Exhausting. The only word I could appropriately apply to this seven-game epic between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. Both teams dealt with injuries, both teams’ stars played heavy minutes, leaving it all on the court.
Milwaukee prevailed in this semifinals matchup, winning the series 4-3 and now advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 2018-2019 season. (Yes, folks, this was only the semifinals.)
In a Game 7, you need your stars to show up. We witnessed the heroics of Kevin Durant, dropping 48 points and doing his best to will the Nets to victory. James Harden put in a valiant effort on, essentially, one leg. Nothing but respect to the Nets and all their players for one hell of a battle.
The Bucks stars did show up, but not in the most consistent manner to start. Giannis was on from the jump. He poured in 40 points and added 13 rebounds for good measure. Brook Lopez had himself a game as well. (19/8/4 blocks. The biggest being the block on Kevin Durant in overtime, that lead to Khris Middleton’s go-ahead basket with seconds remaining.)
Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were a combined 4-of-22 shooting in the first half. Not great, especially in a Game 7. Yet, the Bucks were able to hang around at the half, only down 6. For as tiny as these two showed in the first half, is how large they were in the second half.
Stats will tell you Holiday and Middleton combined for a 14-of-49 shooting display, but what they won’t tell you is how they sank the biggest baskets of the Bucks’ season to this point. Holiday with a quick 5 points that gave Milwaukee a lead late in the fourth quarter. Middleton with the go-ahead basket, in overtime, seconds before Durant’s air balled 3 attempt.
The Bucks were not perfect and haven’t been this season. This is perfectly fine by me. In the previous two seasons, it felt as if this team was finesse. A bad shooting night, a game with questionable officiating calls, would ruin Milwaukee. This edition of the Bucks is tougher both physically and mentally. They’ve endured bad shooting nights and questionable calls in this series and they prevailed. Hell, for the first two and a half quarters, I saw no urgency from them. But midway into the third quarter and throughout the remainder of the game, the Bucks turned up the effort and urgency. They survived and advanced.
Again, this was just the semifinals. It took an exhausting effort from everyone to secure the series win. Yes, it’s okay to enjoy it, but understand there is more work to do. Brook Lopez said it best: “Our goal was not to make the Eastern Conference Finals. Our goal is to win a championship.”
It may not be the goal, but it is the precursor. Milwaukee gets another crack at an Eastern Conference Championship. Their opponent is currently unknown, (Hawks and Sixers have yet to play their Game 7.) but the mission is the same: survive and advance. Whatever it takes.