Bucks headed to Eastern Conference finals for first time since 2001

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 18 years.

Coach Mike Budenholzer’s club got there with a dominating 116-91 victory over Boston in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.

“It’s very exciting for the fans of Milwaukee,” said Budenholzer, who is in his first year leading the team. “I’ve said it from the day I arrived. I feel like I jumped on the ship at the perfect time. The fans have been incredibly supportive of the team, every player and the coaching staff. The energy in our building is phenomenal. Hopefully, it’s just going to keep getting better and better.”

Milwaukee led by 13 points at the half and 18 at the end of the third quarter, as the Celtics never really mounted a big challenge in a game they had to have to keep their season alive. It was the Bucks’ fourth-straight win and it came after Boston won Game 1 by 22 points.

“They outplayed us as a group,” Boston guard Kyrie Irving said. “I give credit to them. They came after Game 1, after getting punched in the mouth, and they responded the way a team that deserves to win should.”

In just 31 minutes of action, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Milwaukee star earned his second playoff series win this postseason after getting knocked out in the first round in each of his first three trips.

“That motivates you to keep moving forward and keep doing better things in the future,” Antetokounmpo said of the previous early round losses.

Forward Khris Middleton had 19 points, while guard Eric Bledsoe had 18. Milwaukee got 10 points and four assists from guard Malcolm Brogdon in his first game back since a foot injury in the middle of March.

“Definitely going to enjoy it for the night,” Middleton said of the series win. “It’s a big moment for our franchise, our city and ourselves. But at the same time, we know our season is still going. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

They do and it’s still unclear who that work will be against. The other Eastern Conference semifinal between Toronto and Philadelphia sees the Raptors up 3-2 with a chance to close the 76ers out Thursday night. If that happens, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals will be next Monday. If that series goes to a Game 7, the Finals won’t start until next Wednesday. Either way, Antetokounmpo said they’ll be ready.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that doubt us. That’s the world of basketball and that’s the world of media,” Antetokounmpo said. “There’s going to be people that are with us and there’s people that will be against us and don’t believe in us. But at the end of the day, we realize that we’ve never been there before but we’re really, really hungry to achieve our goals.”