Kevin Durant scored 48 points, the highest ever in a Game 7, but it wasn’t enough as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Brooklyn Nets in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Durant played all 53 minutes and scored 48 points, including a dizzying fade jumper with a second left in rule to force overtime.
Without his toe on the line, half a size, it would have been the game and the series done, then and there. For a moment, it was as if it was. The Barclays Center erupted, a certain passing ecstasy. Reruns showed this was not the case.
109-109 and a fifth quarter. The last thing either team seemed to want.
That overtime ended 6-2 proved just how hard these two teams gave throughout the series and especially on Saturday night, through 53 minutes of wacky basketball. Durant played every second, as did James Harden. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton hardly less.
It was these beautiful margins that ultimately decided things. The relentless Bruce Brown – 6ft 4in in the body of a goalie – took on two crucial offensive boards to open the overtime period, outscoring Giannis in the process, who was now running on steam.
We lead to a basket put back in place. The other a vital additional possession that the Nets couldn’t capitalize on. At the other end, Giannis made Durant back down as far as he could, as deep into the painting as their two bruised and bruised bodies would allow. A one-handed hook on his opponent a few yards away was all that was allowed. Draw again, 111-111.
Back home, Durant gathered every ounce of energy he had left and drove for a layup, at which point Brook Lopez set out to produce the block of his life.
Lopez, ironically the Brooklyn Nets all-time top scorer, had a great night for the Bucks, scoring 19 points on 3 of 4 shots from deep as Middleton and Jrue Holiday (5 of 23 field goals, 2- of -9 from the three-point range) struggled for the vast majority. But this block, his fourth of the evening, was the piece he will remember for the rest of his life.
Sensing the opportunity to put the Nets to bed once and for all, Middleton removed a screen from Giannis, feigned in the lane and then backed up for the jumper. He had a bad night of shooting overall (9 of 26 from the floor, 2 of 7 of three for 23 points) but when it mattered he made sure the net didn’t budge. Rustling. 113-111.
With 40 seconds to go and nothing else to give, Durant went for the win. On this attempt, his last after almost 300 minutes of play in this series, the legs were gone. No elevator, no arch. But no shame either. It was Durant’s third straight game with more than 30 points, a Nets franchise record. His 48 points are an NBA record, the most in a Game 7.
That he ended up on the losing team is due to anything but him. In no time, Harden fouled Lopez under the basket, who made two free throws to definitively finish 115-111. The Bucks were partying long before that.
It was a miraculous turn for Milwaukee to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the 10th time in franchise history and the second time in three seasons. Not only did they survive another goal attack from Durant, but they came back 2-0 in the series, including a 39-point loss in Game 2.
The premature injuries of Harden in Game 1 and Kyrie Irving in Game 4 undoubtedly shifted the momentum. In this sense, the Nets will regret their chance.
For the Bucks, it boiled down to the mental, physical and emotional courage of their star Giannis, deservedly the alpha and omega of this franchise. The two-time MVP tied Durant every step of the way, scoring 40 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and distributing five assists.
Giannis has been criticized for two things throughout this series: not keeping Durant one-on-one and failing to hit his free throws. Perhaps the critics have a head start that he tends to avoid taking Durant, but given that the indefatigable PJ Tucker takes on this impossible task with such gusto, and Milwaukee has need Giannis for so many other things, there is certainly a case for that.
Tucker, to his credit, had another hard-hitting game that will be hidden deep in the scoring area despite a foul. He even took the time to go back and forth with Wanda Durant, Kevin’s mom, whom he has known since the days of the Texas Longhorns.
As for the free throws, well, as soon as the boisterous Brooklyn crowd started counting him on the line due to his new ice-cold routine, Giannis started hitting them. You can’t ask for much more than that.
The Bucks will now face the winner of Sunday night’s other Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals regardless of their opponent. Given that they remain the healthiest team in what is quickly turning into a ‘last man standing’ playoff installment, they just might be for the championship now.