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Bucks defeat Hawks in Game 6, advance to first NBA Finals since 1974

Bucks players hoist the Eastern Conference title trophy after defeating the Hawks in Game 6 on July 3, 2021, in Atlanta.
Milwaukee Bucks players hoist the Eastern Conference title trophy after beating the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 on Saturday night in Atlanta. Milwaukee will face Phoenix in the NBA Finals.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.

They didn’t even need two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to lock up their spot.

Khris Middleton scored 32 points, including a run of 16 straight points in a decisive third quarter that carried the Bucks to a 118-107 victory over the upstart Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night.

Milwaukee won the series 4-2, advancing to face the Suns in the NBA Finals. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Trae Young returned to the Hawks’ lineup after missing two games with a bone bruise in his right foot, but the young star never got anything going. After both teams struggled to find the range in the first half, the Bucks suddenly couldn’t miss in the third quarter.

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Highlights from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 118-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday.

Especially Middleton.

Atlanta actually had a chance for its first lead of the game when Young’s behind-the-back pass gave Kevin Huerter an open look from three-point range.

The shot rimmed out, and Middleton quickly ripped off the next 13 points to suddenly push the Milwaukee lead to 60-45.

The Bucks' Khris Middleton is fouled as he drives against the Hawks on July 3, 2021.
The Bucks’ Khris Middleton, who scored 23 of his 32 points in the third quarter, is fouled as he drives against the Hawks in Game 6.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Young broke up the one-man onslaught with a driving basket, but Middleton responded with a three-pointer that gave him 16 straight points.

Middleton finished the quarter with 23 points, nearly outscoring the Hawks all by himself. Atlanta had 29 points in the period as Milwaukee headed to the final quarter with a commanding 91-72 lead.

“My teammates and my coaches, they told me to keep being aggressive,“ Middleton said. “I love it. Each one of these guys, they work every single day. Everybody stays ready. Everybody stays locked in. We all play for each other. And that’s all you can ask for.”

Jrue Holiday added 27 points for the Bucks, and four other Milwaukee players scored in double figures.

Cam Reddish, who missed much of the season with an Achilles injury, came off the bench to spark the Hawks. He scored 21 points — making six of seven seven-pointers — as Atlanta sliced a 22-point deficit to six in the closing minutes.

But the Bucks finished it off, rekindling memories of the franchise’s early years when Milwaukee quickly became the center of the NBA world with a team led by two of the game’s greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

The Hawks' Trae Young is defended by the Bucks' Khris Middleton, left, and Jrue Holiday on July 3, 2021.
The Hawks’ Trae Young is guarded by the Bucks’ Khris Middleton, left, and Jrue Holiday. Young was held to 14 points.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

In Milwaukee’s third season in the league, the duo led the team to its only NBA title in 1971. The Bucks returned to finals three years later, only to lose to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

Robertson retired after that season and Abdul-Jabbar was dealt a year later to the Lakers, ending Milwaukee’s run as an elite franchise.

Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George grew as teammates and leaders under coach Tyronn Lue, which could bode well in keeping the pair together.

Now the Bucks are back in the Finals with a whole new group of stars. As they proved in the last two games against the Hawks, they’re certainly more than the Greek Freak.

With Antetokounmpo sidelined for the last two games of the series because of a hyperextended left knee, the Bucks turned to his supporting cast to finish off Atlanta. Brook Lopez had 33 points in Game 5, and three other starters scored at least 22.

Antetokounmpo cheered on his teammates from the bench Saturday.

“One of the biggest things we did the last two games was play for him,” said the Bucks’ Pat Connaughton, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. “We do have a true team.”

The Bucks' Jrue Holiday passes while being defended by the Hawks' Trae Young in Game 6 on July 3, 2021.
The Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, who scored 27 points, passes while being defended by the Hawks’ Trae Young in Game 6.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Middleton and Holiday carried the load in the deciding game.

“These guys have put the work in all year. They deserve to go to the Finals,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, who previously coached Atlanta. “We’ve got more work to do.”

Despite a disappointing finish, the Hawks stamped themselves as a future force with a young group that knocked off the New York Knicks and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers to surprisingly advance to the conference finals.

Mired at 14-20 when it fired coach Lloyd Pierce shortly before the All-Star break, Atlanta went on a run under interim coach Nate McMillan that carried the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Hawks didn’t stop there, advancing to the conference finals for only the second time with Young leading the way.

“The message was: ‘No regrets. We don’t want any regrets. ... Empty the tank.’ And they did,” McMillan said.

After missing Games 4 and 5 with a bone bruise in his right foot, Young was cleared to play shortly before the game. The crowd went wild when he was the introduced as the final member of the starting five.

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley will serve a one-game suspension next season for shoving Suns guard Chris Paul in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

“He’s baaaaack!” the public-address announcer screamed.

But clearly he wasn’t all the way back.

After a nearly week-long layoff, Young seemed tentative and all out of sorts. Sure, he flashed a bit of his old form on a couple of bursts to the basket, but five points in the first half was not at all what the Hawks had come to expect from their breakout star.

Young finished with just 14 points on four-for-17 shooting.

“We all understand this is just beginning,” Young said. “It was fun to have this city excited. We want to keep it like that.“


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