MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton and the Milwaukee Bucks refused to fold under pressure and wouldn’t allow Kevin Durant to produce one more remarkable comeback that could end their second-round playoff series.
Middleton set a career playoff high with 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and the Milwaukee Bucks never trailed in a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night to force a decisive seventh game.
Game 7 will be Saturday night in Brooklyn. The home team has won each of the first six games in this series.
“We don’t think about any type of pressure at all,” Middleton said. “It’s a basketball game. It’s as simple as that. I know it’s lose-or-go-home, but at the same time, it’s just basketball. You’ve got to have fun with it. Those moments are fun, you know, when the game’s on the line.”
Milwaukee bounced back two nights after blowing a 17-point lead in a 114-108 Game 5 loss at Brooklyn that featured an epic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist performance from Durant.
The Bucks shot just 7 of 33 from 3-point range but made up for it by outscoring the Nets 26-4 in fast-break points.
“It definitely hurt us,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of the fast-break points. “That’s where they’re really strong. I thought we had some problems getting back in transition. ”
Durant occasionally seemed on the verge of leading the Nets back once again Thursday.
He scored 10 straight Nets points during one third-quarter stretch as Brooklyn narrowed a 14-point deficit to five. He sparked a 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter that got the margin down to five again.
Each time, Middleton responded by making a basket or getting to the free-throw line.
“You know in those moments, he’s going to make the right play,” Antetokounmpo said. “We know that when he feels good, we’ve got to give him the ball.”
Middleton shot 11 of 16 from the floor and 11 of 12 on free-throw attempts and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals. Antetokounmpo shot 12 of 20 and had 17 rebounds. Jrue Holiday added 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden added 16 points for Brooklyn but still looked as though he was at far less than full strength in his second game since returning from a hamstring injury.
Harden had left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and returned in Game 5 but shot 1 of 10 and scored just five points.
“I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win,” Harden said. “I’ve got to be better on both ends of the ball, which I will be in Game 7.”
The Bucks owned a 14-point lead early in the second half before Durant again sparked a third-quarter comeback, scoring 10 straight Nets points during one stretch.
Brooklyn cut Milwaukee’s lead to 72-67 with 1:27 left in the third when Harden made two free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point shot. Middleton restored Milwaukee’s double-digit advantage by scoring the last six points of the third quarter, including a putback at the buzzer.
Milwaukee extended the lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter, but Brooklyn stormed back again with 10 straight points, as Joe Harris’ 3-pointer made it 82-77 with 8:41 left. Middleton again responded, drawing a foul on Harris while shooting a 3-pointer and making all three free throws.
“He’s a shot maker,” Durant said. “You see the shot go through the basket, you get more confidence. He made timely shots for them.”
Middleton’s free throws started a 14-0 run that included seven points from Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP capped the spurt by converting an offensive rebound into a dunk with 6:24 left.
That dunk pretty much guaranteed these teams would be meeting again Saturday. Both teams removed their starters with over 4 1/2 minutes remaining. As the Bucks and Nets headed into their respective locker rooms after the final buzzer sounded, a jubilant Fiserv Forum crowd celebrated while the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” played over the loudspeaker.
“As I’ve said all year long, we’re built for this moment, simple as that,” Antetokounmpo said. “Nobody says it’s going to be easy. It might be hard. But we’re capable of doing it.”
Nets: The Nets used their 41st different starting lineup (Durant, Harden, Harris, Blake Griffin and Jeff Green) of the season. They’ve used four different starting lineups in 11 playoff games. … Durant is one of only two players to score at least 30 points against the Bucks at least seven times in a season (regular season and playoffs combined). Michael Jordan had seven games of at least 30 points against Milwaukee in 1989-90.
Bucks: Middleton was 5 of 8 from 3-point range. His teammates were a combined 2 of 25. ... The Bucks are 5-0 against the Nets at home this season and own a 5-0 overall home playoff record. They’re 12-2 all-time in playoff games at Fiserv Forum. … Antetokounmpo has 10 straight playoff double-doubles and four consecutive playoff games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.