The Eastern Conference Finals took a titanic turn in Game 3 when the Atlanta Hawks' star point guard suffered a freak injury.

An unfortunate injury to the 'Greek Freak' in Game 4 presented yet another massive twist in this series.

With Trae Young considered questionable and Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as doubtful for Thursday's Game 5, the path to the NBA Finals got significantly more challenging for the Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Knotted at 2-2 in the East, the question now becomes which team is better equipped to overcome the loss of its superstar.

The first major injury setback of this series occurred with the Hawks up by three points in the final minute of the third quarter on Sunday, when Young accidently stepped back onto the foot of an official after passing the ball. He went down and stayed on the court until the next whistle before heading to the locker room.

While able to return in the fourth quarter, Young was not his normal explosive self. He hobbled his way to just three fourth-quarter points on four shots and Atlanta was outscored by 15 when he was on the court as Milwaukee pulled away for a 113-102 victory to take a 2-1 series lead.

A day after the game, an MRI revealed a bone bruise in his right ankle and although he was able to go through morning shootaround prior to Tuesday's Game 4, he was ultimately ruled out shortly before tipoff.

 

The second enormous injury in the series arose a few hours after Young was scratched.

Midway through the third quarter of Game 4, Antetokounmpo jumped to try to defend a Lou Williams alley-oop pass to Clint Capela and his left knee buckled awkwardly while landing. After remaining on the floor in pain for several minutes, he made his way to the locker room and was diagnosed with a hyperextension. An MRI the following day showed no structural damage.

The Bucks fell behind by 10 on Capela's dunk on the play Antetokounmpo was hurt and shortly after he exited Atlanta went on a 15-0 run to put the game away in a 110-88 win.

That run was fuelled by a trio of 3-pointers by Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finally looked he has overcome his own injury.

Bogdanovic has been saddled by right knee soreness that Hawks coach Nate McMillan said began to crop up in Game 5 of Atlanta's Eastern Conference series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the Hawks' five-game first-round series against the New York Knicks and their first four games against the 76ers, Bogdanovic averaged 16.4 points on 41.4 per cent shooting and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. His 27 3-pointers led the team and Young was the only Hawk to average more points at 28.3 per game.

In those first nine playoff contests, Bogdanovic also played more minutes than any Hawk, averaging more than 37 a game.

Over the next six games, however, he averaged 6.2 points on 26.8 per cent shooting and 16.7 per cent on 30 3-point tries in a little over 25 minutes per game.

In need of a spark with Young sidelined in Game 4, Bogdanovic shook off any lingering ailments and poured in 20 points while draining six 3-pointers – one more than he made in his previous six games combined. He once again found his shooting stroke on wing 3-pointers, connecting on 5-of-6 shots from there after misfiring on 18-of-20 attempts in the previous six contests.

Not only is his production invaluable for the Hawks, Bogdanovic also excelled when teamed with Young's replacement.

Bogdanovic played 28:55 minutes with Williams and made 7 of 15 shots and half of his 12 3-point attempts when they were together. In just under five minutes without him, Bogdanovic missed all four of his shot attempts – including a pair of 3-point tries.

This entire postseason, Bogdanovic has shot better from 3-point range when teamed with Williams, connecting on 41.9 per cent (13 of 31) with him compared to 27.5 per cent (25 of 91) without him.

While Bogdanovic stepped up, so did the man who was inserted in the starting lineup in place of Young.

In his first career playoff start in his 87th postseason contest, Williams made an immediate impact. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year had 13 points by half-time – the same number of points he had in the first three games of the East Finals – and finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

In 35 minutes, the 16-year veteran had just one turnover while assisting on eight baskets, with three going to Capela as the two worked the pick-and-roll.

 

At 34 years old, Williams obviously is not as dynamic as the 22-year-old Young, whose averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 assists in the playoffs, but he proved to be plenty capable of leading Atlanta's offense, as he either scored or assisted on more than a third of the team's 43 made baskets.

Similarly to Young on the Hawks, it’s impossible for the Bucks to replace Antetokounmpo, who was averaging 29.2 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the 14 games before his injury.

Good news for Milwaukee, however, is it has not had that big of a drop-off in production without him this postseason. The Bucks are averaging 108.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court in the playoffs compared to 103.2 without him. By comparison, the Hawks are averaging 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Young on the court in the playoffs and 97.5 without him.

Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez are expected to handle more minutes with the backcourt tandem of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday shouldering more of the offensive load, and all four have shot the ball a bit better this postseason when not on the court with the two-time league MVP. (Middleton 47.9 per cent without Antetokounmpo/41.1 per cent with him, Holiday 45.5 per cent without/40.4 per cent with, Lopez 58.8 per cent without/53.9 per cent with and Portis 54.3 per cent without/45.8 per cent with.)

Middleton, meanwhile, has also already proven he can pick up the scoring slack.

He had eight of Milwaukee's first 10 points after Antetokounmpo left on Tuesday, and has three games this postseason with 35 points or more. In Bucks franchise history, only one player has more 35-point games in a single postseason and that just happens to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had six in 1973-74 and five in 1969-70.

Ultimately for Milwaukee, it could simply come down to Middleton's ability to make shots as the biggest difference between the team winning or losing. This postseason, the Bucks are 9-0 in games when Middleton shoots 40 per cent or better and 1-5 in games when he fails to reach that mark.

It is obviously not an ideal situation to be in, but Antetokounmpo and Young could still end up playing, though if they do suit up neither will likely be at full strength.

Both teams have also found some success navigating their way without their best players – the Bucks were 6-5 in the regular season without Antetokounmpo and the Hawks improved to 6-4 this season without Young on Tuesday.

Thursday's game is unlike any of those previous contests, however, with the winner moving one victory away from a berth in the NBA Finals.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he witnessed "greatness" after Khris Middleton led the Milwaukee Bucks past the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

While Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds, Middleton fuelled the Bucks with a monster fourth quarter in Sunday's 113-102 NBA playoff victory away to the Hawks.

Middleton scored 20 of his career high-tying 38 points in the final period, singlehandedly outscoring the Hawks (17), to help give the third-seeded Bucks a 2-1 series lead.

After Middleton's big display, which also included 11 rebounds, seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it was the second time ever a Bucks player had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

Bucks superstar and two-time MVP Antetokounmpo hailed Middleton post-game.

"What he did today was unreal," Antetokounmpo said. "He was unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. ... What I saw today was greatness. Simple as that."

"He turned the ball over like two times and after that he was locked in. Like, 'Pass me the ball,' and we gave him the ball. ... We know when to set screens for him, we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment.

"We were like, 'Get the hell out of the way, get him the ball, take us home Khris.' And that's what he did."

Of two-time All-Star Middleton, Antetokounmpo added: "The day you retire is going to be the toughest day of my career.

"He's special for a reason and he showed it tonight."

Middleton said: "I just finally got them to go. I've been struggling some with the ball going in the basket. Finally they started dropping for me at the right time. I'm thankful for that."

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer also lauded Middleton as attention turns to Tuesday's Game 4 in Atlanta.

"Just being around him a lot, he starts to see it go in, he starts to feel good, he gets in a rhythm, he can score different ways.

"He and Giannis in a two-man game, it's a tough choice. So huge fourth quarter. I think he had 20 in the fourth quarter and yeah, just glad he's on our side."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way with dominant double-doubles as the Milwaukee Bucks overpowered the Atlanta Hawks 113-102 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds and Middleton put up a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds to lead the third-seeded Bucks to a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs on Sunday.

The Hawks led 85-83 at the end of the third quarter before Middleton took matters into his own hands in the final period.

Middleton outscored the entire Hawks team in the fourth quarter – 20-17 – as the Bucks used a 30-17 period to seize control of the matchup.

After Middleton's big display, which also included seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it is the second time ever a Bucks player has had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

As for two-time MVP Antetokounmpo, he joined Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with 10-plus 30/10 games in a single postseason since 1963.

Trae Young huffed and puffed with 35 points and four assists, but the fifth-seeded Hawks lost to the Bucks on home court in Atlanta.

Hawks star Young entered the contest with 61 assists across five home games in the 2021 playoffs (12.2 per game). The last player to have 60-plus assists in their first five career home postseason games was Chris Paul in 2008 (67).

 

Clippers at Suns

The Phoenix Suns can clinch a spot in the NBA Finals with victory at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Monday.

 

The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are the last two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference - but who will be going through to the NBA Finals?

While the Bucks survived a deluge of points from Kevin Durant to see off the Brooklyn Nets in a thrilling Game 7, the Hawks caused another upset as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in a tense series decider.

There is little time for either to dwell on the past, however, as they meet in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Bucks have dominated against Atlanta, going 11-2, though a six-game winning streak came to an end on April 25 as they lost 111-104 at home in the regular season.

The Hawks have already knocked out higher seeds in both the New York Knicks and the 76ers, seeing them become just the fifth franchise since 1980 to reach the Conference Finals following a mid-season coaching change. The other four all went on to win the title, too.

Nate McMillan stepped up from his role as assistant to replace Lloyd Pierce following a 14-20 start to the season. He is now just four wins away from steering them to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise moved from St Louis in 1968.

Standing in the way are a Milwaukee roster who have made it this far for a second time in three years – they went 2-0 up on the Toronto Raptors in 2019, only to then lose four on the spin to the eventual champions.

While seeing off the Nets was impressive, Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear in the immediate aftermath that the focus must remain on the bigger picture, saying: "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."

The Bucks start the series as overwhelming favourites, but the Hawks have shown they have no issues playing the role of dangerous underdogs during a postseason that has already thrown up plenty of surprises.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton 

Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in NBA history to reach 40 points and have 10 or more rebounds in a Game 7, but it was by no means a one-man show in the battle against Brooklyn.

Middleton is averaging 23.3 points per game during the playoffs, a number boosted by scoring 38 in Game 6 against Brooklyn to help get Milwaukee back on level terms. He is also set to be part of the Team USA roster for this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, alongside fellow Buck Jrue Holiday.

Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Huerter

Trae Young is undoubtedly the lead act for Atlanta, but Huerter stole the show in Game 7 in Philadelphia. 'Red Velvet' smoothly managed a team-high 27 points – his best performance in the postseason so far – as he went 10 for 18 shooting.

He had been shut out in Game 5 yet rediscovered his scoring touch when it mattered to help the Hawks progress, raising his postseason average to 11.6 points per outing.

KEY BATTLE – Young v Holiday in PG match-up

Both Young and Holiday had Game 7 outings to forget, despite their respective teams coming out on top. The former finished with 21 points but landed just five of his 23 shot attempts from the field, with two of those successful efforts coming from long range.

Still, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft is averaging 29.1 points per game in these playoffs, making him the focus for the Bucks on defense. Holiday could well be charged with keeping quiet one of the frontrunners to be crowned the MVP of the playoffs.

HEAD TO HEAD

There is nothing to split the teams in terms of playoff meetings – they have each won 11 apiece. The most recent series came in the first round in 2010, with the Hawks coming out on top in Game 7 having at one stage been 3-2 in arrears.

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

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. 

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.

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."

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.

A strong second half sent the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers to a 123-109 victory over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets as the NBA playoffs began Saturday. 

Portland outscored Denver 65-48 after the break as Damian Lillard had 34 points and 13 assists for the visitors, who made 18 of 19 free throw attempts to just four of eight for the Nuggets. 

CJ McCollum added 21 points and Carmelo Anthony scored 18 in just 22 minutes off the bench for Portland, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their playoff opener last season only to lose the next four to the eventual champions. 

Their efforts overcame a 34-point, 15-rebound game from Nikola Jokic and 25 points from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter made all 11 of his two-point field goal attempts Saturday but was just one of 10 from three-point range. 

Game 2 is Monday in Denver. 

 

Brooklyn's big three carry Nets

Big games from the big three carried the Brooklyn Nets to a 104-93 series-opening win over the Boston Celtics. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds while Kyrie Irving added 29 points and James Harden 21 as the Nets stifled the Celtics, who got 22 points on just six of 20 shooting from Jayson Tatum in a losing effort. 

Luka Doncic had his third triple-double in seven career playoff games, scoring 31 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Dallas Mavericks pulled out a 113-103 road win at the Los Angeles Clippers to open their series. Tim Hardaway Jr added 21 points on eight of 13 shooting for the fifth-seeded Mavericks, while Kawhi Leonard had 26 points and Paul George 23 to lead the Clippers. 

 

Butler cannot find the range

Jimmy Butler came close to recording a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Miami Heat's 109-107 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the five-time All-Star made only four of 22 shots from the field. 

 

Middleton gives Bucks win

Khris Middleton's contested jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Bucks the Game 1 win at home. Middleton's 27 points led the Bucks, with Giannis Antetokounmpo adding 26 points and 18 rebounds. 

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 109-107 Miami Heat (OT)
Dallas Mavericks 113-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Brooklyn Nets 104-93 Boston Celtics
Portland Trail Blazers 123-109 Denver Nuggets

 

Lakers face Suns

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers got the win they needed in the play-in tournament and they will open the playoffs proper with Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix. 

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."

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrated his impressive combination with Khris Middleton after the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

The Bucks improved to 18-13 for the season with a 128-115 victory in front of a limited crowd at Fiserv Forum.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 70 points, 26 rebounds, 10 assists and 22 free throws made. It was the first time a pair of team-mates posted such collective numbers in a single game since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for the Chicago Bulls on March 28, 1990.

"It felt good. We were making the right play, we were being aggressive, finding team-mates," said Antetokounmpo.

"We've done this for eight years. We can't do it every night, but there's always going to be some glimpses, there's always going to be some nights where we're both going to feel good, both going to make the right plays, and this night was one of those nights.

"It was good to go out there and lead our team to victory.

"He was being aggressive, getting to his spots, making the right play. We need that from Kris. You could tell from the beginning of the game that he felt good.

"I know when he's feeling good, and that's the time to get the hell out of the way. It's good to play with somebody you've played with for a long time. We've done this since day one. Hopefully we can win more games and keep this going."

Antetokounmpo led the scoring with 38 points, finding the target with 19 of 24 attempts from the free-throw line – an impressive run he does not now want to jinx.

"I don't want to talk about; I don't want to jinx it! I'll just keep working hard, keep trusting my technique. I got all the calls I deserved to get, so that's why I shot 24," he said.

"I feel good right now, I keep trusting my work and hopefully, next game, I can make some more."

The back-to-back MVP was also thrilled to perform in front of fans once again, adding: "It feels amazing. I don't know how many people were out there today, but it feels amazing.

"You could feel the crowd from beginning to end. When we feel the fans out there, I promise you, we're a different team. Hopefully, game by game, more fans can get out there to support us."

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