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Milwaukee vs. Atlanta Game 6 Recap: Bucks Clinch NBA Finals Berth

Still surreal.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks stamped their ticket to the NBA Finals on Saturday night after defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 118-107 in Atlanta in Game 6 of the ECF.

For the first time in my lifetime, the Bucks are in the NBA Finals. After decades of mediocrity and poor management/ownership decisions, they have the opportunity to claim the title as the “best team in the NBA.”

This still feels so surreal.

Three Observations

Brook Lopez, for the umpteenth time in this series, was FANTASTIC. Milwaukee’s ability to switch one through five defensively after Game One was a HUGE reason as to why the Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. Lopez’s ability to guard smaller guards on the perimeter was absurd and he really disrupted what Atlanta was trying to accomplish offensively. While it looks like he moves like a penguin out there, his size and length clearly make opposing offenders comfortable and force them to shoot over the big man. After Game One there was some discussion as to if you can even play him, and while they flourished at times with him off the floor in Game Three, they wouldn’t be here without his efforts. In 39 minutes, he scored 13 points and blocked three shots. A lot of his impact will not show up on the stat sheet, but he altered a bevy of Atlanta’s layup and jumper attempts. Brook finished plus-25 in a pivotal close-out game and you could argue that they would not be in the position they are in without his contributions despite the struggles in G1.

Give Khris Middleton his flowers...NOW! While it was a tale of two halves for him, without his third-quarter flurry, the Bucks certainly do not pull away from the pesky Hawks. In the first two frames, it looked like he was disengaged out there. Of course, credit to the opposition for showing multiple bodies at him and making Middleton catch the ball in uncomfortable spots. After halftime, Middleton was a different animal. The Bucks ran the offense exclusively through him and he scored 23 points in the second to last frame of the game. Throughout Game 6 it seemed like all Milwaukee needed to pull away was for Khris to wake up...and he did! I was mostly concerned with Middleton’s defensive effort in the first two frames as he was caught napping on some switches which left Bogdanovic open from deep. Nonetheless, they would be in a Game 7 situation if he didn’t come out of his slumber in the 3rd. In all, he dropped 32 points and seven assists in 41 minutes. Forever it seemed like they couldn’t get a consistent source of offensive production, so once Middleton got going in the 3rd, you almost knew the Bucks had it in the bag. Credit to him for sticking through the tough defensive effort from the Hawks and grinding to get to his spots. The left-handed and-1 floater (plus the foul) he had just after halftime was when you knew Khris had arrived.

It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but wow, what a difference a point guard like Jrue Holiday makes. He got off to a fast start offensively in the first, scoring eight points in a flurry and helped the Bucks build a double-digit lead. However, I thought he was a bit too overly aggressive at times and tried forcing in a pass where there were multiple Atlanta defenders ready to pick it off. Granted, ATL played much better defense in this contest and they made a concerted effort at keeping MKE out of the paint. The point guard from UCLA finished with 27/9/9/4 in 42 minutes of action and it felt like he was capable of more. While he did play exceptional defense throughout the night, it was specifically impressive when he played Bogdanovic perfectly to draw the offensive foul while on the move. In Game 6, though, the Hawks couldn’t stop him from getting to the basket. The only thing that stopped him was forcing unforced turnovers through traffic that led to a few breakaway points for the home team. He did attempt 12 shots from deep, but the majority of those came on contested stepbacks. It seems out of place to complain about a performance like this, but it would have been nice to see him attack the basket a bit more last night. However, when was the last time the Bucks got this sort of performance out of their point guard in a playoff series? Nonetheless, in a close-out game to go to the NBA Finals. Jrue has been a GODSEND for this Bucks team.

Bonus Bits

  • Pat Connaughton went through a turbulent regular season, but he played an integral role in helping the Bucks close out the Hawks. He scored 13 points and hauled in eight boards in 30 minutes while finishing plus-5. In a game without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee needed EVERYTHING they could get from the bench, and Pat provided. The hustle was on full display, and without the energy he brought off the bench, it is hard to imagine the road team winning this one.
  • Well, like most of you, you probably wanted to pull your hair out when Jeff Teague checked into the game. However, he came to Milwaukee’s rescue last night. It did not matter who was open, it seemed like they couldn’t buy a jumper. Enter Teague, out of all people! He dropped 11 points in 12 minutes and helped keep the separation between the two teams. It must’ve felt great for him to come up with a “revenge game” with an opportunity to go to the NBA Finals.
  • The Bucks made 17 three-pointers and if they continue to hit that mark when Giannis returns, they will be hard to beat.
  • Milwaukee’s defensive effort was stout throughout, even when the Hawks made their fourth quarter run. There were multiple possessions where they defended well, but ATL still came away with points.
  • Seeing the sportsmanship between the two teams when the final buzzer sounded was beautiful. Much better than when the Bucks beat the Nets in Game 7 and James Harden just waltzed off the floor.
  • The Hawks don’t make that 4th quarter run without the efforts of Cam Reddish who scored 21 points in 29 minutes. I appreciate how big of a gamer he is, regardless of his shooting splits. In the playoffs, you got to tip your cap when someone like him shows up in a pivotal ECF game