Wednesday's NBA playoffs: Bucks beat Celtics, advance to East final
Milwaukee — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks found another gear after their first loss of the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics just couldn't keep up.
Antetokounmpo had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and the Bucks routed the Celtics 116-91 on Wednesday night to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
After sweeping Detroit in the first round, top-seeded Milwaukee struggled in Game 1 against Boston and lost 112-90 in one of its worst offensive performances of the season. But Antetokounmpo led the way as the Bucks responded with four straight wins by a combined 65 points.
"I think our mindset changed," Antetokounmpo said. "In the first game, we weren't focused enough. We weren't ourselves. The next four games, we came out with a different approach, a different mindset."
The Bucks used a balanced attack to close out the Celtics in Game 5, placing seven players in double figures. Khris Middleton had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Eric Bledsoe finished with 18 points.
Next up for the Bucks is the winner of the Philadelphia-Toronto series. The Raptors are up 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Thursday night.
It's the first Eastern Conference final for Milwaukee since 2001.
"At the end of the day, we realize we've never been there before," Antetokounmpo said. "We're really hungry to achieve our goals. That's all we care about. As long as we play hard, we really don't care about what anybody has to say."
Prior to the clinching win, several Bucks took turns speaking to the team.
"Giannis' speech was, 'A lot of us probably came from nothing and we have the opportunity to write our own story right now.' That's what everybody did," George Hill said.
The Celtics clamped down on Antetokounmpo for most of the game, but Middleton, Bledsoe, Hill and Nikola Mirotic picked up the scoring to help rob the game of any drama in the final minutes.
Hill finished with 16 points, and Mirotic had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon also had 10 points in his return to the lineup after being sidelined by plantar fasciitis.
"Everybody was ready to play," Hill said. "Everybody was ready for the opportunity to put them away as quick as we can."
Irving scored 15 points for Boston, which shot 31.2% from the field. Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris each had 14.
"Not what we expected," Boston center Al Horford said. "Just disappointing for us. At the end of the day, really, you have to give Milwaukee credit. They're just a better team than us. That's a reality."
Antetokounmpo picked up his third foul when Jaylen Brown drove to the hoop early in the second half, but he stayed in the game. He stole an Irving pass and slammed it home to make it 65-52 with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
Antetokounmpo, one of the front-runners for NBA MVP, closed out the period with consecutive baskets, including a finger-roll layup that gave the Bucks an 80-62 lead.
"They played like they wanted it," Irving said.
Irving went 6 for 21 from the field in what might have been his final game with Boston. He is eligible for free agency in the offseason, and his future is one of the major questions facing the Celtics this summer.
"I understand we didn't meet the outside expectations," coach Brad Stevens said. "We rode a roller coaster most of the year."
Irving's only 3-pointer of the night trimmed Milwaukee's lead to 38-32 with 2:51 left in the second quarter. But Brogdon and Mirotic each connected from long range to help the Bucks to a 52-39 advantage at the break.
Brogdon hadn't played since March 15. He also had four assists and three rebounds.
The Celtics' loss eliminated the chance for a "Boston Slam," the possibility of an unprecedented sweep of all four major pro championships in a year.
The Red Sox won the World Series in October, and the Patriots took the Super Bowl title in February. The Bruins open the Eastern Conference final on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
More NBA playoffs
(At) Golden State 104, Houston 99: Klay Thompson scored 27 points, including a key layup with 4.1 seconds left, and the Golden State Warriors overcame Kevin Durant’s calf injury to beat the Houston Rockets 104-99 on Wednesday night for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Durant strained his right calf late in the third quarter. The two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP limped to the locker room after landing awkwardly following a baseline jumper. He finished with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.
James Harden scored 31 points for the Rockets, who will try to stave off elimination back home in Houston on Friday night.
Durant’s status for Game 6 is unclear. After he departed with the injury, the rest of Golden State’s array of stars helped the Warriors close it out.
Draymond Green received his fourth technical of the postseason with 3:39 left, and then knocked down a 3-pointer on the other end. Thompson followed Green’s 3 with one of his own to make it 97-89 with 2:33 remaining.
Stephen Curry struggled with his shot yet again and finished with 25 points on 9-for-23 shooting. He went 3 of 11 from long range.
Curry hit a 3 with 5:09 to play that made it 89-85. He didn’t even score his first points of the night until a 3 4:22 before halftime.
Golden State nearly gave it away with an awful third quarter, when the Warriors managed just 15 points and committed six turnovers. The game was tied at 72 going into the final 12 minutes.
Harden’s 3 with 3:07 left in the third trimmed Golden State’s lead to 66-62, and then Iman Shumpert made it a one-point game with a 3.
Eric Gordon’s layup with 40.6 seconds remaining gave the Rockets their first lead since the early minutes.
Green had eight points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in another spectacular effort on both ends. He supplied the energy for Golden State after two losses at Houston evened the series.
The Warriors led by as many as 20 but missed open looks and even layups, clanking shots off the front rim and allowing the tough-minded Rockets to stay close.
Then, they heeded Steve Kerr’s simple message: “Poise and awareness and poise and patience applies to all of life and not just offense,” the coach said beforehand.
The Warriors pulled it off without Durant, whose 35.4 playoff scoring average was best in the NBA coming into the game.
Harden shot 10 for 16 and dished out eight assists. The reigning MVP injured his eyes during the first quarter of Game 2 last Tuesday on a hit by Green as they fought for a rebound. Harden’s left eye was still red leading into Game 5.
The Warriors’ win guarantees their loyal fans in the East Bay at least one more home game at Oracle Arena before the team moves to new Chase Center in San Francisco for next season.
Golden State has won each of the three previous layoff meetings against the Rockets during the last five years: the 2015 Western Conference finals, the first round the following year, and last season’s West finals by rallying from a 3-2 deficit.