This is what Game 7’s should be like...back and forth with both teams throwing haymakers and answering each other’s runs. Albeit stressful, this is a game that will go down in the history books for most stressful elimination games in recent memory.
What We Learned
Well, I will GLADLY eat crow on this...but the Milwaukee Bucks clutched up, got over the hump, and beat a super team in a Game 7. I don’t care if Kyrie Irving sat out the final few games and James Harden was on one leg, the Nets gave the Bucks all they could handle both offensively, and defensively.
I thought the Bucks were bailed out in the first half offensively, largely relying on the three-ball to remain within striking distance of a Nets lead that seemed it would swell to double-digits at any moment. Nonetheless, Milwaukee’s ball movement, shotmaking, and defensive effort propelled them to the finish line.
I was a bit emotional after Milwaukee’s choke job in Game 5...but like many of you, I have endured so many heartbreaks over the last decade-plus and it’s sad to see the same script unfold before our eyes. Like I said, for all the negativity I spewed in my Game 5 recap, perhaps the Bucks used it as bulletin material for the last two games of the series ;). Like I said, I will 100000000% eat crow on this EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE WEEK.
It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but in a legacy game, Giannis Antetokounmpo rose to the occasion. The term “legacy game” gets thrown around a lot, but I firmly believe that last night was that sort of game for Antetokounmpo. Game 7 against the Boston Celtics a few seasons ago with interim HC Joe Prunty doesn’t count in my book... for obvious reasons. However, Giannis tallied 50 minutes and dropped 40 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and one block while shooting 15-of-24 from the field. Needless to say, he left it all out on the floor on Saturday night. It was a mixed bag at times for him and I thought Giannis nailing an early three-pointer was fools gold because it would give him more confidence to hoist even more threes...he ended with six three-point attempts which are too rich for my blood, but the Bucks won, so all is forgiven...for now! Antetokounmpo’s overall shot selection (threes aside) was okay and I was encouraged to see him pull up in transition for midrange jumpers that were falling. While I am not a fan of him putting up threes, he needs the elbow mid-range jumper to keep falling to help space the floor. Giannis also attacked multiple mismatches in the paint, and while at times was overly aggressive, seeing him opt to shoot a hook over Kevin Durant in the post during crunch time made me swoon. One negative from his performance was that he was beaten out by Bruce Brown multiple times on the glass that gave the Nets multiple extra possessions...they’re very fortunate that they did not capitalize on all of those. While he did airball two free-throws, he made 8-of-14 tries after starting 1-of-4 from the stripe. It’s always an adventure with him at the line, isn’t it? I don’t know, y’all, but I think we might have a keeper here.
Giannis did it all.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 20, 2021
40 PTS | 13 REB | 5 AST | 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/cAd1O3Tc6d
Khris Middleton...STONES! Bruce Brown and the Nets did a fantastic job at throwing Middleton off his rhythm early, and while I would have liked the Bucks to run more plays for him offensively, Brown was a big part of his first-half struggles. It was highly encouraging to see him overcome his tough shooting half and have the confidence to shoulder the load offensively in the fourth period and in overtime. He went to work with the Bucks clinging to life and trailing by a few points by hitting a three and making a tough driving layup over the defense of Joe Harris. He ended with nine points in the fourth quarter and his silky fadeaway mid-range jumper from the foul line over Brown essentially iced the game for the Bucks. Middleton dished out five assists in the contest and was effectively initiating some pick-and-roll offense between him and Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee has flourished with both Holiday and Khris as the primary initiators this postseason and it has opposing defenses on their toes.
While his final shooting line of 9-of-26 might look ugly, he made them when the Bucks needed them the most by making 5-of-9 attempts between the fourth and OT. It felt like they were going to have to force-feed him down the stretch...they did and he answered the call by putting the game on ice. Back-to-back strong performances in elimination games has quieted some of the naysayers...for now.
KHRIS MIDDLETON IS GOOD.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 20, 2021
23 PTS | 10 REB | 6 AST | 5 STL pic.twitter.com/5X0EbLWwx5
The Bucks are fortunate to eek out a win after point guard Jrue Holiday’s horrendous shooting night. The entire seven-game series is one he would like to forget about, I am sure (shooting-wise). His night got off to a decent start, making a nifty left-handed scoop shot and sinking a step-back 14-footer, but that’s where the positive momentum halter. Aside from the two made baskets in the first, his next makes came in the fourth quarter. Luckily for Milwaukee, he clutched up when they needed him too by making 3-of-5 shots in the final frame including a HUGE three-pointer and a baseline jumper after shedding Blake Griffin with a crossover. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and only one turnover in 48 minutes. The 5-of-23 shooting does sting, but it was great to see him still have the confidence to shoot the ball in crunch time. The Nets were giving him the “Eric Bledsoe treatment” and he made them pay.
Now, he ended the series making only 29.6% of his threes on nearly seven tries per game. While I don’t mind the number of attempts, his shot selection needs to be better in the Eastern Conference Finals. I thought he fell in love too much with the jumper against Brooklyn and was taking too many unnecessary step-back j’s early in the clock. Switching gears defensively, he got caught napping multiple times which led to Joe Harris having wide-open looks from deep. However, Harris couldn’t buy a bucket all series and it did not come back to bite them. I also admire how tough he defended Durant throughout the series, but he is just way too small. It seemed like he made every shot when defended by Jrue, besides that game-defining final jumper of course. The Bucks winning this series after a horrendous shooting performance from him does say a lot about the team’s resiliency, though...something I thought they did not have after Game 5.
- Brook Lopez proved his worth in every game. I thought this was a series he was going to be played off the floor, but that was not the case and he came up with some big blocked shots from games five to seven. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, and four blocked shots. Not only was this one of his better performances in a Bucks uniform, his block on Durant with one minute left of OT won the game for them and perhaps will go down as the biggest play in his NBA career.
- Pat Connaughton gave them a humongous boost in the first half and he ended with nine points in 23 minutes while finishing a game-high plus-10. His three made three-pointers played an integral role in helping the Bucks remain within striking distance in the first half.
- The Brooklyn bench did not score a single point or attempt a shot in 20 total minutes.
- Playing seven games against Kevin Durant took 10 years off my life and I can only imagine what the Bucks feel like. I thought his last-second shot in regulation was a three and it was a wrap. However, thanks to his huge feet, his feet were on the line. He dropped 48/9/6 in 53 minutes. While I do not respect his team selection decisions, I have a newfound respect for his game on the court. There was no question that he gave the Bucks everything they can handle, but he was ultimately failed by his teammates. I am relieved that they won’t be seeing him for a while...
- James Harden’s antics are despicable and the NBA not cracking down on this is a sore eye for the game of basketball. Harden ended up taking 10 free throws and seven of them came in the opening frame and I am not sure they were even fouls. I mean, when you’re clearly jumping into the defender contesting your shot and also locking arms with a defender coming off a screen you are not playing basketball at that point. He finished with 22/9/9 and I hope he enjoys his vacation in Cancun. He joined a super team to get bounced in the second round, sorry, but no sympathy from me!
- The Bucks made 15 threes compared to 12 for Brooklyn.
- Credit where it’s due...head coach Mike Budenholzer made the necessary adjustments which helped secure the series. Shortening his rotation to a six-man one and keeping Brook Lopez on the floor when Brooklyn went small were the biggest ones, imo.
- P.J. Tucker, someone get him a bubble bath, full-body massage, and a drink...preferably a double. He defended his tail off out there against KD and got the best of him on multiple occasions. While he did foul out, he scored 11 points and made three corner triples. This is why the Bucks got him. Love to have him on your team and hate to play against him.