You cannot ask for a better Game 7. In a heavyweight fight that saw both teams trade blows until the bitter end, the Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after a thrilling, 115–111 win against the Nets in overtime.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points in 50 minutes in the win, leading Milwaukee as much of his supporting cast struggled shooting for large stretches of the game.
Kevin Durant put up another all-time performance, scoring 48 points—the most ever in a Game 7—and playing all 53 minutes, with his potential game-winning three falling harmlessly to the floor in the game’s final second.
Here are three thoughts on the instant classic.
The Two Biggest Stars Delivered
If you wanted to see KD and Giannis go head to head, then Saturday’s matchup came through in spades. Both players were sublime. While Antetokounmpo still took some ill-advised threes, he was aggressive all night. He kept attacking the rim late, not showing any fear about heading to the free-throw line. (Giannis hit 8-of-14 from the stripe, good enough all things considered.) It was a superstar, MVP, all-universe, top-tier performance from the Greek Freak, and he’s earned a reprieve from questions about his playoff prowess. Winning against Durant in a Game 7 on the road? That’s beyond big time.
And somehow, Durant may have been better. He hit some breathtaking shots down the stretch, including a balletic turnaround fadeaway from the tippy top of the three-point line to send the game into the extra period—which was millimeters away from being a go-ahead shot. Durant gave Brooklyn everything he had, and unfortunately he appeared to run out of gas near the end of the game. KD missed a couple looks late, including a contested three that could have won it all, but his effort was unassailable. The numbers Durant put up in this series—against a great team, with his hobbled supporting cast, playing in his first postseason since his Achilles tear—is why the sport of basketball is incredible. KD has mastered his craft, and it was inspiring to watch.
The displays from Giannis and Durant only further cemented them in the upper echelon of the league. Despite all the injuries in the playoffs overall, the Freak and KD more than came through for anyone who wanted to see some star power Saturday.
The Margins Were Super Thin
The Bucks won this game, but only barely. Whichever team ended up losing was going to be devastated because of the razor’s edge difference between these two clubs.
Milwaukee survived Saturday despite wildly subpar shooting nights from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, poor offense and even worse defensive rebounding in overtime, as well as P.J. Tucker fouling out.
The Nets were right there despite an inefficient night from a slowed-down James Harden. The Beard scored 22 and was a perfect 10-of-10 from the line, but he hit only 5-of-17 shots from the field, and missed 10 of his 12 three-point attempts. (Joe Harris also continued to struggle, hitting only three of hie nine threes, including a plum look in OT.)
It’s hard to say one of these teams is better than the other—the injuries in this series are also the obvious elephant in the room—and Game 7 was especially illustrative in how close these teams were to each other. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, it will be stuck with the “What ifs?” until next season. What if Kyrie Irving played? What if Durant’s foot wasn’t on the line? Those million tiny moments are what make Game 7s so captivating. The Nets just found themselves on the wrong side of the 50-50 situations.
The Bucks Are Not Out of the Woods
Milwaukee showed incredible resolve in this series. The Bucks overcame a 2–0 deficit, a 3–2 deficit, and won a Game 7 on the road. Those things aren’t easy, no matter the circumstances. A healthy Kevin Durant hadn’t been knocked out of the playoffs since 2016.
Still, it’s hard to firmly grasp what Milwaukee’s ceiling is. It took every ounce of energy for the Bucks to knock out a seriously hampered Nets team—who were missing Irving for the last half of the series while Harden was clearly hobbled for the last three games.
The expectations are still very high for Giannis and Co., and the weirdness of this postseason is setting up a unique opportunity for the Bucks to win the Finals. But all of the remaining teams in both conferences could provide unique challenges to Milwaukee.
For now, the Bucks have survived. Unlike the Nets, they have the privilege to work out their issues moving forward.
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