Milwaukee was playing without star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined with an injury. In the finals, the Bucks will face the Phoenix Suns.
The Milwaukee Bucks advanced to their first NBA finals since 1974 with a 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night to take a four-game lead in the series. They will square off against the Phoenix Suns in Tuesday’s NBA finals.
They were without Giannis Antetokounmpo, their best player, who suffered a left knee injury in Game 4, seemingly ending the Bucks’ chances of winning the series.
Rather than rest him, the Bucks relied on a supporting cast led by forward Khris Middleton, who scored 23 of his 32 points in the third quarter, and guard Jrue Holiday, who added 27 points of his own. Trae Young, the Hawks’ best player, struggled in the loss after missing Games 4 and 5 with a bone bruise in his right foot. Young made only four of seventeen field goals and missed all six of his three-point attempts. He ended the game with 14 points.
The crowd at State Farm Arena was subdued for the majority of the game, as the Bucks stormed out to a 15-4 lead and never looked back. However, Atlanta fans erupted in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks used a furious run to cut a 22-point second-half deficit to six points with 3:40 remaining.
Milwaukee’s postseason stakes have been extremely high. Despite Antetokounmpo’s regular-season brilliance over the previous five seasons, the Bucks had missed the playoffs. Antetokounmpo’s poor shooting was a factor, as defenders pressed him into shooting from the perimeter or dribbling into traffic.
Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks’ coach for the last three seasons, has been chastised for the disparity between his team’s regular-season success and playoff failures, fueling speculation that he is coaching for his job this season.
However, on Saturday night, critics were silenced, at least temporarily. The Bucks will travel to Phoenix for Game 1 of the finals, where they are four victories away from a championship. Milwaukee will once again face an elite scorer in Devin Booker and a pick-and-roll specialist in Chris Paul. And the Bucks could be without Antetokounmpo, whose status for the series is unknown.