Bucks beat Hawks to advance to NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks qualified for their first NBA Finals since 1974 after defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 118-107, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night to win the series, four games to of them. They will face the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday.

They were deprived of the services of their best player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who injured his left knee in Game 4, appearing to deal a major blow to the Bucks’ chances of winning the series.

Instead, the Bucks persevered without him, building on a supporting cast led by forward Khris Middleton, who scored 23 of his 32 points in the third quarter, and goalie Jrue Holiday, who added 27. points to him. Hawks top player Trae Young, who had missed Games 4 and 5 with a bone bruise on his right foot, struggled in the loss after being a game time decision on Saturday. Young only shot 4 for 17 from the field and missed all six of his 3 points. He finished with 14 points.

The crowd at State Farm Arena was subdued for most of the game, as the Bucks burst out of the gate with a 15-4 run and led the entire game. But the Atlanta fans came back to life in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks raced furiously to narrow their 22-point second-half lead to 6 with 3:40 left.

The series was a roller coaster and above all uncompetitive. The Hawks struck first with a surprising Game 1 road win, 116-113. Young scored 48 points. The Bucks, as they did against Kevin Durant and the Nets in the second round, struggled to defend Atlanta in pick-and-roll. This made it easy for Young to get into the paint and create an offense for the Hawks.

In Game 2, Milwaukee, Atlanta, 125-91, led by Antetokounmpo 25 points in 29 minutes. In the next game, the Bucks appeared to take control of the series with a 113-102 win, this time with Middleton’s 38 points and 11 rebounds in the lead.

It was in the second half of Game 4 that Antetokounmpo injured his knee, and the Hawks, taking advantage of the bewildered Bucks, pulled off their own blowout even at the best of seven series at two games apiece. The victory came without Young, raising hopes in Atlanta that his pushy campaign could take the Hawks to the franchise’s first finals since 1961.

Two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner and one of the NBA’s biggest stars, Antetokounmpo was in the midst of the best playoff streak of his career after a disappointing streak of playoffs. He’s averaging 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the playoffs. If he struggled to shoot from the field and on the free throw line, he mostly kept his game where he is most successful: at the rim for the dunks, as he did during the season. regular. In the playoffs, 63.3% of Antetokounmpo’s shots were within 10 feet of the hoop. During the regular season, that number was 62.4 percent.

The Bucks regrouped in Game 5 without him, towering over the Hawks from start to finish to move up 3-2 in the series. Brook Lopez scored a career-high 33 points in the playoffs in the 123-112 victory.

The stakes have been high for Milwaukee these playoffs. Despite Antetokounmpo’s regular-season brilliance over the past five years, the Bucks hadn’t made it to the final. Antetokounmpo’s poor shot was a problem, as defenders wrapped the paint to encourage him to shoot from outside or dribble through traffic.

Mike Budenholzer, who has coached Milwaukee for the past three seasons, has been criticized for the contrast between the Bucks’ regular-season performances and playoff failures, which suggests he’s coaching for his job this year.

But critics were silenced, at least temporarily, on Saturday night. The Bucks will travel to Phoenix for Game 1 of the Finals, four wins from a title. Once again, Milwaukee will face elite scorer in Devin Booker, as well as pick-and-roll expert point guard Chris Paul. And the Bucks could be without Antetokounmpo, whose availability for the series is uncertain.

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