It didn’t matter that Giannis Antetokounmpo was not playing and it didn’t matter they were on the road. The Milwaukee Bucks just proved that nothing could stop their pursuit to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night (Sunday morning IST). At the back of a 118-107 win, the Bucks entered the NBA Finals for the first time in 47 years. History, indeed, in the making.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined for 59 points, exactly half of Bucks’ total, as expected. Middleton finished with a game-high 32 points, 23 of which came in 3rd quarter that eventually proved to be the difference. Holiday added 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
“Just want to win,” Middleton said of his third quarter play that included 16 points in less than four minutes. “That’s all it is. I don’t care how many points I have. Stats go out the window. Even though I had a great third quarter, I told Jrue (Holiday) I was struggling.”
At half-time, Hawks were trailing by just four points and they opened the second half with a bucket to make it 47-45. At that point, Middleton had more turnovers (6) than points (5). But the two-time All-Star scored 16 straight points and then started a chain of passes to Holiday that put the Bucks up 91-72 at the third quarter.
“Khris caught a streak there in the third quarter, and particularly coming out to start it,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “So, I think that was the turning point in the game. We were only up four but then to kind of weather a lot of turnovers in the second quarter and still be up four was I think just an indicator of good defense.”
Star of Game 5, Brook Lopez had 13 points, Pat Connaughton 13 points and Bobby Portis 12.
Returning after almost a week, Trae Young didn’t have enough to keep the series alive for Hawks. Shooting 4-of-17 from the field, Hawks’ cornerstone finished with 14 points and nine assists. Cam Reddish was the only Hawks player with a hot hand scoring 21 points on 6-of-7 from 3-point shooting while the rest of the team could only manage 6-of-26.
Despite a disappointing finish, the Hawks branded themselves as a future force. The undeterred Young in the post-game conference said, “This is the beginning. We’ve accomplished so much this year, but we all understand that this is just the beginning.”
Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Bucks and the Phoenix Suns tips of Tuesday night (Wednesday morning IST) at Phoenix.