Facing down the possibility of yet another ignominious Eastern Conference exit, the Milwaukee Bucks have forced a Game 7 against the NBA’s title favorites.
Behind a playoff career-high 38 points from Khris Middleton, the Bucks defeated the Brooklyn Nets 104-89 on Thursday in Game 6 to even the series 3-3. The teams will play a Game 7 on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Brooklyn.
The win is a welcome response for the Bucks, who fell behind 3-2 after blowing a 17-point second-half lead in Game 5 despite facing the absence of Kyrie Irving and the struggles of James Harden. For fans of a team that has chronically underperformed in the playoffs, it felt like the inflection point of a familiar story.
Once again, the Bucks built up a big lead in Game 6, leading by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter. The Nets eroded the lead down to five within a few minutes, but the Bucks responded with a 14-0 run to take control of the game for good.
Khris Middleton goes off
At the center of the Bucks’ success was Middleton, who scored from every level of the court to deliver 38 points on 11-of-16 shooting, 10 rebounds and five assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo was also his usual self, 30 points and 17 rebounds, including this dunk:
Perhaps the biggest change for the Bucks was a more focused Antetokounmpo. After much scrutiny over his shot selection, the Greek Freak was noticeably more aggressive in the paint and didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer, his first such game in the playoffs. Per ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry, his average shot length of 5.6 feet was by far his shortest of the playoffs.
Throughout the game (with maybe a few minutes of breaks), the Bucks played with the urgency that was absent in Game 5. After scoring only two fastbreak points and five second-chance points on Tuesday, they scored 26 and 13 respectively in Game 6.
Kevin Durant, coming off an all-time performance, looked significantly more human with 32 points on 15-of-30 shooting, 11 rebounds and three assists. Harden still had the look of a player recovering from a hamstring injury with 16 points (5-of-9 shooting), seven assists and five rebounds. Unlike Jeff Green’s 27 points in Game 5, few other Nets stepped up.
The good news for the Nets, who remain the favorites to win the NBA Finals at +220 with BetMGM, is that they should be better equipped in Game 7.
A more rested Durant (he played every minute in Game 5), a more healed Harden, a potentially returning Irving and a home crowd at Barclays Center all stand to provide a more advantageous environment. They’ll also be facing a Bucks team that hasn’t won a Game 7 since 2001.
Funny things can happen in a Game 7, though. Milwaukee can only hope that works out in their favor, or else it’ll be an offseason with a lot of uncomfortable questions and likely changes.
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