Circle your calendars and set your reminders: there will be at least one Game 7 in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks made sure of it Thursday, winning 97–86 over the Boston Celtics, dragged to the finish line by Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 31 points and 14 rebounds.
Antetokounmpo’s turnaround jumper in the lane with a minute left sealed it for the Bucks, who gave perhaps their best defensive effort of the series, won the rebounding split for the first time and gave Thon Maker his first playoff start at center. Milwaukee pulled together with a gritty effort, supporting Giannis with hustle plays, extra passes and timely shooting. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon added 16 apiece. Jabari Parker tallied 11 rebounds. The Bucks’ willingness to get out and run (they had 18 fast break points to their opponents’ none in the first half) has lent itself to better dictating the play.
Neither team quite had the juice to convincingly pull away at any point. The Celtics trailed by 14 in the second quarter and played a drab first half, but were able to knot the game at 61 midway through the third, leaning on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. A back-and-forth ensued, the Bucks fending them off in a series that continues to be defined by effort from both sides, with the exception of this bizarre moment from Eric Bledsoe.
Game 7 is Saturday night in Boston, a location that would certainly seem to mean something given the ebb and flow of this series. In reality, it may well be a toss-up, the parity of this series eminently clear, and the presence of so many key players under the age of 25 on either side leading to inevitable mistakes. Expect the Celtics to shoot better than 37% from the floor, and expect the Bucks to finally find the right level of focus on the road. The Sixers lie in wait for the winner.
“In my opinion, the series hasn’t started yet,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. He is eminently wrong. We’ll enjoy this anyway.