Bucks-Nets score, takeaways: Milwaukee survives Kevin Durant's record night in Game 7, advances to East finals
Giannis and Co. will face the winner between the 76ers and Hawks in the ECF
The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the Eastern Conference finals after a thrilling 115-111 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of their second-round series. Kevin Durant took a 3-pointer to win the game with only seconds remaining, but came up short to allow Milwaukee to escape with the victory. They will now face the winner of Sunday's Game 7 between the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern semifinal matchup.
Durant did everything humanly possible to carry the Nets. He scored a Game 7 record 48 points and hit an incredible shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime in the first place. But Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40, including the game-tying shot in overtime, and then Khris Middleton won it with a mid-range jumper. The Bucks are now playing in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2019. If they win there, they will advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
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1. Game 7 lives up to the hype
Coming into the playoffs, the one series everyone had circled was this second-round matchup between the Nets and Bucks. But while there had been some close games, it hadn't quite lived up to the hype, due in large part to injuries suffered by James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Game 7 made up for it and then some.
The old cliche is that the two best words in sports are "Game 7." It doesn't always play out that way, however. Going back over the last decade, only 14 of the 34 Game 7s were decided by 10 points or less. A combination of nerves and fatigue usually makes these contests sloppy, and its very easy for things to spiral into a blowout if the home team can jump in front early.
You could not have scripted a better game on Saturday night, however. There were 18 lead changes and eight ties over the 53 minutes of action, and the biggest lead either team had was when the Nets briefly took a 10-point advantage. There were big-time performances on each side, questionable refereeing decisions, dramatic last-second shots and overtime. This was just the seventh Game 7 in NBA history to go to overtime, and the first since 2006, when the Dallas Mavericks beat the San Antonio Spurs.
This was the type of game everyone pretends to play out in their driveway growing up. It doesn't get any better.
2. Giannis steps up
Giannis is a two-time MVP, but after the Bucks crashed out of the playoffs in unceremonious fashion the last two seasons, there were major questions about whether or not he could actually carry a team to a title. While the Bucks' losses weren't all his fault, obviously, those questions were fair. The doubts continued even at times in this series, and likely will going forward until he lifts the trophy.
He deserves all the praise for his performance in Game 7, as he stepped up in a major way to make sure the Bucks didn't lose this game. Playing a whopping 50 minutes, he finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on 15 of 24 from the field. This was just the second time he's scored 40 or more in a playoff game, and in the process he became just the fifth player in NBA history to put up at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Game 7.
Most importantly, he tied the game with just 1:12 remaining in overtime. Nearly four minutes into the extra frame, the Bucks still hadn't scored and were holding on for dear life. Giannis made the big play they needed, as he took Kevin Durant into the post and dropped a little hook shot in over the top.
Giannis could have been a free agent this summer, but he signed a supermax extension with the Bucks because he wanted to win in Milwaukee. Now, he's halfway to a title. In terms of just pure storylines, it would be pretty remarkable if he delivers one right away.
3. Durant gives it his all again, but comes up just short
With Kyrie Irving out and James Harden hobbled, the Nets put all of their hopes in Kevin Durant. In Game 5, he delivered to give them a 3-2 series lead with one of the best playoff performances of all time. Somehow, he nearly matched that effort in Game 7, but this time it just wasn't quite enough.
For the second time in three games, Durant played every single minute. Coming off a torn Achilles, that alone was remarkable. Add in the fact that he was responsible for generating almost every look the Nets got on the offensive end and you realize it was quite literally heroic. Certainly his last-second jumper at the end of regulation was. Turning around over PJ Tucker, Durant drained an impossible fadeaway to send things to overtime.
While he couldn't get it done in the end, Durant finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and either scored or assisted on 23 of the Nets' 39 made field goals. In doing so, he joined Jerry West and Oscar Robertson as the only three players in NBA history to score 40-plus points and play every minute in a Game 7. Unfortunately, he joined them in another category, as all three lost that game.
4. Middleton and Holiday deliver when it matters most
The Bucks trailed at halftime of this game, and that was largely due to the fact that Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were playing some of their worst basketball of the postseason. They were a combined 4 of 22 from the field, and nearly had more turnovers than baskets.
Even with Giannis doing his thing and Brook Lopez providing an offensive boost, the Bucks had no chance of winning this game with Middleton and Holiday playing that way. But as you can probably guess considering the Bucks did end up winning, those two eventually figured things out.
In the fourth quarter, Middleton and Holiday shrugged off their poor play to give the Bucks a combined 20 points on 7 of 12 from the field. After they couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, they suddenly couldn't miss when it mattered most. With things all tied 101-101 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Holiday scored six straight to put the Bucks back in front, and keep pace with Durant. Then, in overtime, Middleton buried a mid-range jumper with 40.7 seconds remaining that turned out to be the game winner.
A very impressive finish for the crafty veteran.
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