Tagged in: game 6

Khris Middleton lifts Milwaukee Bucks past Atlanta Hawks, into NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 — and they secured the final wins of the series without star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee defeated the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 on Saturday behind 32 points from Khris Middleton. Jrue Holiday added 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists.

After the final buzzer sounded and the Bucks swarmed the center of the court, putting on caps and T-shirts that announced them as Eastern Conference champions, players hugged each other and laughed. Coaches embraced.

“It feels awesome,” Holiday said. “I’m still kind of on this high, but I’m going to the Finals. It’s cool to think as a little kid, this is what you watch the playoffs for. This is all the moments that I felt as a little kid watching TV. I lived them and went through them and now I get to go to the Finals and see what this is about.”

Antetokounmpo, who has been out since injuring his knee in the third quarter of Game 4 when he landed awkwardly after contesting an alley-oop, was in the middle of it all — a triumphant fist raised in the air.

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Thursday marked the end of a slew of Milwaukee playoff runs that were cut short or went awry. In the 2019 postseason, the Bucks swept the Detroit Pistons, defeated the Boston Celtics in five games and built a 2-0 lead versus the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, after losing back-to-back games only once during the entire regular season, the Bucks lost four consecutive games to the Raptors and were eliminated.

Last season in the NBA’s bubble, the Bucks fizzled to a disappointing end in the playoffs.

Milwaukee earned the No. 1 seed and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. But Antetokounmpo sprained his ankle in Game 3 of the team’s series against the Miami Heat.

He gave it a go in Game 4, but re-sprained his ankle in that game and was unable to play in Game 5, when Milwaukee was eliminated. Back then, Antetokounmpo said that “nobody was going to be happy” with the outcome of Milwaukee’s 2019-20 playoff run. He said he hoped the Bucks could learn from that loss.

It appears they did — and those losses, Middleton said, made their success this season that much better.

“It’s been a long journey,” Middleton said. “But it’s been a great journey. It’s been worth it. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough and now we’re here. This is what we’ve worked for.”

The Bucks avenged last season’s loss and rolled the Heat in four matches in the first round. Midway through that series, starting guard Donte DiVincenzo injured his ankle. He had season-ending surgery on a ligament in his left ankle in June and P.J. Tucker slid into a starting role.

Still, Milwaukee kept rolling. After falling down 3-2 in a wild series versus the betting title favorite Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks outlasted them in a seven-game series. And after losing at home for the first time in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks battled back, including winning two games without Antetokounmpo.

All the while, Antetokounmpo stood — almost never sitting down — on the sidelines in black shorts and a Bucks warm-up shirt. A protective sleeve swaddled his hyperextended left knee. But even injured and unable to play, Antetokounmpo was in the middle of the celebration. His longest hug was reserved for his brother and teammate, Thanasis.

“There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Budenholzer said. “Khris and Giannis are the key to this team, to this organization. To have the opportunity to coach them and come here three years ago and try to build something special, those two guys are special, and it starts with them.”

And while there has been no public decision on whether or not Antetokounmpo will be available to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, one thing is certain: The Bucks are sitting atop a hill that Antetokounmpo has envisioned summiting for years.

Now, they have just one more leg to complete. “We ain’t did nothing yet,” Tucker said.

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Without Giannis, Bucks beat Hawks 123-112 for 3-2 lead

Brook Lopez scored a playoff career-high 33 points and the Milwaukee Bucks withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence to defeat the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 on Thursday night for a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Bucks are one victory away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. They won their lone NBA title in 1971.

Four of their starters had at least 22 points: Lopez, Khris Middleton (26), Jrue Holiday (25) and Bobby Portis (22). Middleton also had 13 rebounds and eight assists. Holiday had 13 assists and six rebounds.

Game 6 is Saturday in Atlanta, with the winner of the series facing the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. Each team was missing its biggest star as Antetokounmpo dealt with a hyperextended left knee and Atlanta’s Trae Young sat out a second consecutive game due to a bone bruise in his right foot.

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Young got hurt when he accidentally stepped on an official’s foot along the sideline in Milwaukee’s 113-102 Game 3 victory. 

Antetokounmpo landed awkwardly after trying to block Clint Capela’s dunk attempt in Atlanta’s 110-88 Game 4 triumph.

Just as the Hawks’ role players stepped up with Young sidelined in Game 4, Antetokounmpo’s teammates came through Thursday to help the Bucks overcome the loss of their two-time MVP.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points. Atlanta also got 19 points each from John Collins and Danilo Gallinari, and 17 from Lou Williams.

Portis took Antetokounmpo’s spot in the starting lineup and had the Fiserv Forum fans chanting “Bobby! Bobby!” on multiple occasions, continuing something that started during Milwaukee’s Game 2 blowout victory. Portis’ 22 points were a playoff career high.

The Bucks never trailed and led by as many as 20 in the first quarter, making most of their shots and getting second-chance opportunities on their rare misses. The game was nearly eight minutes old by the time Cam Reddish got Atlanta’s first defensive rebound.

Milwaukee led 36-22 after a first quarter in which the Bucks outscored the Hawks 28-8 in the paint. Bogdanovic’s 13 first-half points helped the Hawks close the gap to 65-56 at the break.

The Bucks needed that edge in the paint because they again couldn’t connect from range, continuing a problem that has hounded them the entire postseason. After making their first two 3-point shots, they missed their next 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

Atlanta cut the lead to 65-59 when Bogdanovic hit a 3-pointer to open the third-quarter scoring, but that’s as close as the Hawks would get in the second half. This marked the second consecutive game in this series without any lead changes. The Hawks never trailed in Game 4.

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Houston Astros survive to force Game 6 vs Tampa Bay Rays in ALCS

The Tampa Bay Rays had a shot to advance to the World Series and send the Houston Astros packing for the second consecutive night at San Diego’s Petco Park on Thursday. And for the second straight night, they did not get it done.

The Astros have prevailed with a 4-3 Game 5 triumph in dramatic fashion as Carlos Correa hit a walk-off homer in the ninth inning.

Let’s dive in on the key storylines and things to know from Game 5. 

Correa’s been possibly the most vocal Astros player this postseason when it comes to wanting to silence the team’s critics. After a lackluster offensive regular season (.264 average with a 92 OPS+ and five homers), Correa is now hitting .342/.457/.816 with six homers in the playoffs.

Yes, more home runs in the postseason than regular season. He’s now two homers away from tying the record for the most homers in a single postseason (see the note in the Arozarena section below for more on this). 

Further, Correa’s clutch exploits in the playoffs are notable. His three career walk-off hits tie David Ortiz for the most ever in the postseason (via ESPN Stats and Info). Correa also hit a walk-off homer the ALCS last year, coming vs. the Yankees in Game 2.

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The Astros went with a bullpen game, which is just a game full of relievers. Luis Garcia started the game and worked two innings, he was followed by Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Brooks Raley (it was all rookies through this point, by the way), Josh James and Ryan Pressly. They got through the nine innings permitting just three runs on seven hits. All this with their backs against the wall. 

The Rays used John Curtiss as an opener.

That is, a pitcher who throws around one inning before giving way to the pitcher — usually of the opposite hand — who is designed to pitch the most innings in the game. That was Josh Fleming, who was usually a starter in 2020. Curtiss went 1 1/3 innings before Fleming went three. 

Overall, it was a commendable effort from both pitching staffs. Lots of the big names were either unavailable of carrying in big postseason workloads. 

The Astros are trying to run this thing to the distance after trailing 0-3 while the Rays are looking to avoid facing the chance of joining the 2004 Yankees in making dubious history and losing four consecutive games after taking a 3-0 lead.

The pitching matchup is the same as Game 1 with Blake Snell going for the Rays and Framber Valdez getting the ball for the Astros.  Of the 39 teams in the MLB playoffs to ever face a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, the Astros now join the 1998 Braves, 1999 Mets and 2004 Red Sox as the only teams to force a Game 6.

Both the Braves and Mets lost Game 6. The Red Sox won out to make history. The Astros are looking to be the second team to do that, but they’ll need to get Game 6 first. 

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