MILWAUKEE – Nineteen last shots for the 19 assists dished out by the Bucks in Milwaukee’s 97-86 win in Game 6 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics.
1. If Thursday night marked the last time the BMO Harris Bradley Center sees an NBA game, the building went out on a high note. With the Milwaukee Bucks moving next door to the Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center at the beginning of next season the Bradley Center is in its final days.
2. The buzzer sounded for what could be the final time, and chants of “Bucks in seven” rang throughout the building. The Bucks forced a Game 7 by virtue of a 97-86 victory over the Celtics in Game 6.
3. This was the game that Milwaukee desperately needed from all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was much more aggressive than he was in Game 6, finishing with 31 points and 14 rebounds on 13-of-23 shooting.
4. “I thought he played great. I don’t think he forced anything. I think he took the opportunities that were there for him,” interim coach Joe Prunty said after the game.
5. He was everything the Bucks needed in Game 5 in Boston, and he’s going to need to repeat a performance like this in Game 7, but for Thursday night, Antetokounmpo was fantastic.
6. Antetokounmpo scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half and carried his team to the win. His play in the fourth quarter was exactly what a superstar is supposed to do. He scored 12 points in the period. Antetokounmpo took nine shots in the fourth quarter alone, just one less than he had in the entirety of Game 5. He scored eight of Milwaukee’s final 11 points and was the only Bucks player to make a field goal in the final 5:22 of the game.
7. “My team did a great job looking for me. I was able to rebound the ball and find lanes in transition too,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was out there, I was trying to make plays and be aggressive, and that’s what I did tonight.”
8. Guard Malcolm Brogdon went 3-of-4 from the free throw line during that stretch, other than that, every point was scored by Antetokounmpo.
9. Nearly every star player has a moment when they learn how to be the guy to go and win a playoff game for their team in a moment like this. Michael Jordan had “The Shot” over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo, LeBron James had 25 straight points for the Cavaliers in a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. They both had failed times prior to those instances. It’s very, very rare for a star to enter the league and be able to succeed on this type of stage right away.
10. Time will tell if this is that moment for Antetokounmpo. Thursday night was the biggest moment of his career to date, and he certainly delivered.
11. Antetokounmpo did this two nights after a lackluster performance in Boston, and one night after the world watch Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and James take over games when their teams needed them to most. Oklahoma City was on the verge of elimination, trailing by 25 points only to be rescued by Westbrook and George. Cleveland was tied 2-2 in their series with Indiana when James buried a 3-pointer as time expired to push the Cavaliers to the verge of advancing.
12. Antetokounmpo’s game on Thursday night wasn’t quite at the level of those games, but it was the most important of his career to date, and that’s meaningful for the 23-year-old star.
13. The thing is, this will only be the biggest moment of his career until Saturday evening when Game 7 takes place in Boston. For the first time in his career he has an opportunity to close a team out and win a series. No doubt it will be a tall task on the road, but it’s a moment where he can cement his status as one of the best in the world.
14. Game 7s are where legends are made in the playoffs. On this roster Jason Terry, Matthew Dellavedova, Tyler Zeller, and Eric Bledsoe have all been on a team that has taken part in a Game 7. Only Terry and Bledsoe have seen minutes during one, however. Dellavedova did not play during Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and Zeller did not play in Boston’s Game 7 against Washington last season.
15. Game 7 is a different animal than anything else in the NBA. Players tend to tighten up, scoring tends to be a bit lower, and every play is magnified.
16. “It’s going to be crazy. It’s do or die at this point,” forward Khris Middleton said following the game. “The crowd in Boston is rowdy, just like they are here. It’s going to be a great game. There are no secrets between teams; it comes down to who has more will.”
17. If the Bucks are going to have a chance at winning Game 7 on the road they need Antetokounmpo to have more will than anyone on the court. He’ll need to have a performance at the level of Thursday night’s or better.
18. That’s what superstars do, and Antetokounmpo has a chance to cement his status on Saturday night.
19. Tip-off on Saturday night in Boston is set for 7 p.m. CT from the TD Garden. Talk to you then.