The Milwaukee Bucks advance to the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals by defeating the Nets 115-111 in overtime on Saturday night in the deciding Game 7 for their semifinal series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks, scoring 40 points and scoring 13 rebounds, allowing Milwaukee to face another stellar performance from Kevin Durant, who finished with 48 points and 9 rebounds of his own.
Durant repeatedly exploited screen-and-rolls, and cleverly used his post-up game to thwart the Bucks defense. The deaf Barclays Center crowd roared when Durant hit a long jumper to tie the game with 1 second left in regulation to send the game to overtime. But the Nets, whose bench players scored no points and attempted no shots throughout the game, were dismissed 6-2 in overtime and lost.
It was a disappointing end to the series for the No. 2 seeded Nets, who entered the playoffs to score a championship run, with their Stars finally looking healthy at the same time. Their best three players – James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Durant – only played eight games together during the regular season due to injuries and other absences.
The Nets began the series favorite against the third-seeded Bucks, but once again, the Stars were plagued with injuries, increasing the likelihood of an upset.
In Game 1, James Harden departed after less than a minute due to a right hamstring strain. Nonetheless, the Nets won the first two games of the series in great style at home.
The Bucks then went on to win Game 3 at home. And in Game 4, the Nets sprained Irving in the first half. The Nets also lost the game and appeared to be losing momentum with a series best of seven being suddenly tied at two.
But in Game 5, Durant put together one of these Greatest playoff performance of all time, finished with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists and became the first player to record those numbers in a playoff game. Harden surprisingly returned for that game, but was largely ineffective. The Bucks led by 17 points, only for Durant to snatch his lead almost single-handedly in the second half. Jeff Green emerged to fill some of the gap left by Irving, a playoff-career-high 27 points, the most points off the bench by the net in post-season history.
The Bucks returned with a strong performance from their stars in Game 6, with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jew Holiday scoring 89 of the Bucks’ 104 points.
Throughout the series, the Nets tried to take advantage of Antetokounmpo’s ineffectiveness as a shooter, a weakness that troubled him during several playoff runs. Defenders regularly left him open on the perimeter or sent him to the free-throw line, where he was also struggling. This made Antetokounmpo a two-time Most Valuable Player award winner, who was nothing short of a threat late in the Games.
But Antetokounmpo still managed one of the best series of his career. During the first six games, he averaged 30.5 points and 12.8 rebounds per game on 56.5 percent shooting. It was good enough to get the Bucks into Game 7 and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in Antetokounmpo’s career.
The Nets had difficulty getting production from their role players, many of whom had career years. One of the best shooters in the NBA, Joe Harris struggled all series—shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and only 32.5 percent from 3 through the first six matches.
The Bucks’ series win takes them one step closer to winning their first championship since 1971, when the team was led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they will face the winner of another semifinal matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers headed to Game 7 on Sunday after tying the series after a strong showing from Seth Curry on Friday. The Eastern Conference finals are due to begin on Wednesday.
The Nets missed their chance to make their first conference finals since 2002 and 2003, when they were in New Jersey under the leadership of Jason Kidd. In both those years, the Nets went to the finals. He has not won a championship since the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.