With their top figure Giannis Antetokounmpo injured, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 this Saturday and will return, after 47 years, to play the NBA finals, in which they will face the Phoenix Suns.
With this win in Atlanta, the Bucks sealed the Eastern Conference playoffs with 4 wins to 2 and they will start on Tuesday the final fight for the ring against the Suns, champions of the West.
The escort Khris middleton, with 32 points, and the base Jrue Holiday, with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, made up for the absence of Antetokounmpo, whose presence in his long-awaited first Finals is in doubt due to his knee injury.
Meanwhile, the Hawks had recovered Trae Young for this Saturday urgently, low in the last two games, but the stellar point guard had a pale performance with 14 points and 4/17 in shooting from the field.
“He wanted to try. The effort he put in is more than I expected,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “He left everything on the track despite the injury. At the end he was exhausted,” he encouraged after the defeat.
In their third grand finale, the Bucks will try to get a second ring after the consecration in 1971 by two of the best players in history: Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson.
Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson led Milwaukee to other Finals in 1974, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
“I’ve never felt this,” Holiday said. “As kids, we all wanted to be a part of this, playing in the Finals is amazing.”
The Bucks, who finished third in the East in the regular season, overcame the absence of Antetokounmpo in the last two games, who suffers from a hyperextension of the left knee that could leave him out of the decisive instance.
The two-time winner of the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award, coveted by half the league, bet to stay in Milwaukee renewing his contract last December and now he is rewarded with qualification to his first Finals.
His coach, Mike Budenholzer, said Antetokounmpo’s availability in the Finals will be decided “day by day.”
“These guys have worked all year for this, they deserve to play the Finals … But we have more work to do,” Budenholzer said with the Eastern Conference champions trophy in hand.
Khris Middleton, with 32 points, was one of the figures of the night. Photo: REUTER
The Bucks got off to a strong start trying to keep up the momentum of their resounding victory Thursday.
Jrue Holiday returned to mark the defensive tone (4 steals and 2 blocks in the game) and impose a fierce rhythm in attack. So it was that Milwaukee quickly took a double-digit lead (26-16).
Unsure in the opening bars, the ever-daring Trae Young came into the break with just 5 points (2/8 from field goals) and 3 turnovers, earning a technique for protesting in the second quarter.
With their leader off, the Serbian Bogdan Bogdanovic (20 points) commanded the attack of the Hawks until they reached the break with four points behind (47-43).
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee’s third-game hero with 20 points in the fourth quarter, was back in tune after the break.
The shooting guard slaughtered Atlanta with 16 straight points, including three triples, and a total of 23 in the third quarter that propelled Milwaukee to a 19-point lead (91-72) with the last period left.
Pushed by their fans, the young Hawks brought out the competitive spirit that made them the revelation of these playoffs and returned to get into the game with an 11-2 run.
Young forward Cam Reddish, who returned to the Hawks in this series after four months injured, led the offense and Atlanta moved within eight points (109-101) with three minutes remaining.
With the State Farm Arena abuzz, the Bucks kept their cool and took advantage of a poor night for Trae Young, who missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
Veteran PJ Tucker nailed a triple from the corner to take the lead to 10 points in the last minute, prompting McMillan to throw in the towel and relieve Young to receive a standing ovation from the fans for his astonishing first playoffs.
At 22, the point guard averaged 29.8 points and 9.5 assists to propel Atlanta, fifth-ranked in the East, in the series against the Knicks and Sixers, the best team in the conference.
The celebration was for the Bucks who will start the final series in Phoenix on Tuesday against the Suns. The finals can be extended until July 22 if they are defined in a seventh game.
Three of the finalists, Holiday and Middleton (Bucks) and Devin Booker (Suns), are part of the US team that will compete in the Tokyo Olympics (July 23 – August 8), where they will have to travel urgently after the Finals.
With information from AFP