Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks was exhausted early in the game, late in the game, and everywhere in between.
He took advantage of every opportunity for a break, including timeouts, free throws, dead balls, and the time between quarters.
Offensively, Bucks guards Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday struggled. But Antetokounmpo had exactly the right amount of intensity, and Middleton and Holiday came up big when the Bucks needed it the most.
On Saturday, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday, and Brook Lopez all contributed to the Milwaukee Bucks’ 115-111 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets, advancing them to the Eastern Conference finals.
Up 50 minutes, Antetokounmpo scored 40 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, putting in a performance worthy of a two-time MVP in a series finale.
A FANTASTIC GAME 7 FINISH… relive the best plays down the stretch as the @Bucks outlasted Brooklyn in an OT thriller! #ThatsGame— NBA (@NBA) June 20, 2021
Milwaukee advances to the #NBAECF presented by AT&T… they will play the winner of ATL/PHI. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/TLSjhqGV5v
“I almost got emotional out there,” Antetokounmpo admitted, “because the team tried their hardest.” We maintained our cool. We were 2-0 down (in the series). Many people doubted that we would be able to win at home. With our incredible fans, we defend our home court. Just to go to New York, where we’ve lost five of our last six games. Everyone is jittery and apprehensive.
“It was huge to be able to lead, believe in one another, and trust one another. I’m ecstatic for this group. I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished. However, the job is not.”
Antetokounmpo had not won a Game 7 in two attempts.
“Every night, he takes on so much responsibility,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “What he has to do on defense is guard a variety of different players and be in various coverages. Offensively, he has a lot of the ball in his hands, whether it’s coming in transition almost like a point guard or playing out of the post, he just does so much, and to be able to do it for 50 minutes is incredible. He’s one of a kind.”
Middleton finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists while Holiday finished with 13 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds despite shooting a combined 14-for-49 from the field, including 4-for-16 on 3-pointers.
Budenholzer described such players as “excellent competitors.” “I like how they keep coming back and playing. Find a method to win a Game 7 on the road in OT. Down the stretch, they all made significant plays. We required each and every one of them.”
“We’ve all worked extremely hard to be in this moment… and I’m not talking about basketball, I’m talking about life.” – @Giannis_An34 after the @Bucks prevailed in Game 7 #ThatsGame— NBA (@NBA) June 20, 2021
Milwaukee will face the winner of ATL/PHI in the #NBAECF presented by AT&T. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/PQBIdayoZT
Milwaukee advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2019 but just the second time in the past 21 seasons. The Bucks will play the winner of Sunday’s Atlanta-Philadelphia Game 7 in the conference finals starting Wednesday.
“This group’s going to want more,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll take a second to just kind of breathe tonight. When appropriate, when the time is right, it’ll be time to get ready for the next round and the next competitive moment that’s going to be coming in Game 1.”
It looked like short-handed Brooklyn, powered by Kevin Durant’s offensive masterpiece, was headed for victory at points, particularly late in the fourth quarter and much of overtime.
With four minutes remaining in regulation, the Nets led 101-96. Middleton remarked, “They made a few of plays where you thought they were going to win the game.” “But we just kept going. We were down for the entirety of the game, and it was late in the fourth quarter when we came back. We, on the other hand, remained steadfast. We were able to make plays down the stretch.”
Durant had a say in the outcome of the game. With one second left in the fourth quarter, his deep 2-pointer – his foot was on the 3-point line — forced overtime. He set an NBA record with 48 points in Game 7. It was his second 40-point game of the series, and he played the entire game for the second time.
The Bucks went scoreless for the first 3:48 of overtime as the Nets led 111-109. With 40.7 seconds left, Antetokounmpo’s low hook shot in the paint leveled the score at 111-111, and Middleton’s jumper put the Bucks up 113-111.
“I don’t care how many shots I make as long as I take great shots,” Middleton said. “That’s all I’m worried about it.”
Durant didn’t have any last-second heroics left. He missed a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left, and he was 0-for-6 in overtime.
The Nets were hampered by injuries and still almost won. Kyrie Irving missed the final three games of the series with a sprained ankle, and James Harden missed all but 43 seconds of the first four games of the series with a sore hamstring.
Harden had 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Game 7. Every Nets starter scored in double figures and played at least 40 minutes. Harden also played all 53 minutes, and Bruce Brown played 52. The short Nets bench did not score a point.