There will be a Game 7 between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets.
Milwaukee salvaged its season for at least another contest with a 104-89 victory in Thursday's Game 6 of their second-round series at Fiserv Forum. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks, who continued the pattern of the home team winning every game in this back-and-forth battle.
A solid showing from Kevin Durant wasn't enough for the Nets, who were once again without Kyrie Irving because of an ankle injury.
Notable Player Stats
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, MIL: 30 PTS, 17 REB, 3 AST
- Khris Middleton, F, MIL: 38 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST, 5 STL
- Jrue Holiday, G, MIL: 21 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL
- Kevin Durant, F, BKN: 32 PTS, 11 REB, 3 AST
- James Harden, G, BKN: 16 PTS, 7 AST, 5 REB, 4 STL
Giannis, Middleton and Bucks Answer the Pressure
It's hard to script a game with much more pressure than Thursday's for Milwaukee.
It was facing elimination. It blew a 17-point lead in Game 5 even though Irving was sidelined. Antetokounmpo struggled down the stretch of the last one and put himself even further under the spotlight. And rumors about head coach Mike Budenholzer's future are swirling.
The star players rose to the moment in the early going.
Antetokounmpo didn't shoot a single three-pointer in the first half and instead aggressively attacked the basket. Middleton caught fire from deep, and Jrue Holiday was in double figures by intermission while also spearheading the perimeter defense and creating a number of turnovers. The result was a commanding 11-point halftime lead and plenty to cheer about for the raucous home crowd.
Still, the Bucks had a commanding lead in the last game just to blow it. The pressure remained in the second half, and there was palpable uneasiness as Brooklyn closed to within five in the final two minutes of the third quarter.
Rather than collapse, Middleton answered with two straight midrange shots and a tip-in to push the lead back to double digits heading to the fourth. It was a critical stretch and helped make up for Holiday forcing the issue as he shot 1-of-10 from three-point range.
It also set the stage for the Bucks to gradually pull away in the fourth with a 14-0 run that featured an and-one in transition and monster slam off an offensive rebound from Antetokounmpo. The defense was also excellent with the game hanging in the balance, and Milwaukee made a statement with its backs against the wall.
Nets Struggle on Offensive End in Loss
The biggest question coming into Thursday's game was what Durant had in store for an encore.
After all, he turned in a legendary playoff performance with a 49-point triple-double in Game 5 and had Antetokounmpo telling reporters he was "the best player in the world right now." With Irving out and James Harden limited by a hamstring injury, another such showing was not out of the question.
He wasn't as ruthlessly efficient out of the gates Thursday, though, and struggled to find his shot as the visitors fell behind by double digits by halftime. He helped make up for it on the glass, and Blake Griffin continued to provide important secondary scoring to keep Brooklyn within striking distance.
Perhaps most importantly, Harden was much better in his second game back and hit three triples while still facilitating in the first half. His ability to return to something resembling his typical form will be key for the Nets if they are going to deliver on their championship aspirations.
It was Durant's turn to carry the offense once again with 12 points in the third quarter behind an array of midrange jumpers. Yet the rest of the team had a mere seven points in the third, which prevented it from closing the gap even when Milwaukee went cold on the other end.
The run never came for the Nets even with Durant once again pouring in the points. They can at least take solace knowing that Harden played better, but the offense that was on display in the second half on Thursday as they scored 41 points will not be enough in Game 7 either.
The series returns to Brooklyn for the decisive Game 7 on Saturday.