The 2021 NBA Finals are set. Last night (July 3), the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Philips arena in Atlanta. The resilient Bucks will move on to their first NBA Finals since 1974, ending an almost five-decade drought.
The Bucks did it without their two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed his second consecutive game with a hyperextended left knee. The well-rounded team relied on the efforts of Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, who finished with a game-high 32 points. Holiday contributed 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds and Portis put up 12 points and nine rebounds, while Lopez added 13 points respectively.
After the game, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said he was impressed with both the “resilience” and “character” of his team. “They just have a focus and an edge that puts us in a good place, put us in an opportunity to keep playing. And so you’ve got to deal with all those emotions, everything that goes into each round and this group has been able to do that. It’s impressive but we’ve got more to do,” he said.
The emergence of Middleton has helped the Bucks stay afloat throughout the 2021 NBA Playoffs. As superstars seemed to fall left and right — at inopportune moments — Middleton surged. He began his playoff run by scoring 27 points and hitting a game-winning jumper with 0.5 seconds left to play in Game 1 against the Heat and has continued to come through when his team has needed him most. The two-time all-star, often regarded as Antetokounmpo’s side-kick, is certainly capable of leading this Bucks team and has proved it.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey,” said Middleton, who has played the last eight seasons with Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. “It’s been worth it. We put ourselves in position to be in the NBA Finals. After winning 15 games in our first year here to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough. Now we’re here. This is what we’ve worked for. Extremely happy that we’re still playing.”
Whether the Bucks will have a healthy “Greek Freak” in the next round against the Phoenix Suns remains unknown at the moment. Antetokounmpo’s mere presence changes the dynamics of the Finals. The Suns have capitalized during their playoff run as star players on their opposing teams have suffered significant injuries. They shocked the defending champion Lakers with a hobbled Anthony Davis and a limping LeBron James. They cruised past a Jamal Murray-less Nuggets team, and booted a Clippers team that did not have Kawhi Leonard. The fate of this year’s finals could be determined by who has the healthiest, not best team.
Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals is scheduled for Tuesday, July 6 at 9 pm ET at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
"We put ourselves in position to be in the NBA Finals. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough and now we’re here."@MotorolaUS | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/CnjeLNXrNj— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 4, 2021