ATLANTA – The Milwaukee Bucks return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
They didn’t even need double MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to secure their spot.
Khris Middleton scored 32 points, including a 16-point streak in a decisive third quarter that took the Bucks to a 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Conference Finals. Is Saturday night.
Milwaukee won the series 4-2, qualifying to face the Suns in the NBA Finals. Game 1 takes place Tuesday night in Phoenix.
“It’s adorable,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, who previously led the Hawks. These guys worked all year. They deserve to go to the final. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I love to train them. We still have work to do. “
Trae Young returned to the Hawks’ lineup after missing two games with a bony bridge in his right foot, but the young star never did anything. After both teams struggled to find the lineup in the first half, the Bucks suddenly couldn’t miss in the third quarter.
Atlanta actually had a chance to take their first lead of the game when Young’s back pass gave Kevin Huerter an open 3-point look.
The shot was surrounded and Middleton quickly snatched the next 13 points to suddenly push Milwaukee’s lead to 60-45.
Young broke the one-man assault with a driving basket, but Middleton responded with a 3-point pointer that gave him 16 straight points.
Middleton finished the quarter with 23 points, nearly overtaking the Hawks on his own. Atlanta had 29 points during the period as Milwaukee headed into the final quarter with a 91-72 lead.
Jrue Holiday added 27 points for the Bucks.
Cam Reddish, who missed much of the season with an Achilles tendon injury, came off the bench to trigger the Hawks. He scored 21 points – making six of seven 3-pointers – as the Hawks reduced a 22-point deficit to six in the dying minutes.
But the Bucks are done, rekindling memories of the franchise’s early years when Milwaukee quickly became the center of the NBA world with a squad led by two of the game’s greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
In Milwaukee’s third season in the league, the duo led the team to their only NBA title in 1971. The Bucks returned to the final three years later, losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
Robertson retired after that season and Abdul-Jabbar transferred to the Los Angeles Lakers a year later, ending Milwaukee’s run as an elite franchise.
Now the Bucks are back in the final with a whole new group of stars. As they’ve proven in the last two games against the Hawks, they’re definitely more than the Greek Freak.
With Antetokounmpo out for the last two games of the series with a hypertensive left knee, the Bucks turned to his supporting cast to end Atlanta. Brooks Lopez scored 33 points in Game 5 and three other starters scored at least 22.
Middleton and Holiday carried the load in the deciding match.
Despite a disappointing finish, the Hawks established themselves as a future force with a young group that knocked out the seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers to surprisingly advance to the conference finals.
Mired at 14-20 when they fired coach Lloyd Pierce shortly before the all-star break, Atlanta ran a run under interim coach Nate McMillan that led the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Hawks didn’t stop there, advancing to the conference finals for just the second time with Young in the lead.
After missing Games 4 and 5 with a bony bridge in his right foot, Young was cleared to play shortly before the game. The crowd went mad when he was introduced as the last member of the starting five.
“He’s baaaaack!” cried the presenter.
But, clearly, he hadn’t come back yet.
After being laid off for nearly a week, Young seemed hesitant and in a bad mood. Sure, he brought out a bit of his old form in a few bursts to the basket, but five points in the first half was not at all what the Hawks expected from their star.
Young finished with just 14 points on 4 of 17 shots.
Neither team seemed capable of winning in the first half.
Atlanta made just 15 of 49 (30.6%) shots, including 4 of 16 from beyond the 3-point arc, with nine turnovers. The Bucks weren’t much better, logging in on 17 of 44 (38.6%) in total and just 5 of 19 outside the strip. Milwaukee flipped it 10 times, split evenly between Middleton and Holiday.
Appropriately, the half ended with Atlanta’s Clint Capela missing just under the basket on a lob pass from Bogdan Bogdanovic, sending the Bucks to the locker room with a 47-43 lead.
PLAY WITH THE LEADER
Surprisingly, there has been no change of leader in the last three games of the series.
The Hawks never hung out in Game 4, scoring a 110-88 victory. Milwaukee returned the favor in Game 5, taking a 20-point lead in the first quarter and staying ahead to the end in a 123-112 triumph.
It was more or less the same in the deciding game, which the Bucks led from start to finish.
Bucks: With the Hawks focused on doing a better job down the lane, Lopez was limited to 13 points. … Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds on his second straight start for Antetokounmpo.
Hawks: Huerter, the surprising star of Atlanta’s Game 7 victory over Philadelphia, ended the season with a very difficult night. He only had five points out of 2 out of 10 shots. … Bogdanovic had 20 points. … Atlanta finished 38 of 92 (41.3%) on the court.
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