Next up: The Eastern Conference finals.
Leading nearly from start to finish and comfortably ahead the entire fourth quarter, the Milwaukee Bucks dismantled the Boston Celtics, 116-91, Wednesday night, convincingly clinching their Eastern Conference semifinals series, 4-1.
After losing Game 1, 112-90, on their home court, the Bucks completely dominated the series in winning the next four.
“The next four games we came out with a different approach a different mindset, a killer mindset,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said on TNT immediately after the game.
Did they ever.
Now the Bucks await the winner of the series between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. Toronto leads that series, 3-2.
Say what you want about individual performances, the clinching victory belonged to the team defense.
Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. His services were not required for the final 8:23. Six other players also reached double figures, led by Khris Middleton (19) and Eric Bledsoe (18). Malcolm Brogdon played for the first time in just under two months and scored 10 points.
But, again, defense won this game.
Swarming non-stop, the Bucks held Boston to just 31.2% shooting (29 for 93).
Eight steals and seven blocked shots by the Bucks added to Boston’s misery.
The defense helped create a 12-2 flurry late in the second quarter, giving the Bucks a 52-36 lead, and they took a 52-39 lead into intermission. A 9-2 run to close the third quarter made it 80-62 entering the fourth, and the lead reached 27 points in the final quarter.
In effect, the Bucks whipped the Celtics into submission.
The return of Brogdon and some extra days off should only make the Bucks better.
Boston’s starting five went 16 for 44 (27.3%) in Game 5. Kyrie Irving lead Boston with just 15 points, going 6 for 21. Al Horford, a major factor in Boston’s Game 1 victory, never had a similar effect again. he went 4 for 13 Wednesday for just nine points.
Marcus Morris went to the Boston bench in a lineup change designed to give Celtics reserves a boost. He scored 14, and Boston’s reserves did tally a series-best 41 points. They still lost the battle and the war, as Bucks reserves tallied 49.
George Hill lead the bench brigade with 16 points. Ersan Ilyasova matched Brogdon’s 10 points.
The series victory gave the Bucks a sweet redemption after last season’s seven-game loss to the Celtics in the first round. But the Bucks aren’t looking back.
They advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001 and just the second time since 1986. In 2001, the Bucks lost a seven-game series to Philadelphia. In 1986 they were swept by Boston.
Boston heads into an off-season with the possibility Irving has played his final game in Boston green. He has a player option for next season and could opt out for free agency.