Bucks-Nets: How Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee overcame playoff struggles and failures in chaotic Game 7
NEW YORK – It didn’t happen the way the Milwaukee Bucks – or anyone on Earth – envisioned it, but they’re in the conference finals. After wasting what looked like a golden opportunity in Game 1, awkwardly having the most putrid performance a team has ever had in those playoffs in Game 2, delivering an even worse offensive performance in Game 3 and reversing a 17-point lead (and another injury-induced opportunity) in Game 5, they sent the Brooklyn Nets to pack their bags in Game 7 at the Barclays Center.
The Bucks survived a grueling 53 minutes and a series full of twists and turns with a 115-111 overtime win on Saturday, four days after Kevin Durant apparently set the entire franchise on fire in the same building. They outlived Brook Lopez coming out of a late-game timeout not knowing there were only two seconds left on the shot clock, committing a tragic turnaround that directly led to Durant’s almost legendary shot with 1 , 6 seconds to go in regulation time.
About that shot from Durant: he caught the ball well over the 3-point line on the right side of the floor, dribbled twice to his left, turned the other way, backed up and kicked made a sweater with PJ Tucker draped over it. It would have been an absolute prayer if almost anyone else in NBA history had taken it. He didn’t surprise anyone when he fell through the net.
“I actually just laughed after he did it because it was amazing,” Tucker said. “I actually enjoyed it, being a fan of the game. You see someone doing that kind of shot, you have to enjoy it, even if it’s on you.”
“Some of us said, ‘We were lucky that his toe was on the line,” said Bucks’ Khris Middleton.
Durant played every second and finished with 48 points on 17 of 36 shots, with nine rebounds and six assists. In by far the biggest game of his career, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points on 15 of 24 shots, with 13 rebounds and five assists. Fans loudly counted every second Antetokounmpo took to prepare for his 14 free throws, and although he threw one, he made it a respectable eight. Him and James Harden, the latter playing his third straight game through what turned out to be a level 2 hamstring strain, conceded in 3 points.
For Milwaukee, victory was a monument to stand by. The Bucks entered Game 7 after losing all four games they had played in Brooklyn this season. They had scored 102 points per 100 possessions in Games 1-6, which would have placed dead last in the regular season. Towards the end of the first half they were down in double digits. They came back despite Tucker committing his fifth foul with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter and Jrue Holiday committing his fifth about two minutes later.
Holiday was shooting 2 for 17 and 0 for 5 from a 3-point range when he netted a 3 with 5:23 remaining in regulation. He went on to help Middleton on a 3, then did a back 3, pull-up 2 and a pair of free throws before extra time began. Middleton missed 12 of his first 16 shots, but gave the go-ahead – a rotating turnaround over 13-foot Bruce Brown – on a pick-and-roll with 40 seconds left.
Middleton’s clutch shot was one of three baskets scored by either team in overtime. The Bucks didn’t score any overtime goals until Antetokounmpo hooked up Durant with 1:12 on the clock. Durant had a chance to avoid elimination in the dying seconds and took another turn down the line. This time, against Holiday, the shot didn’t even reach the edge.
“Just so that we can fight, man, stay close as a team and stop – it literally shrunk on the last blow – it’s kind of a storybook,” Holiday said.
Milwaukee’s offense has been rambling for significant periods of every game against the Nets. For the Bucks to call up to 49 points in one against an opponent missing an All-Star is unusual for a contender, but their weaknesses are only different in the degree of recent champions, not in their cuteness. They overcame their midfield struggles by hitting the offensive glass, hitting the free throw line, getting saves and scoring in transition. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Los Angeles Lakers last year won a championship with the same formula.
Milwaukee has disappointed in the playoffs for the past two seasons, so his tough times against Brooklyn were widely seen as signs of impending doom. These Lakers, however, were taken aback in ranking games in the NBA bubble. They dropped the first games of their first two series, and for a moment looked baffled by the Houston Rockets’ unconventional style. After LeBron James was caught on camera screaming about their spacing, they downsized and ultimately dominated.
The previous season’s champions, the Toronto Raptors, also lost their opening game of the playoffs and were terrible in Game 3 of the second round and Game 2 of the conference finals. Those Raptors came as close as possible to falling 3-0 to the Bucks, only to grab a win and turn everything upside down, like Milwaukee did this time around. Every now and then a team like the 2017 Golden State Warriors will challenge the competition, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Reigning teams don’t necessarily avoid breakouts and lost leads, even in the playoffs. They bounce off of them. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks didn’t fold after Brandon Roy’s game. The 2012 Miami Heat fell 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and 3-2 to the Boston Celtics.
“I almost got a little emotional because the team really, really tried their best, and we kept our cool,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were down 2-0, a lot of people didn’t think we could do it.”
Tucker said Game 7 looked like “the longest game ever.” Both teams knew exactly what the other was trying to do, and in the end they had made whatever adjustments they were going to make. Durant and Harden never sat down, and six players logged 98 percent of the Bucks’ minutes, the result of Donte DiVincenzo’s ankle injury and defensive limitations from several key reserves. The crucial moment was chaos and everyone was exhausted. In the end, Milwaukee did just enough.
“They made a few games where, you know, you would think they were going to win the game,” Middleton said. “But we stayed with that.”
If Lopez reacts a fraction of a second later with a minute of overtime and doesn’t block Durant’s layup, or if Joe Harris doesn’t miss a wide open 3 right after that, it could have been the stoned Nets talking proudly. of everything they had overcome to move on to the next round. Instead, after Lopez pounded the ground in jubilation, the bells rang and the stands were mostly empty, there was Antetokounmpo, looking up to a section full of Greek fans who had stayed to greet him. .
Antetokounmpo let out a cry of appreciation, then walked through the tunnel en route to another challenge. It’s important, he said, to cherish this moment and enjoy the atmosphere, no matter what the past results, no matter how much pressure the Bucks are under.
“We believe in who we are,” he said.