Mike Budenholzer has signed a new multi-year contract extension to remain head coach of 2021 NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks announced the deal on Tuesday, with ESPN reporting Budenholzer has committed to a new three-year extension.

The 52-year-old joined the Bucks in 2018 from the Atlanta Hawks and guided the franchise to their first NBA title in 50 years in his third season in charge.

"Bud is a great coach and a fantastic partner to work with every day as we build a team that consistently competes for championships," Bucks general manager Jon Horst said.

"We’re extremely grateful for the leadership Bud provides and we look forward to building on the success we’ve had over the last three years and congratulate Bud on this well-deserved extension."

Under Budenholzer's guidance, the Bucks have topped the NBA in scoring in each of the past three seasons, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee averaged a league-high 120.1 points per game, which is also a franchise-best, in the 2020-21 season.

"The appreciation I have for being a part of the Bucks organization is hard to express," Budenholzer said.

"The players make the success happen on and off the court. We have the best players and to them I am grateful. They’ve grown and we’ve grown together during the last three seasons.

"We’ve had success along the way, finishing with an NBA Championship this season!

"We all can’t wait to get back to work and face the great challenge of competing again for an NBA Championship... Let’s keep getting better and building great teams and doing great work on and off the court."

Budenholzer won the NBA Coach of the Year in his first season at Bucks in 2018-19, before being one of three finalists for the award in 2019-20. He also won the award in 2015 at the Hawks.

An emotional Mike Budenholzer struggled to sum up Giannis Antetokounmpo's incredible impact for the Milwaukee Bucks as the NBA Finals MVP looked on.

Antetokounmpo scored 50 points for the Bucks in Game 6 on Tuesday, inspiring a 105-98 win against the Phoenix Suns that clinched the team's first title in 50 years.

Coach Budenholzer was close to tears as he described his post-game celebrations with the team and was not entirely comfortable discussing Antetokounmpo's performance as the 'Greek Freak' himself waited for his own media duties.

But Budeholzer was keen to highlight the two-time MVP's display from the foul line, so often criticised in recent seasons.

A 50-point showing was the best of Antetokounmpo's playoff career – and the joint-best in the clinching game of a Finals series – and was boosted by a remarkable 17 made free throws from just 19 attempts.

Only three times in Antetokounmpo's career – regular season or playoffs – has he previously made more shots from the foul line.

This was his best return in a playoff game, ahead of the 16 made from 22 attempts against the Boston Celtics in 2019.

Antetokounmpo's 89.5 per cent free-throw shooting in Game 6 was way up on his playoff career average of 61.3, but Budenholzer insisted he had no doubts the 26-year-old would deliver.

"It's hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does," the coach said as Antetokounmpo waited in the room.

"But the way he made his free throws, the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership... he has been working on it.

"We say we want Giannis to get to the free throw line. We believe. We talked about it this past summer.

"To win a championship, you've got to make free throws and you've got to make shots. He's made shots throughout the playoffs. He's made free throws throughout the playoffs.

"[Five] blocked shots, however many points. He's off the charts. He's the MVP of the NBA Finals."

Antetokounmpo made seven of seven from the line and six of 10 from the field in the third quarter as he put up 20 points.

Having also scored 20 in the third quarter of Game 2, Antetokounmpo became the first player in the past 50 seasons to have multiple 20-point quarters in a Finals series.

"Mostly in halftime, we were talking about defense. We had 47 points against us and we think we can be better," Budenholzer said.

"But I think he embraces us being great defensively – Giannis does, the whole team [does].

"When we get stops and get out and run and get Giannis in space, get our team in space, I think he's special.

"He was able to put his stamp on the game in the third quarter and flip the score. And then some big plays in the fourth quarter – big plays, big blocks. It's hard to keep finding words for Giannis."

Every Milwaukee Bucks player knows what is at stake Tuesday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. 

Leading the series 3-2, a win at home would give the Bucks their second NBA championship and first since 1971, the franchise's third season of existence. 

Beyond potentially ending that half-century wait for their fans, none of the Bucks' players has ever won a title. 

The key to completing such a monumental achievement for player, team and community alike?

Do whatever you can to stay calm and focussed, says Giannis Antetokounmpo, who acknowledged that is far easier said than done. 

"It's hard. It's hard, man, it's hard," the Bucks' star told reporters Monday. "Because you work so hard to be in that moment, which is tomorrow. It's hard not to get ahead of yourself. But this is the time that you got to be the most disciplined.

"That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to try to be as disciplined as possible. Don't get too excited. Don't get too pumped up for the game. None of that. I can't play the game right now. ...

"Right now, there's nothing I can do about that. So I don't even try to think about that. But it's very hard not to. Sometimes you sleep and you're dreaming about the game.

"But this is the time that we have to be disciplined individually. ... We cannot worry about having plans of celebrating. None of that, until it's done. And that is the mindset I'm going to have until tomorrow."

It helps that Antetokounmpo takes the same approach into every game, trying to break it down mentally into one possession and then the next so he is not overwhelmed by the bigger picture. 

At this stage, he has enough confidence in himself and his team-mates to believe in their ability to come through at the moment it matters most. 

"You have to be in the present," he said. "Once that present comes, you'll know what it takes to be you successful. But right now, you don't know what it's going to take.

"It might be a defensive stop. It might be Jrue [Holiday] coming and saving the day again. It might be Khris [Middleton] getting points. It might be me blocking a shot. You don't know what it's going to take.

"But I know that we have to be in the present. You have to enjoy it. We have to compete. For now, that's the three things I know.

"Once the game starts, every possession is going to be different and we're going to figure out what it takes to win the game."

That mindset stretches beyond the Greek star. Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer said that type of attitude across the board has been critical to the Bucks' success so far. 

"It's the maturity of the group, the intelligence of it. I think it comes through," he said. "They understand that we have to keep our focus. We have to be prepared. We have to do the things that go into winning, the competitiveness of those moments, those opportunities to compete. That's all that matters.

"Whether you're down, you're up, I think you go back to your competitive spirit. You draw on that. That's how this team is built, so they got to continue to do that."

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker says "short memory" will help him move on from his disastrous Game 3 shooting performance ahead of Game 4 on Wednesday.

Booker shot three from 14 from the field, going at 21.4 per cent, and only made one from seven three-point attempts in Game 3, finishing on 10 points as the Milwaukee Bucks won 120-100.

The result pulled the NBA Finals series back to 2-1 in the Suns' favour ahead of Game 4 in Milwaukee.

"Short memory, just move on," Booker said when asked how when asked about his Game 3 shooting.

Booker had scored 31 and 27 points in the opening two Finals games, shooting at 48 per cent and 38.1 per cent respectively, as well as hitting seven three-pointers in Game 2.

The 22-year-old has already scored 500 points this postseason, steering the Suns to their first NBA Finals in 28 years.

Despite the momentum shift in the series and his own poor display, Booker remained unflapped.

"Just understanding the task at hand and simply you just have to be better if you want to win the game," Booker said.

"That's obviously something I want and something this whole team and coaching staff and training staff wants and this whole city wants.

"I would say it's a good pressure. These are the moments that you prepare for and that you train so hard for, what we're in right now. You have to be excited about it."

Milwaukee won praise for their defensive efforts on Booker in Game 3, but Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said his side expected him to be much improved in Game 4.

"I wouldn't say there was one specific thing or anything we did different," Budenholzer said.

"He's a great player, but he's human also. I think we're expecting we're going to have to be even better on him.

"We just got to be prepared for a really good Devin Booker going into Game 4."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised Giannis Antetokounmpo for his aggressive mindset after he starred in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Antetokounmpo posted 41 points to see the Bucks past the Phoenix Suns 120-100 on Sunday, becoming the first player to score 40-plus points in back-to-back NBA Finals games since LeBron James in 2016.

The win was crucial for the Bucks, who now trail the Suns 2-1, and Budenholzer lauded Antetokounmpo's performance.

"He's just doing whatever it takes to help his team, to help us. He's in an aggressive mindset. He always plays that way," he told a news conference.

"But I thought he played with the pass well. He made some great reads, found guys, played against the zone.

"He just did a little bit of everything. Offensive boards, putbacks. We need a lot from him and that's what he does."

While Antetokounmpo starred, the Bucks also had Jrue Holiday (21), Khris Middleton (18), Brook Lopez (11) and Bobby Portis (11) in double digits for points.

Antetokounmpo also finished with 13 rebounds and six assists and Budenholzer said the star's ability to bring his team-mates into games was crucial.

"I think that's when we are at our best, when Giannis is at his best, it's a little bit of both," he said.

"He's a great playmaker, screener, passer and he does so many great things.

"I think when he's conscious of doing a little bit of everything, he's very capable and that's when he's at his best."

Game 4 of the series is in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Mike Budenholzer says Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves great credit for playing in the NBA Finals opener and expects the Milwaukee Bucks superstar to make a bigger impact in Game 2.

Antetokounmpo revealed he initially feared he would be out for a year after suffering a left knee injury during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks last week.

Yet the two-time MVP was back in action for a 118-105 Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points and claimed 17 rebounds in his 35 minutes on court and Budenholzer praised the Greek forward for making such a swift return.

Asked how Antetokounmpo had gone from being doubtful to starting, the Bucks head coach replied: "He had a good workout before the game. I think you've got to listen to Giannis first. He felt good.

"The sports performance group felt good, he had been checking boxes the last couple days and making progress and so he was cleared, and he wanted to go and everybody was on the same page.

"it's just a credit to him. And we talked, just the work he puts in, the work the sports performance group puts in, for him to be back playing in Game 1, it's really impressive what he did."

 

Budenholzer was encouraged by Antetokounmpo and is looking forward to seeing what he can do in Game 2 at Phoenix Suns Arena on Thursday.

He said: "I think there were a lot of good things, considering five days and what he's been through these last five, six, seven days.

"I think 17 rebounds, 20 points, some great playmaking, passing, defending the rim, he's just like everybody else. I'm sure we'll find some things where he could be better.

"I think it usually takes him playing - he's a rhythm guy. So, I'm excited about how he'll improve from Game 1 to Game 2. We'll see how he feels. But I think play-wise, he always gets better when he plays."

Chris Paul – making the first Finals appearance of his stellar career – posted 32 points and nine assists, while Devin Booker added 27 points and Deandre Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds in a strong start for the Suns.

Veteran Paul became the third player ever aged 36 or older to score 30-plus points in a Finals game, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan.

The Milwaukee Bucks have had better regular seasons recently.

This season's .639 winning percentage (46-26) pales in comparison to last year's .767 (56-17) or even the .732 (60-22) from 2018-19.

Yet it is this vintage of the Bucks that will be playing in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. While some will dismiss this year's champions as a beneficiary of a strange season and a postseason full of devastating injuries, the Bucks and Phoenix Suns will not be apologising for having beaten every team in front them so far.

It is also quite possible that, despite having a less accomplished regular season, this Bucks squad is better equipped to win in the playoffs, using the first 72 games on the schedule to learn how to best focus its strengths.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has developed a reputation as a stubborn tactician, clinging to his preferred strategy regardless of the opponent, especially on the defensive end.

Budenholzer has traditionally asked his players to guard their position and to fight through screens without switching assignments. This structure has allowed Milwaukee to utilise its size and has been formidable in the regular season with the Bucks allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions across the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, best in the NBA.

But Milwaukee's defense faltered in decisive playoff series in each of the previous two seasons, with a defensive rating that rose to 106.9 in 2019 against the Toronto Raptors and ballooned to 112.1 last year against the Miami Heat.

Budenholzer responded by using the 2020-21 regular season to experiment with a more varied defensive approach. The results were not always the best, allowing opponents to score 109.1 points per 100 possessions.

That experience, however, has given Milwaukee the tools to employ a more diverse defense in the playoffs, with the Bucks boasting a 103.5 defensive rating this postseason.

Milwaukee still holds on to its big lineups and objects to switching all five defenders like some teams do while playing trendy small ball, but the growing pains have added another tool to the toolbox. Even if the switching itself proves not to be a strategic advantage, the Bucks are at least better prepared to throw different looks at Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the rest of the Suns.

Of course, scheme alone can only take a team so far, but this year's Bucks team appears to have improved personnel, as well.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a two-way monster who obviously takes top billing, but perhaps this postseason has shown that the Bucks are at their best when the two-time MVP takes a slightly reduced role on offense.

Antetokounmpo is averaging a playoff career-high 28.2 points this postseason, but the Bucks have lost three of his five highest-scoring games. When he has five or more assists, however, Milwaukee are 6-1.

His team has also fared much better when Antetokounmpo aggressively attacks the basket, going 6-0 this postseason when he attempts nine or more free throws, even though he is shooting just 53.7 percent from the line.

Perhaps the biggest question facing Antetokounmpo, however, is his health. After leaving Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyper-extended left knee, he was held out of the next two games of the series, both Milwaukee victories.

Although imaging has revealed no significant structural damage to his knee, Antetokounmpo is listed as doubtful to play in Tuesday’s NBA Finals opener. And while the Bucks were able to close out an Atlanta Hawks team that was missing Trae Young, they will likely need an impactful contribution from Antetokounmpo to beat a healthy and confident Suns team.

The Bucks and their supporters can take heart, however, in the supporting cast appearing to be much better than in previous playoff runs.

Last offseason, Milwaukee paid a heavy price to replace Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday, trading away three first-round draft picks in a blockbuster four-team deal. And while the upgrade could appear trivial on paper – going from Bledsoe’s 14.9 points per game last season to Holiday's 17.7 this season – this postseason has revealed why Holiday was such a coveted piece on the trade market.

In the 2019 and 2020 playoffs, Bledsoe averaged 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Bucks while shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 24.0 percent from 3-point range.

During Milwaukee's run to the Finals, Holiday has averaged 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists, all while playing two of his best career playoff games to close out the Hawks while Antetokounmpo was sidelined.

Holiday leads the Bucks this postseason in plus-minus per game at +7.2, and the team is 4-1 when he attempts at least 20 shots.

Perhaps the key to the 2021 Finals is the performance of unsung star Khris Middleton, who will be the crunch-time focal point for the Bucks.

With Antetokounmpo's struggles from the free throw line, Milwaukee is forced to look elsewhere to create offense in the waning minutes of close games. Middleton has attempted a team-high 14 shots in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter during this playoff run and is 10 for 10 from the free throw line in clutch situations. Antetokounmpo is just 7 for 15.

Middleton has also shown the ability to carry the team when Antetokounmpo is off the floor, a valuable stopgap if the Bucks are forced to play a game or more without Antetokounmpo.

He has averaged 29.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the final two games of the East finals, all while shooting above his playoff career average from the floor.

Middleton has done some of his best work this postseason while Antetokounmpo has been on the bench, either due to injury or routine substitution. Not only has Middleton scored more when Milwaukee’s Greek superstar is off the floor – 37.9 points per 100 possessions compared to 25.1 with Antetokounmpo on the floor – his efficiency also improves when he is the primary option.

With Middleton shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from 3-point range when Antetokounmpo is off the court this postseason, that compares to 41.1 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep when he plays alongside the two-time MVP.

The Suns will undoubtedly present an enormous challenge for the Bucks in an NBA Finals between two teams desperate for a championship parade. And the Bucks, just like the Suns, have benefitted from some measure of good luck this postseason, facing an injury-riddled Brooklyn squad and avoiding East top seed Philadelphia.

But this Milwaukee team is also better equipped to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy than in the previous two seasons, despite a less impressive regular season.

With some added schematic versatility and a better supporting cast, the Bucks might only need a bit of healing in Antetokounmpo's left knee to be crowned NBA champions for the first time since 1971.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was as active as he could be during the Milwaukee Bucks' decisive Game 6 win over the Atlanta Hawks. 

Missing a second consecutive game after hyperextending his left knee, the Greek star paced the sidelines throughout the game, exhorting his team-mates on while wearing a mask on his face and a sleeve on his knee. 

Now that the Bucks have advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, the key question will be whether Antetokounmpo will be in the lineup for Tuesday's series opener at the Phoenix Suns. 

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had no interest in exploring that topic following the win, saying only that it would be an ongoing conversation with the team's medical staff over the next few days. 

"You have to listen to the player and then you have to listen to the sports performance group, and at some point [general manager] Jon Horst and myself are part of the conversations, but it's just a day-to-day thing," Budenholzer told reporters. 

"We'll update it when appropriate. The conversations between he and myself and he and the sports performance group, it's kind of private and we'll see where he is each day."

Despite the ongoing questions about Antetokounmpo's availability in the Finals, Budenholzer took time to appreciate his star's enthusiasm even when he is unable to take the court. 

"He's coming off the bench, he's halfway on the court, talking to Bobby [Portis], talking to Brook [Lopez], talking to different players; to see that kind of leadership, that kind of connection, that kind of commitment from a player you know would be dying to be out there and playing," Budenholzer said.

"I just loved his energy on the bench. I loved his just togetherness that he brings to our group.

"And there's a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games, but I think he understands that there's a way we want to play basketball and there's a kind of team and organisation that we want to be able to play and just play ball, and he's a big part of that.

"But if he were to miss a game or if he's on the bench for whatever reason, we need to be able to play and we need to have guys that have confidence and we need to be able to get stops and do all the things that go into winning.

"While he's incredibly important to us, I think he appreciates what his teammates can do. And we certainly do as an organisation appreciate what he did, and then what everybody else was able to do tonight and the other night without him."

Saturday night, it was Khris Middleton's 32 points and Jrue Holiday's 27 that ensured Antetokounmpo would at least have a chance to return. 

Even if Antetokounmpo is not ready to open the series against the Suns, his team-mates appreciated the effort he gave on the sidelines tin Game 6.

"This is probably the most I've seen Giannis talk, like the whole game," Holiday said. "I know usually when he's on the court and he's running, racing through five people and blocking shots, you're tired. He's tired and he's playing.

"But man, he's motivating everybody, he's motivating me, telling me to push the pace, telling me to keep being aggressive and telling me to lock people up.

"I feel what he brought to the game today and how he led us - again, he is pretty quiet, but how talkative he's been has been awesome for us and very, very encouraging."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said the franchise are awaiting to discover the severity of Giannis Antetokounmpo's injury after the two-time NBA MVP hyperextended his knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks' 110-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks – who levelled the series at 2-2 despite the absence of Trae Young – was compounded by a knee injury to superstar Antetokounmpo on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo (14 points) landed awkwardly on his left leg with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter in Atlanta, where he jumped up to contest an alley-oop from John Collins to Clint Capela, but his knee buckled before hobbling to the locker room.

The third-seeded Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – now face an anxious wait regarding the fitness of their best player heading into Thursday's Game 5 in Milwaukee.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Budenholzer said. "We'll take everything as it comes. We'll evaluate it. We've got a heck of a team, a heck of a roster."

"We'll take everything as it comes," Budenholzer continued. "We have a heck of a team, a heck of a roster. The guys will be ready to compete and play. That's what it's about. We got a Game 5."

Antetokounmpo has been averaging a career-high 29.2 points in the playoffs, along with 13.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

The 'Greek Freak' had averaged 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and a career best-tying 5.9 assists per game in the regular season.

Budenholzer added: "Obviously, Giannis is a big part of our soul, our fibre. I'm sure there is the human element, the concern, the care for him is real."

"It's not good," Bucks veteran P.J. Tucker told reporters. "But this is the Eastern Conference Finals. There is no excuse. It doesn't matter whoever is playing, not playing.

"They've got guys hurt. Everybody is hurt. Everybody is banged up. Everybody is injured. You've got to fight through it.

"It's not good losing anybody on your team. You lose your best player, it stinks."

Milwaukee had shot 50 per cent or better from the field in each of their last two games after not reaching that mark in any of their first 12 playoff games this year. The Bucks had won nine straight playoff games going back to 2018 when making at least half of their shots.

However, the Bucks were just 39.3 per cent from the field as Jrue Holiday (19 points) and Khris Middleton (16 points) were the only other players aside from Antetokounmpo to finish in double-digits.

Holiday's nine assists took his tally to 121 this postseason – the third most in franchise history behind Oscar Robertson (149 in 1974 and 124 in 1971) after eclipsing Sam Cassell (120 in 2001).

"They had a lot of guys play well tonight, for really the whole game," Budenholzer said. "Credit to Atlanta. They played well from the start. They played well coming off the [Trae Young] injury.

"We've got to be better on both ends. Our group will gather. The character of our group will come through. We are going home. It's 2-2. We are going back to Milwaukee."

Kyrie Irving will undergo further tests on the ankle injury he suffered in the Brooklyn Nets' defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday – a result that leaves the NBA playoff series all tied up at 2-2.

Irving twisted his right ankle after coming down on Giannis Antetokounmpo's foot after scoring from close range in the second quarter of Game 4 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest, though head coach Steve Nash confirmed after the game that X-rays on the issue came back negative.

"I have no idea what is going to happen with Ky in the coming days," Nash said.

"We will cross our fingers and hope that it is better than I don't know – better than what – better than missing the next game?"

Already without James Harden, Brooklyn slipped to a 107-96 defeat on the road. They host Game 3 on Tuesday, having recorded both their wins at home at the start of the best-of-seven series.

Irving had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play which, at times, Nash felt went a step too far.

"[Tucker's] playing extremely physical. And made it difficult. That's his role on their team," Nash said. "I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times. But that's the playoffs."

Harden has not featured since suffering a hamstring injury in the early stages of Game 1. It remains unclear when the former MVP will return, though there are positive signs in his recovery.

"I asked him and he says he's feeling better, doing better," Nash said. "I asked the staff, they say, 'Yeah, it's getting better'. 

"I think he's in that arena where he's got a little gap to make up. But he's getting closer, so it's been positive."

Antetokounmpo's 34-point haul helped Milwaukee make it two wins from two at home. He was helped out by 19 points from Khris Middleton, while P.J. Tucker added 13 to go along with his defensive work when tasked with slowing down Durant.

"We're very happy, but we've got to keep getting better, keep playing together and hopefully we can go into Brooklyn and take one," Antetokounmpo said.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "At this stage, it's whatever it takes to win the game.

"It certainly helps to get more guys contributing, making shots. P.J. Tucker was phenomenal on both ends of the court."

Giannis Antetokounmpo revealed his love for football after leading the Milwaukee Bucks past the Miami Heat in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference matchup in the NBA playoffs.

Antetokounmpo led the way as the Bucks routed the Heat 132-98 on Monday for a commanding 2-0 lead in the first-round series.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo posted 31 points in 31 minutes, while also tallying 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals on home court in Milwaukee.

A superstar with the basketball, Antetokounmpo also demonstrated his football skills after juggling the ball during a break in play against the Heat.

Afterwards, Greece international Antetokounmpo told reporters: "I can do probably like 300 of those.

"I used to play soccer when I was young. My dad used to be a soccer player. I love soccer.

"I wanted to play soccer. I didn't want to play basketball growing up."

Milwaukee – seeded third in the east – used a 46-20 opening quarter to crush Miami in Game 2 of their NBA playoff clash.

Jrue Holiday (11 points and 15 assists) added a double-double of his own, while Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes made six three-pointers to contribute 22 points off the bench.

The Bucks set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game after nailing 22 from beyond the arc.

Forbes, who joined the Bucks in November following four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, said: "That was a huge part in me coming here. You know that there would be these opportunities and we would be in the playoffs. ... It's just great to be in this position, be in the playoffs again and have an opportunity and stage."

"It's just how the game goes," Forbes added. "It's ebbs and flows. Some games you're open a lot more. Some games you aren't. Tonight I think we moved the ball great and had a lot of open shots."

Bucks star Holiday hailed Forbes, saying: "If my man got the hot hand, I'm going to him. And he wasn't missing, so at that point we were running everything to him just to -- really just to see what happens."

It was an impressive shooting display from the Bucks as head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Guys have got to shoot it with confidence. They've got to let it fly. They've got to know they’re going to get threes.

"I think the activity offensively, the attack, can create good looks for us. We've just got to continue to let it fly when you're open."

"Lots of times, there's just so much talent in the league and so many good teams, sometimes you get the early lead and things just happen and it becomes a close game," Budenholzer said. "Today we were able to keep the focus."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised his star trio Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday after their 124-118 win over the star-studded Brooklyn Nets.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday all made key contributions in Milwaukee's second victory against Brooklyn in three days – a result which clinched an NBA playoff spot and kept the Bucks in the hunt for a position among the Eastern Conference's top two.

Two-time reigning MVP and Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo led the way with 36 points and 12 rebounds but Middleton and Holiday played important roles in the 32-24 final quarter as Milwaukee rallied from six points down to prevail.

Middleton starred in the fourth quarter both offensively, to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds for the game, and defensively to limit Kevin Durant's impact.

Holiday, who joined the Bucks from the New Orleans Pelicans in November, had 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, along with a key stop at the end.

"We're still trying to catch the right rhythm and find where all three of those guys are playing," Budenholzer said post-game.

"Maybe it's a stretch of one of them. The familiarity and comfort with each other is growing. It's a good thing for us."

Budenholzer was happy to have an NBA playoff spot secured, but more delighted that his side are playing well down the stretch, having now claimed back-to-back wins over a Nets team widely regarded as title favourites.

He also had special praise for Middleton's job on Durant, who still finished with 32 points.

"I thought he was good," Budenholzer said as the Bucks eye their first championship since 1971. "You've got to just keep coming.

"Great, great scorer, so you've got to make everything hard for him. we threw a lot of bodies at Durant tonight.

"Khris being able to finish a lot of those minutes in the fourth quarter was great work by him.

"What you need in the fourth quarter, is great defense and he stepped up down the other end too.

"But the team around him, it always takes the whole group."

The Milwaukee Bucks lost again without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday, but coach Mike Budenholzer believes the two-time MVP's absence can benefit his team.

The Bucks completed a six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks, going down 116-101 at American Airlines Center.

Antetokounmpo featured in the first three of those games, yet he missed the next three after scoring a season-high 47 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 'Greek Freak' leads Milwaukee in points (28.8), assists (6.2) and rebounds (11.4) per game, while also contributing 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Knee soreness is impacting Antetokounmpo's bid for a third straight MVP triumph, but it is also hindering the Bucks. The team are 29-16 when their superstar plays but just 3-3 without him.

Milwaukee were not helped against the Mavs by poor shooting displays from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, their second and third men.

Middleton was an alarming 6-for-27 from the field for 14 points – 22.2 per cent, his second-worst outing of the year – as Holiday, who signed a lucrative contract extension last week, was 6-for-16 for 13 points.

Budenholzer acknowledged both players must perform better as he suggested the Bucks needed to adapt to playing when Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

The 26-year-old forward played just 30.4 minutes per game last season when Milwaukee led the East, but he has been relied on for 34.0 minutes in 2020-21.

"The guys are getting more opportunities," Budenholzer said. "There's a little bit more of a load on both Jrue and Khris. I think they're learning to take that.

"We didn't make enough shots tonight; Khris, Jrue didn't make enough shots. We're getting better. We'll learn from these things.

"Playing without Giannis, he can't play 48 minutes, so I think there's going to be good stretches for us when Giannis doesn't play and we'll grow from these experiences playing without him."

While the Bucks struggled without their big name, Dallas got 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds from Luka Doncic.

But the Slovenian also earned his 12th technical foul of the season. That tally has steadily increased over his NBA career – five in his rookie year, nine last year – and he is now just four shy of a one-game suspension.

"He's aware," coach Rick Carlisle said. "My level of concern is there. But look, he's an emotional competitor. It all comes from the right place.

"He's smart, he knows where the count is. If he's going to get his 16th, he'll get it in a situation where it's time for a day of rest anyway. I'm not really that worried about it."

It was a big win for the Mavs, who returned to winning ways after a shock defeat to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday ended a run of five successive victories since Doncic returned from a short lay-off due to illness.

"This was a playoff-type game [against the Bucks], playoff-calibre in terms of intensity and competitiveness and the talent on the floor," Carlisle said. "We did a much, much better job, top to bottom, than we did last night."

Dallas also got 26 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks out of Kristaps Porzingis. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting after failing to attempt a single field goal in the final 12 minutes against the Rockets.

Porzingis said of his relationship with Doncic: "We're trying to play together and help each other. We want to win – at the end, we all want to win here.

"We have to keep playing, keep playing together, playing well and helping each other."

Milwaukee Bucks star and two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said he is not Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant after making history with a third consecutive triple-double.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their fourth consecutive victory on Monday, Milwaukee topping the lowly Washington Wizards 133-122.

He had 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a dominant display on the road in Washington to become the first Bucks player with three successive triple-doubles.

Antetokounmpo also became the first reigning MVP with three consecutive 20-point triple-doubles since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in 1988-89, per Stats Perform.

"I don't do that, I'm not Kobe," Antetokounmpo told reporters after being asked when he knew to take control of a game during the closing stages – the Bucks saw a 26-point lead cut to seven in the final minutes before Antetokounmpo scored the next four points to stop the rallying Wizards.

"I just try to be a basketball player. I don't look at the clock and say, 'Oh now we are up two or we're down two, let me take over the game.'

"No, I just make the right decision at the right moment. Sometimes it's going to be score, sometimes it's going to be pass."

Since 1983, only three players have had more games with 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists – Russell Westbrook (five), Larry Bird (five) and Luka Doncic (four).

Antetokounmpo (seven) also surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) with the most 30-point triple-doubles in franchise history.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "He's been in a good place mentally.

"The way he's playing and creating for others and creating for himself and getting to the free throw line, he's in a good place. He's playing great basketball."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.