Dear Basketball Gods: Thank you.
Thank you for gifting us with this drama- and tension-filled seven-game masterpiece between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. And, in particular, thank you for giving us one of the greatest games in recent memory to close this remarkable series.
The only regret is it had to end.
But not before you gave us a game that featured 20 lead changes, 10 ties, went to overtime on a miraculous Kevin Durant jumper that would’ve won the game for Brooklyn if his foot was just an inch further back, a Game 7 record 48 points from Durant as he once again played every minute of the game and a 40-point, 13-rebound effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Bucks outlasted the Nets for a 115-111 victory Saturday night to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
So thank you again Basketball Gods, this is a series that no one will soon forget.
Here’s a look at a few takeaways from those seven games of divinity.
Coming into Saturday’s game there was some chatter around the importance of the game to Antetokounmpo’s legacy.
The idea is a little ridiculous given the fact he’s still only 26 and is a two-time MVP, but nonetheless it was mulled about because of the post-season failures of his Bucks team, especially because he struggled at times during this series with Brooklyn.
However, after leading the Bucks with his 40-point effort, playing 50 minutes and doing so on very efficient 15 of 24 shooting, with his two main supporting actors Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday shooting poorly, any notion that Antetokounmpo can’t win the big game should be dispelled.
Similarly, Durant’s credentials were somewhat questioned after his tenure with the Golden State Warriors, but after seeing what he did in Games 5 and 7, where he played the entirety of both games and posted historic scoring numbers, there should be no doubt anymore that he’s still one of, if not the best basketball player on the planet – overtime struggles be damned.
Was the NBA Finals just played?
There were mistakes made to be sure – mostly from the Bucks (we’re looking at you Brook Lopez and Mike Budenholzer) – and the Nets weren’t at full strength, but given the topsy-turvy nature of the series, the remarkable Durant performances, the controversy surrounding Antetokounmpo’s shot selection and his free-throw shooting woes, not to mention the glorious Game 7 finale, it’s unlikely we’re going to see a series better than what we just witnessed.
With all due respect to the teams still playing, Milwaukee and Brooklyn were probably the most talented teams remaining in the playoffs, and the fireworks we saw proved that.
Up next for the Bucks will be either the Atlanta Hawks or Philadelphia 76ers, who will be playing their own Game 7 Sunday night.
No matter which team from that Game 7 emerges to meet the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, however, you have to like Milwaukee's chances.
The Sixers were heavily favoured over what should’ve been an inferior Hawks team, but their old habits of choking have reared their ugly head again and now they find themselves in a do-or-die Game 7.
And this isn’t to say that the Bucks’ record in clutch moments has been much better, but after this gruelling series with the Nets, you’d have to think that this is a team that’s finally learned something about rising to the occasion.
Additionally, between the Bucks and Sixers, Milwaukee is the much healthier club as Joel Embiid has dealing with a knee issue, not to mention Danny Green won’t be able to return to the lineup until early July. Milwaukee, meanwhile, doesn't have any significant injuries to speak of outside of role player Donte DiVincenzo.
On the other hand, if the Hawks end up as the Bucks’ competitor in the next round does anyone really believe this inexperienced Atlanta club has much of a shot against Milwaukee? Trae Young is a fabulous young player, but, at least on paper, the Hawks just don’t have the horses to hang with the Bucks.
Giannis all but guaranteed to not be in Victoria now
With the Bucks reaching the conference finals and the series likely lasting into early July, there’s an added bonus for Canadian basketball fans.
Though it was always unlikely he’d be able to join his national team at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, now it’s all but certain that Antetokounmpo won’t be with Greece.
Greece is among Canada’s stiffest competition at the OQT, but without Antetokounmpo it looks much less scary.
So, if you’re a fan of Canadian basketball, there's another thing to be thankful to the Basketball Gods for.