Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear there is still work to do for the Milwaukee Bucks after they survived a Kevin Durant onslaught to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks came out on top 115-111 in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets, albeit only after a dramatic finish in the fourth quarter that saw them escape by a matter of inches.

Durant hit a stunning turnaround jumper with one second remaining to tie the scores at 109-109, with Milwaukee relieved to see he had a foot on the three-point line as they narrowly avoided falling behind.

"Big, big shot," Antetokounmpo told the media about Durant's play that forced overtime. "That's KD – he makes shots like that."

However, the Nets were held to just two points in the extra period as the Bucks came through on the road, setting up a showdown with either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Atlanta Hawks – who meet in a Game 7 on Sunday – for a place in the NBA Finals.

Defeat was tough on Durant, who finished with 48 points – the most by any player in a Game 7 in NBA history – as he was on court for all 53 minutes. He went 0-for-6 in overtime, though, as the ailing Nets, minus the injured Kyrie Irving and with James Harden not at full fitness due to a hamstring issue, saw their season come to an end.

For the Bucks, however, the focus will have to quickly switch to their next assignment.

"We really wanted this as a team," said Antetokounmpo, who had 40 points and 13 rebounds.

"There were a lot of ups and downs during the series – there were a lot of ups and downs in just this game. We could have finished the game before overtime but weren't able to. We kept our composure."

He added: "At the end of the day, though, the job is not done. The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we’ve got to keep our heads in the game.

"We can't get too high, we can't get too low. It's a great step for our organisation and a great step for us, so we have got to enjoy this moment and then look at our next opponent.

"We've got to put this in the past and focus on the moment, focus on our next opponent."

Durant's performance drew praise from Stephen Curry, who simply tweeted at his former Golden State Warriors team-mate after the fourth-quarter shot: "That is insane."

Even P.J. Tucker – the player who attempted to cover Durant on the play – was suitably impressed.

"When I cut him off, I thought he would one-foot it, or step back. When he spun, he threw me off. That shot was incredible," Tucker said. "People don't really appreciate the level of difficulty with that shot, it was incredible.

"I laughed, I just laughed when he made it. I appreciated it, as a fan of the game, when someone makes that shot."

Durant was one of just 11 different players to score, the fewest in any regular season or postseason game since the merger.

Kevin Durant turned in the most productive Game 7 performance in NBA playoffs history, but it was not enough to get the Brooklyn Nets through against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Brooklyn's 115-111 overtime loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals decider saw the exhausted Nets give everything they had before the visitors prevailed in the end. 

Durant scored a Game 7-record 48 points but could not do it all as a Brooklyn team missing the injured Kyrie Irving did not have enough weapons in the end. 

 "We've got to give credit to the Milwaukee Bucks," Durant told reporters. "They're a great, great team who've got a good chance to win a championship.

"The story should be about them and how well they played this series -- how well they played all year."

Though Milwaukee ultimately prevailed, few have performed better than Durant on the big stage. 

With little in the way of a supporting cast, he played all 53 minutes in defeat after carrying the hobbled Nets through the series as Irving missed the decider and James Harden played the entire game though he has not been fully healthy for some time. 

"I can't even speak about how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor and how much we missed James to start the series," Durant said.

"I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two and how much they care about us and how much they put their bodies on the line to help us out as a team.

"Kyrie had a gruesome ankle injury and he was thinking about when can he play next -- that shows that he cares about us so much.

"James, playing on one leg, came out there and gave it his all. ... There's nothing but respect and love for those two guys; we missed them out there. But we still had a chance to win."

The second-seeded Nets ultimately came up short, as head coach Steve Nash ran out of options to help ease the load on Durant. 

"We didn't have a lot of buttons to push at the end in this series," Nash said. "But we had a chance to win, so that's all you can ask for."

Now the Nets are left to look forward rather than back, as they can only hope they will be at full strength this time next year. 

"We want to win every game we play, we want to win a championship, just like every team," said Durant. 

"So the last game of the season, you lose ... but the beauty of our profession is, we get up and keep going.

"Everybody on this team works extremely hard, they care about the game, so we get ready for next year."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a record-breaking performance from Kevin Durant to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 115-111 in overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points and Khris Middleton had 23, including what proved to be the game-winning shot, as the Bucks won a Game 7 for the first time in 20 years, stunning the Nets in Brooklyn. 

Durant finished with 48 points, the most ever scored in a Game 7, and for much of the game appeared ready to will the Nets through to the next round on his own. 

Brooklyn was playing without the injured Kyrie Irving and leaned on Durant to carry the load as he had throughout the series. He played 53 minutes, making 17 of 36 shots from the field and 10 of 11 from the line, but he did not get enough help in the end. 

James Harden was just five of 17 from the field, including two of 12 on three-point attempts, but every time the Nets needed a shot down the stretch they went to Durant. 

That worked for a while, most notably at the end of regulation when he hit a turnaround jumper with his foot on the three-point line to tie the game at 109-109 and force overtime. 

But the Bucks clamped down on Durant and everyone else in the extra session after Bruce Brown hit a jumper early in the period to put Brooklyn up by two.

The Nets would not score again the rest of the way, as Antetokounmpo tied the game with a shot over Durant with 1:12 to go before Middleton hit a jumper from the middle of the lane with 40.7 seconds remaining to take the lead and Brook Lopez added a pair of free throws with 0.3 seconds left for the final margin. 

Entering the game, home teams were 109-31 in Game 7s in NBA history, but Milwaukee bucked that trend to advance. 

They will await the winner of Sunday's Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Final.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers host the upset-minded Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, with Atlanta looking for their fifth road win of the playoffs so far. Earlier Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns open their Western Conference Final series. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he was playing to his strengths in repeatedly attacking the rim in Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, ending without a three-point attempt.

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar came up with 30 points and 17 rebounds on Thursday to help keep his team alive in the postseason, levelling the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3.

While Khris Middleton led the Bucks in scoring with 38 points, Antetokounmpo was crucially more efficient than earlier in the playoffs.

In the 2020-21 postseason, the 'Greek Freak' is a 52.3 per cent shooter from the field, but that breaks down to 70.2 per cent at the rim, 39.3 per cent from midrange and a measly 17.1 per cent from three.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 4.1 attempts per game from beyond the arc – up on 3.2 in the regular season, which was an increase on a career average of 2.2.

Against Brooklyn, though, Antetokounmpo did not shoot once from deep.

It was only the fourth time this season the two-time MVP had zero three-point attempts, one of which came as he sprained his ankle at Houston after 46 seconds in April.

Meanwhile, Game 6 was the eighth occasion across Antetokounmpo's NBA career he had 20 field goal attempts and none from three – the first since 2018 and first in the playoffs since his home postseason debut in 2015.

"That was just how it went," he said. "I didn't shoot a three tonight, but I'm just trying to be aggressive. Get downhill, make the right play.

 

"I think there was maybe one or two plays I was open at the three-point line and maybe could have shot it.

"But what I know is that I enjoy the game when I'm aggressive and I can get downhill and I can get my team-mates involved, and when I play to my strengths.

"That's when I enjoy the game the most, and that's what I try to do."

Coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Giannis coming into the game was in a good place.

"Just get him where he's attacking and creating for his team-mates, creating for himself. He came in today in a good place, and we've got to stay there going into Game 7."

Game 7 is back on the road, with all six games to this point having been won by the home team.

Antetokounmpo, who has only once been beyond this round and never past the Eastern Conference Finals, said: "We knew what kind of game this was.

"There was only one option: win the game. We knew if we didn't win the game, our season would be over, and we've talked about it multiple times in the locker room among the guys that it's not going to be easy.

"As I've said all year long, we're built for this moment. Simple as that. No one said it was going to be easy. It might be hard. But we are capable of doing it.

"So, everybody had a great mindset, came to play, came to compete, and hopefully we can do that in Game 7."

Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks forced a deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semi-final thanks to a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Bucks forward Middleton top-scored with an NBA playoff career-high 38 points, including five-from-eight three-pointers, and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals, as Milwaukee levelled the series at 3-3.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo produced a more aggressive display inside the paint to stay alive in the playoffs, putting up 30 points and 17 rebounds in a double-double display at home to the Nets.

Antetokounmpo played a key role in 14-0 fourth-quarter run, including a strong offensive rebound and slam, which warded off Brooklyn's threat.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo did not attempt one three-point shot in a clear change of strategy after criticism for his shooting earlier in the series.

James Harden started again for the Nets after returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5, getting through 39 minutes but was visibly hampered, lacking power and finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Durant had another busy shift, playing 40 of the 48 minutes, however he could not carry the second-seeded Nets, scoring 32 points with 11 rebounds following his monster triple-double last time out.

PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday were strong defensively, with the latter having four steals, harassing Durant – who only shot at 50 per cent from the field and two-from-eight beyond the arc.

Milwaukee led 59-48 at half-time with Antetokounmpo having 18 points in the opening half, shooting eight of nine from the field.

The Nets rallied in the third quarter and put pressure on the Bucks early in the last period with a 10-0 run.

Milwaukee hit back with their 14-0 run which led to Brooklyn benching Durant and Harden late.

The Nets will welcome the Bucks to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

 

76ers at Hawks

The east and west's top seeds – the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz – could be eliminated on Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers both looking to wrap up their Conference semi-final series on their home courts leading 3-2.

James Harden stole the headlines pre-game, but it was Kevin Durant who dazzled with a monster triple-double to inspire the Brooklyn Nets to a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Harden was cleared to return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which was deadlocked at 2-2 upon the former MVP's comeback from a hamstring injury on Tuesday.

However, Harden struggled badly as team-mate Durant stole the show with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists – almost singlehandedly reclaiming Brooklyn's series lead following back-to-back losses.

Durant did not miss a minute of the clash at Barclays Center, where the second-seeded Nets withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to move ahead 3-2 after being outscored 29-15 in the opening period.

According to Stats Perform, Durant became the first player to post 48-plus points while playing all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant – a former MVP and two-time NBA champion – is the first player in NBA history with a 45/15/10 postseason game after moving the Nets within a win of the Conference Finals.

Back in the line-up, Harden played all but two minutes, however he was one-for-10 shooting for five points as Jeff Green (27) and Blake Griffin (17) were the only other Brooklyn players to finish with double-digit points.

Antetokounmpo put up a 34-point, 12-rebound double-double but it was not enough for the visiting Bucks.

Khris Middleton contributed 25 points for the third-seeded Bucks, who led 59-43 at half-time before the Nets rallied.

The series heads back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers will look to bounce back at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. The second-round matchup in the east is level at 2-2.

The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 after sweeping Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 4-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Suns duo Devin Booker and Chris Paul flexed their muscles in a 125-118 victory over the Nuggets in Game 4 as MVP Jokic was ejected on Sunday.

Jokic (22 points and 11 rebounds), who earned his first MVP accolade on Tuesday, was assessed a flagrant two foul after his foul on Phoenix's Cameron Payne in the third quarter.

That made life difficult for the third-seeded Nuggets – already missing star Jamal Murray due to injury – as the Suns rolled into the Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

Paul produced a vintage performance with a game-high 37 points, while Booker put up 34 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are the only team to knock out both the previous season's conference finalists in the opening two rounds since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984 per Stats Perform.

The Eastern Conference semi-final matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets is deadlocked at 2-2 after Giannis Antetokounmpo starred.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double to lead the Bucks past the second-seeded Nets 107-96 in Game 4.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo had a game-high 34 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks topped the Nets, who lost All-Star Kyrie Irving to injury.

Irving – who had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action – twisted his right ankle after coming down on Antetokounmpo's foot, having scored from close range in the second quarter.

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 as the third-ranked Bucks took advantage.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play.

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks for Game 4 on Monday, leading the Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-1. Utah Jazz – the top seed in the west – are also in action against the Los Angeles Clippers in their Western Conference second-round Game 4.

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."

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted "a win is a win" after the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets, despite blowing a big advantage in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets in the Eastern Conference semi-finals but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining on Thursday.

The Bucks were forced to dig deep during the closing stages, however two-time MVP Antetokounmpo did not dwell on the manner of the win as Milwaukee cut Brooklyn's lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

"At the end of the day, a win is a win," said Antetokounmpo, who posted 33 points and 14 rebounds.

"It doesn't matter if you win by 30. It doesn't matter if you win by one.

"You can go back home and celebrate the ‘W.' "

Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

"We ran a lot of pick-and-roll, the first two games, in Brooklyn. I was able to get my spots, just wasn't making the shot, making the right pass or the right read," Middleton said.

"Tonight, I just tried to make the right read and make those shots. I can see what they are giving, just trying to take advantage of that."

On Milwaukee's defense, Holiday added: "I think part of it is playing desperate, knowing the situation, knowing what this game means to us and what it means to be home.

"And then the other part of it is the performance we had the first two games, showing that's not the type of defense we play. That was really out of character."

Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert has been voted the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the third time, the league announced Wednesday. 

The France native received 84 first-place votes from a global media panel, easily outdistancing Ben Simmons of the Philadephia 76ers for top honours. 

Gobert previously won the award in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and is the fourth player to win the award at least three times, joining Dikembe Mutombo (four), Ben Wallace (four) and Dwight Howard (three).

Gobert's Jazz team-mates surprised him with the award, putting the trophy on his chair in the locker room and erupting in cheers when he walked in. 

A 7-foot-1 presence in the middle, the Frenchman led the NBA with 10.1 defensive rebounds per game and his 13.5 total rebounds per game were second only to Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks (14.3). Gobert also finished second in the league with 2.7 blocked shots per game.

Gobert earned 464 points in the voting, while Simmons had 287 with 15 first-place votes. Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors was third with 76 points, Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat was next with 31 points, including one first-place vote, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks placed fifth with 12 points. 

 

The most anticipated series of the 2020-21 NBA playoffs has not delivered quite as expected thus far.

The Milwaukee Bucks, having swept the Miami Heat, were backed to provide stern opposition to the Brooklyn Nets' array of superstars.

And when James Harden went down 43 seconds into Game 1, the Bucks must have thought their luck was in.

Instead, they head back home on Wednesday looking to belatedly get on the board, having fallen 2-0 behind in dismal fashion.

The first meeting was at least close, but a 125-86 Game 2 defeat in Brooklyn made unwanted history.

With Harden on the sidelines, the Nets became the first team ever to win a playoff game by 35 or more points while having a former MVP on their roster but missing.

Home comforts alone surely cannot bridge the gap for Milwaukee after such a humbling...
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks

Optimism around the Bucks centred on a trio of leading men. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo could realistically be compared to any one of the Nets' 'big three', but Middleton and Jrue Holiday each showed their worth against the Heat.

It has been a different story in this round.

After 20.4 points per game in the regular season and 21.5 in the Miami series, that mark has dropped to a mediocre 15.0 through two games on 30.2 per cent shooting.

Regardless of any improvement from Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a solid if unspectacular 26.0 points, the Bucks need the supporting cast to be better.

Blake Griffin – Brooklyn Nets

While the Bucks would have hoped for Middleton to offer more, Griffin is exceeding all expectations in Brooklyn. The six-time All-Star is rebuilding his career.

Griffin has started all seven playoff games this year, having seemingly initially been signed as a bench option, and he had 18 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1.

It appeared the versatile forward refound his mojo the moment he left the Detroit Pistons, though, ending a 25-game drought with a dunk on his debut – one of 18 across the remainder of the regular season.

Griffin has continued these show-stopping contributions into the playoffs, too, with seven more, including one particularly eye-catching effort over Antetokounmpo on Monday.
 

KEY BATTLE – Durant evading effective defense

Griffin was not the only Net to find joy against Antetokounmpo, with Durant too easily working room to shoot and punish the Bucks in typical fashion. His 61 points lead the series.

Antetokounmpo and Holiday – both previously named to the All-Defensive First Team – might have backed themselves to manage this three-headed monster. So far, they cannot get to grips with just the two.

For as much as the Bucks need more scoring, offense alone cannot beat a team as talented as Brooklyn. Milwaukee actually allowed marginally more points (114.2 per game) than the Nets (114.1) this season and must now find a way to slow them.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

Of course, very recent history is against the Bucks, even if they had a 2-1 regular-season record in this matchup. The omens are better at Fiserv Forum, where both of the 2020-21 wins came as the Bucks improved to 66-32 at home versus the Nets in the regular season and postseason combined.

Durant is 7-5 at Milwaukee, averaging 26.8 points per game – more than any Buck so far in this series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is continuing to believe, despite the Milwaukee Bucks falling into a 2-0 hole following a demoralising defeat to the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were no match for the star-studded and James Harden-less Nets, who showed no mercy in a devastating 125-86 victory in the NBA playoffs on Monday.

The third-seeded Bucks trailed by as much as 49 points in a forgettable game in Brooklyn, where two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo finished with 18 points on eight-for-15 shooting and 11 rebounds.

Antetokounmpo and the bruised Bucks will return to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Thursday, but their superstar remains upbeat in pursuit of the franchise's first championship since 1971.

"It's easy," Antetokounmpo replied when asked how he could prevent his team-mates from losing confidence. "That's what I do.

"I don't get too high, I don't get too low. After the Miami series, we were up 4-0, and coming to this series, I wasn't high.

"Now that we're down 2-0, I'm not low. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, keep trusting my work, keep trusting my team-mates, keep believing in the team, keep believing in the habits we've built all year, and hopefully in Game 3 we get a win."

The Bucks were easily beaten by the Miami Heat in the second round of last season's playoffs, while Milwaukee are yet to progress beyond the Eastern Conference semi-finals (2019, 2001, 1986, 1984, 1983) since 1973-74.

"It's an opportunity," Antetokounmpo said. "At the end of the day, we have to take care of business, and take it a game at a time. I do not want to hear we got to win two at home.

"We got to win one at home. We've got to win the first game. We've got to get Game 3 and try to give everything we can to get that one, and then Game 4 try to do the same thing. But we have to focus on Game 3 right now."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks had no answers as Kevin Durant guided the Brooklyn Nets to a brutal 125-186 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Harden sat out due to hamstring tightness, but the star-studded Nets still made light work of the Bucks in Monday's blow-out win for a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA playoffs.

Durant put on a show against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and the visiting Bucks, posting 32 points in three quarters while Kyrie Irving added 22 points.

The second-seeded Nets – who defeated Milwaukee in three consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-09 – led by as much as 49 points in their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history.

Brooklyn, eyeing a maiden championship, became the first team since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers to score at least 115 points in each of their last six playoff games.

The Nets – who set a franchise postseason record with 21 three-pointers – became the first team in playoff history to have an MVP winner (Harden) miss the game and yet still win by 35-plus points, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee, but the Bucks superstar was far from efficient.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo was eight-for-15 shooting, while he missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and had three turnovers.

Khris Middleton finished with 17 points, however, he was seven-for-20 shooting from the field, having made only three of his eight three-pointers.

In the west, the Phoenix Suns opened their semi-final matchup with a 122-105 win at home to the Denver Nuggets.

Chris Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14).

The Suns took control in the second half, outscoring the third-ranked Nuggets 65-47 in Game 1.

MVP favourite and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was limited to just 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

 

Clippers at Jazz

The Los Angeles Clippers and top-ranked Utah Jazz will open their Western Conference second-round series on Tuesday. In the east, the Philadelphia 76ers will be looking to bounce back in Game 2 at home to the Atlanta Hawks.

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden believes this is his best chance to win an NBA championship as the star-studded franchise continue their quest against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will lead the second-seeded Nets in an Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with Giannis Antetokounmpo and third seeds the Bucks, starting Saturday.

Brooklyn's 'big three' have the Nets as favourites to win their maiden championship in a playoff campaign also featuring the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.

Harden joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets via a blockbuster trade in January, with the former MVP's eyes on a much-coveted title.

During his time in Houston, Harden reached two Western Conference Finals as the franchise never advanced to the showpiece – Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors often standing in the way, while LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers also thwarted the Rockets in the semi-finals last season.

Now, Harden senses his best opportunity to add an NBA ring to his list of league honours.

"I ran into some very, very good teams which is one of the reasons I've been short [of winning a title]," Harden told reporters via a Zoom call on Friday.

"[But] you look at our roster, we're elite too. It's going to be a showdown but I'm more than confident going into this postseason just because of the roster and our schemes and the things that we can control and the versatility that we have."

Harden added: "Obviously, there's only a handful of teams that have an opportunity. And we're one of those teams this year.

"So, the excitement is there, but I think just the focus is the most important thing for myself. And just trying to rub that focus level and that engagement to detail into every one of my team-mates."

The Nets saw off the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the opening round but will face a stiffer test against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee support cast, including Jrue Holiday.

With Brooklyn's Jeff Green ruled out of Game 1, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "I think the strategy we'll probably start with is probably similar from a team-defending standpoint.

"It's also the type of thing we have to work our way through as the series goes on and have a better feel for it, have more and more of an understanding collectively, and also be able to adjust and adapt within our schemes, not just change our schemes. The team concepts will be the same regardless."

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