved to New York City from New Jersey nine years ago.
After Durant spent a year on the sidelines recovering from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered during Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and Irving missed most of last season after shoulder surgery, this it would be the first time that the two stars would share the court together. since he decided to form a team.
Already facing championship expectations, the Nets gave those hopes a massive injection of rocket fuel in mid-January, when Brooklyn made a successful trade to acquire Harden from the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Caris LeVert, center Jarrett Allen. and a group of future firsts. -round draft spikes.
Brooklyn 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 practically every game as the Nets grappled with injury after injury, including their Big 3, that only ended the season with 15 games played together.
That unfortunate luck of injury carried over to the playoffs, and specifically this showdown with the Bucks. Just 43 seconds into Game 1, Harden re-injured his right hamstring that kept him out for several weeks at the end of the regular season and Irving sprained his right ankle when he landed on Antetokounmpo’s foot in the middle of the game. second quarter of Game 4 that brought it. series to a premature end.
Milwaukee also entered this season with a lot of pressure on their collective shoulders.
After the Bucks burst into the playoffs each of the past two years: They lost four in a row to fall to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals and then were rebounded from the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resorts last summer in the East. Miami Heat Conference Semifinals: Coach Mike Budenholzer was told to make sure his team was better prepared for the challenges that come up in the playoffs this time around. And general manager Jon Horst took a big swing, sending Eric Bledsoe and several first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Holiday, one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league.
It was a formula that Milwaukee hoped would produce different results this time. Saturday night, that turned out to be the case.