We could soon know who will be fighting it out for the NBA title, with both Conference Finals in danger of being decided emphatically.

The Phoenix Suns have surged into a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, while title favourites the Milwaukee Bucks have recovered from a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to lead 2-1.

The coming week will decide who will face off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and, in this edition of Heat Check, Stats Perform looks at which players are on form heading into the decisive matchups, as well as those who need to step up.


RUNNING HOT

Reggie Jackson - Los Angeles Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard showing no sign of making a return from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past six games, the Clippers need players to improve if they are to save their season.

Los Angeles face an elimination game on Monday in the Western Conference Finals, but they can take heart from what Jackson has done in Leonard's absence.

Jackson has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games, including a 27-point performance in the Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz.

He averaged 20.67 points per game last week, exactly 10 points more than he did in the regular season. The Clippers must have another big effort from him in Game 5.

Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns

Ayton enjoyed one of the defining moments of these playoffs with his game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. He is blossoming into the star center the Suns thought they were getting when Phoenix selected him first overall in 2018.

His dramatic final basket in the second game capped a superb performance in which he produced 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Not content with just one double-double, Ayton produced another in Game 4, putting up 19 points and tallying 22 rebounds.

Over the course of the three matchups last week, Ayton recorded 20.33 points and 15 rebounds per game, both significant increases on his averages of 14.15 points and 10.54 rebounds in the regular season. No wonder Ayton has received such effusive praise from team-mate Chris Paul.

Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks' hopes of upsetting the odds once more against the Bucks hang in the balance with star point guard Trae Young having been diagnosed with a bone bruise, making him questionable for Game 4.

If he is ruled out, it will be a great shame as Young has played phenomenally in the playoffs, including making a superb start to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He began the series last week by scoring an astonishing 48 points as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young was held to 15 in Game 2 but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

GOING COLD...

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Atlanta Hawks

Young's presence is even more important given one of Atlanta's secondary scoring threats is having to fight through a knee injury.

Bogdanovic has continued to battle knee soreness and the impact on his play has been obvious.

He averaged over 16 points a game in the regular season, but has put up only 6.67 so far in this series.

The Hawks may need him to produce more amid the pain to improve their odds of stunning the Bucks.

Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks also haven't quite got the desired production they desire from center Capela.

That may be a slightly unfair statement given that Capela has tallied double-digit rebounds in two of the three games in the series, including a double-double in the Hawks' opening win.

Yet in terms of putting up points, his output has disappointed in comparison with his regular-season numbers. Tallies of 12, two and eight give him a per-game average of 7.33 that is in stark contrast to the 15.17 he delivered in helping the Hawks clinch the fifth seed in the East.

In a series with a Bucks team whose leading lights are firing on all cylinders, that isn't going to cut it.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers competing in a place in their first Finals without Leonard, it is a bad time for George to go cold from deep.

Having made 3.17 threes per game in the regular season, George was off the mark from beyond the arc in three games against the Suns last week.

He made an average of 1.67 threes per game, hitting on one triple in two contests, including the Game 4 loss that has put the Clippers on the brink of elimination.

George simply must rediscover his aim to keep their season alive.

Trae Young hopes to be fit for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals after the Atlanta Hawks star suffered a freak injury in a 113-102 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

The point guard sprained his right ankle late in the third quarter when he stepped on referee Sean Wright's foot in Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

Young hobbled off and was taken to the locker room to get his injury assessed, but was able to return to the court early in the fourth quarter.

The 22-year-old's movement was restricted when he was returned and he will undergo a scan on Monday after doing damage in a game he finished with 35 points - a tally only bettered by Khris Middleton.

Young said following the defeat: "It's sore right now. It's hurting, it's frustrating. It's hurting a little bit and it's sore.

"I got some treatment on it. I'm going to go get some more in the morning. That's all I can do right now, is to get treatment."

Young said he had not spotted official Wright, who was out of bounds when he stepped on him.

"I didn't see him. I guess I’ve got to have eyes in the back of my head now to see who's behind me," he added.

 

Hawks coach Nate McMillan withdrew Young with a minute to go and is unsure if he will be able to call upon such a key man in Game 4 on Tuesday.

"I don't know right now," McMillan said when asked if Young will be fit. "When he returned to the floor, he was obviously limping on that [ankle]. When I subbed for him, we just decided to keep him out."

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds and Middleton put up a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds for the third-seeded Bucks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he witnessed "greatness" after Khris Middleton led the Milwaukee Bucks past the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

While Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds, Middleton fuelled the Bucks with a monster fourth quarter in Sunday's 113-102 NBA playoff victory away to the Hawks.

Middleton scored 20 of his career high-tying 38 points in the final period, singlehandedly outscoring the Hawks (17), to help give the third-seeded Bucks a 2-1 series lead.

After Middleton's big display, which also included 11 rebounds, seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it was the second time ever a Bucks player had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

Bucks superstar and two-time MVP Antetokounmpo hailed Middleton post-game.

"What he did today was unreal," Antetokounmpo said. "He was unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. ... What I saw today was greatness. Simple as that."

"He turned the ball over like two times and after that he was locked in. Like, 'Pass me the ball,' and we gave him the ball. ... We know when to set screens for him, we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment.

"We were like, 'Get the hell out of the way, get him the ball, take us home Khris.' And that's what he did."

Of two-time All-Star Middleton, Antetokounmpo added: "The day you retire is going to be the toughest day of my career.

"He's special for a reason and he showed it tonight."

Middleton said: "I just finally got them to go. I've been struggling some with the ball going in the basket. Finally they started dropping for me at the right time. I'm thankful for that."

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer also lauded Middleton as attention turns to Tuesday's Game 4 in Atlanta.

"Just being around him a lot, he starts to see it go in, he starts to feel good, he gets in a rhythm, he can score different ways.

"He and Giannis in a two-man game, it's a tough choice. So huge fourth quarter. I think he had 20 in the fourth quarter and yeah, just glad he's on our side."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way with dominant double-doubles as the Milwaukee Bucks overpowered the Atlanta Hawks 113-102 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 11 rebounds and Middleton put up a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds to lead the third-seeded Bucks to a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs on Sunday.

The Hawks led 85-83 at the end of the third quarter before Middleton took matters into his own hands in the final period.

Middleton outscored the entire Hawks team in the fourth quarter – 20-17 – as the Bucks used a 30-17 period to seize control of the matchup.

After Middleton's big display, which also included seven assists and six three-pointers on 15-for-26 shooting, it is the second time ever a Bucks player has had a 30/10/5/5-three playoff game. The first was also Middleton.

As for two-time MVP Antetokounmpo, he joined Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with 10-plus 30/10 games in a single postseason since 1963.

Trae Young huffed and puffed with 35 points and four assists, but the fifth-seeded Hawks lost to the Bucks on home court in Atlanta.

Hawks star Young entered the contest with 61 assists across five home games in the 2021 playoffs (12.2 per game). The last player to have 60-plus assists in their first five career home postseason games was Chris Paul in 2008 (67).

 

Clippers at Suns

The Phoenix Suns can clinch a spot in the NBA Finals with victory at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Monday.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dismissed suggestions he should get on with it from the free-throw line after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a series-levelling win over the Atlanta Hawks.

The Eastern Conference Finals could sway on how Giannis performs over the coming games, with the teams now poised at 1-1 following the Bucks' storming 125-91 win on their home court.

The Hawks are reportedly annoyed at NBA officials ignoring Antetokounmpo repeatedly taking longer than the allotted 10 seconds at the line.

It was reported by The Athletic that Antetokounmpo took between 11.5 seconds and 13.3 seconds for each of his eight free-throw attempts in Game 1 against the Hawks.

"Usually I take eight to nine seconds. So it was borderline 10 seconds," Antetokounmpo responded on Friday night.

"When my coaching staff tells me to speed it up I know I'm maybe around 10 and sometimes the referee will talk to me and say, 'You've got to speed it up'.

"Then I make an effort to take it a second or two seconds faster. But my mindset going into this game was to do my routine, get as many dribbles as I can, get my breath and just shoot my shot."

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks made light work of the fifth-seeded Hawks.

 

Antetokounmpo said the key for the Bucks after their 116-113 setback in Game 1 was to take a measured approach into the second clash in the series.

"I was calm, it wasn't the end of the world – if we had lost today I would have been a little bit more nervous," he said.

"I trust my team-mates, trust our habits. I think everybody's on the same page and know what we have to do. We knew we had to come in here and get this game and that's what we did.

"There's got to be some urgency, but you still have to enjoy the fact that we're here. We worked extremely hard to be one of the last four teams standing.

"We're going to try to play good basketball. The way I think about it is I'm going to be doing this for a long time so I've got to enjoy each game."

He relished the home support but added: "Also, there's an enjoyment factor when you're on the road and everyone's booing you and counting... '1, 2, 3, 4...'.

"What I do is enjoy each moment. You never know when it's going to be taken away from you, you can never take it for granted."

Ahead of Sunday's Game 3, Antetokounmpo said the Bucks would keep learning from each performance.

"We've got to focus on ourselves and how can we get better and put ourselves into position to win a game. We've got to keep getting better, each game at a time," he said.

"From Game 1 to Game 2 we've been better, we're happy about that, and hopefully from Game 2 to Game 3 we can get better."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee Bucks trounced the Atlanta Hawks 125-91 to square the Eastern Conference Finals series at 1-1.

After dropping the series opener, the third-seeded Bucks responded by routing the visiting Hawks in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo posted 25 points in just 29 minutes and Jrue Holiday added 22 points of his own as the Bucks eased past the fifth-seeded Hawks in Milwaukee.

The Bucks – ahead 103-63 at the end of three quarters – never trailed against the Hawks, leading by at least 30 points through the second half as both teams rested their starters for the entire fourth period.

In Game 1, Antetokounmpo and Holiday became the first pair of team-mates to each attempt 25-plus field goals and make at least half of them in a playoff game since Kyrie Irving (16-for-29) and LeBron James (15-for-27) did it for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.

While they did not reach those numbers in the second showdown, Antetokounmpo (11-for-18 shooting) and Holiday (nine-for-14 shooting) were heavily involved again as the Bucks bounced back on home court.

Brook Lopez (16 points) and Khris Middleton (15 points) were the only other players to finish in double digits for the Bucks, who blew out the Hawks 43-17 in the second period.

Hawks star Trae Young came into the clash on the back of a 48-point, 11-assist performance in Game 1 but he was unable to replicate those numbers.

Young finished six-for-16 shooting for a team-high 15 points as starters John Collins (11 points), Clint Capela (two points and eight rebounds), Bogdan Bogdanovic (eight points) and Kevin Huerter (eight points) struggled.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers, still missing Kawhi Leonard (knee) can level the Western Conference Final at 2-2 when they host the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 on Saturday.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young believes there is no ceiling for the fifth seeds, who continued their fairytale run after upstaging the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Young fuelled Wednesday's 116-113 win away to the Bucks in Milwaukee, dominating with a game-high 48 points along with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the Hawks drew first blood.

Atlanta's run has been improbable, having sacked their head coach Lloyd Pierce in March at 14-20, before storming into the NBA playoffs under interim Nate McMillan.

The Hawks have eliminated the fourth-ranked New York Knicks and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers en route to their first Conference Final since 2015.

Young shook his head emphatically and responded with a clear "no" when asked if there was any ceiling on this Hawks side.

"I've been getting asked that a lot at the beginning of the season and I told everybody then, 'I didn't believe we had any ceiling, we can go as far as we want to'," Young told the news conference.

"I don't think there is a ceiling unless you put the finals on it. I believe in this team and we all believe in each other.

"It's definitely unique. It's one of my favourite teams I've been a part of it. It's special. It's definitely a unique group."

The Hawks have won Game 1 in all their postseason series and Young insisted there was a high level of belief within the Atlanta group which came from McMillan and the leaders.

"It really just comes from the leaders," he said. "The leaders from Nate down just believe.

"We have a group that believes in each other and is fighting for each other. Anything can happen. Our team believes that."

Young tied LeBron James (2007) and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (2001) for the most points scored in a playoff game in NBA history before turning 23 years old.

The 2020 All-Star (22 years and 277 days) is also the second youngest player in league history to record 45-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game, with Luka Doncic (22 years and 98 days) the youngest to do so.

Young's 48 points are also the third most scored in a playoff game in Hawks history, behind only Bob Pettit (50 in 1958) and Dominique Wilkins (50 in 1986).

"I'm all for the biggest moments," Young said afterwards.

The Atlanta Hawks and their fairytale season continued after Trae Young's monster performance inspired a 116-113 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Seeded fifth in the NBA playoffs in the east, the Hawks – who sacked head coach Lloyd Pierce in March following a 14-20 start to the season – upstaged top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday to reach the Conference Final for the first time since 2015.

The Hawks – amid the second-longest active drought without reaching the NBA Finals (59 straight seasons entering this year) – produced another shock result to tame Giannis Antetokounmpo and the third-seeded Bucks in Wednesday's series opener.

Young put on a show, erupting for a game-high 48 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to lead the high-flying Hawks in Milwaukee midweek.

Entering the contest, All-Star Young had been averaging 29.1 points and 10.4 assists per game in the playoffs. No player in NBA history has finished a single postseason averaging 28.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists (minimum 10 games played), according to Stats Perform.

John Collins (23 points and 15 rebounds) and Clint Capela (12 points and 19 rebounds) also contributed double-doubles as the Hawks used a 34-26 third quarter to pull clear of the Bucks away from home.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo and star team-mate Jrue Holiday flexed their muscles for the Bucks, but it was not enough against the Hawks.

Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, while All-Star Holiday finished with 33 points and 10 assists.

Khris Middleton had at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in each of his last two games. The last four players to do that in back-to-back games prior to Middleton (regular season or postseason) were Ron Harper (1994), Scottie Pippen (1991), Clyde Drexler (1989) and Charles Barkley (1986).

However, Middleton was just six-for-23 shooting for 15 points, five rebounds and four assists at home to the Hawks.

 

Suns at Clippers

The Western Conference Finals heads to Staples Center as the reeling Los Angeles Clippers host the red-hot Phoenix Suns, who lead 2-0.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are the last two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference - but who will be going through to the NBA Finals?

While the Bucks survived a deluge of points from Kevin Durant to see off the Brooklyn Nets in a thrilling Game 7, the Hawks caused another upset as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in a tense series decider.

There is little time for either to dwell on the past, however, as they meet in Game 1 on Wednesday at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Bucks have dominated against Atlanta, going 11-2, though a six-game winning streak came to an end on April 25 as they lost 111-104 at home in the regular season.

The Hawks have already knocked out higher seeds in both the New York Knicks and the 76ers, seeing them become just the fifth franchise since 1980 to reach the Conference Finals following a mid-season coaching change. The other four all went on to win the title, too.

Nate McMillan stepped up from his role as assistant to replace Lloyd Pierce following a 14-20 start to the season. He is now just four wins away from steering them to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise moved from St Louis in 1968.

Standing in the way are a Milwaukee roster who have made it this far for a second time in three years – they went 2-0 up on the Toronto Raptors in 2019, only to then lose four on the spin to the eventual champions.

While seeing off the Nets was impressive, Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear in the immediate aftermath that the focus must remain on the bigger picture, saying: "The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we've got to keep our heads in the game."

The Bucks start the series as overwhelming favourites, but the Hawks have shown they have no issues playing the role of dangerous underdogs during a postseason that has already thrown up plenty of surprises.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton 

Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in NBA history to reach 40 points and have 10 or more rebounds in a Game 7, but it was by no means a one-man show in the battle against Brooklyn.

Middleton is averaging 23.3 points per game during the playoffs, a number boosted by scoring 38 in Game 6 against Brooklyn to help get Milwaukee back on level terms. He is also set to be part of the Team USA roster for this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, alongside fellow Buck Jrue Holiday.

Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Huerter

Trae Young is undoubtedly the lead act for Atlanta, but Huerter stole the show in Game 7 in Philadelphia. 'Red Velvet' smoothly managed a team-high 27 points – his best performance in the postseason so far – as he went 10 for 18 shooting.

He had been shut out in Game 5 yet rediscovered his scoring touch when it mattered to help the Hawks progress, raising his postseason average to 11.6 points per outing.

KEY BATTLE – Young v Holiday in PG match-up

Both Young and Holiday had Game 7 outings to forget, despite their respective teams coming out on top. The former finished with 21 points but landed just five of his 23 shot attempts from the field, with two of those successful efforts coming from long range.

Still, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft is averaging 29.1 points per game in these playoffs, making him the focus for the Bucks on defense. Holiday could well be charged with keeping quiet one of the frontrunners to be crowned the MVP of the playoffs.

HEAD TO HEAD

There is nothing to split the teams in terms of playoff meetings – they have each won 11 apiece. The most recent series came in the first round in 2010, with the Hawks coming out on top in Game 7 having at one stage been 3-2 in arrears.

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo made clear there is still work to do for the Milwaukee Bucks after they survived a Kevin Durant onslaught to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks came out on top 115-111 in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets, albeit only after a dramatic finish in the fourth quarter that saw them escape by a matter of inches.

Durant hit a stunning turnaround jumper with one second remaining to tie the scores at 109-109, with Milwaukee relieved to see he had a foot on the three-point line as they narrowly avoided falling behind.

"Big, big shot," Antetokounmpo told the media about Durant's play that forced overtime. "That's KD – he makes shots like that."

However, the Nets were held to just two points in the extra period as the Bucks came through on the road, setting up a showdown with either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Atlanta Hawks – who meet in a Game 7 on Sunday – for a place in the NBA Finals.

Defeat was tough on Durant, who finished with 48 points – the most by any player in a Game 7 in NBA history – as he was on court for all 53 minutes. He went 0-for-6 in overtime, though, as the ailing Nets, minus the injured Kyrie Irving and with James Harden not at full fitness due to a hamstring issue, saw their season come to an end.

For the Bucks, however, the focus will have to quickly switch to their next assignment.

"We really wanted this as a team," said Antetokounmpo, who had 40 points and 13 rebounds.

"There were a lot of ups and downs during the series – there were a lot of ups and downs in just this game. We could have finished the game before overtime but weren't able to. We kept our composure."

He added: "At the end of the day, though, the job is not done. The job is not done. That's the message here and in the locker room, we’ve got to keep our heads in the game.

"We can't get too high, we can't get too low. It's a great step for our organisation and a great step for us, so we have got to enjoy this moment and then look at our next opponent.

"We've got to put this in the past and focus on the moment, focus on our next opponent."

Durant's performance drew praise from Stephen Curry, who simply tweeted at his former Golden State Warriors team-mate after the fourth-quarter shot: "That is insane."

Even P.J. Tucker – the player who attempted to cover Durant on the play – was suitably impressed.

"When I cut him off, I thought he would one-foot it, or step back. When he spun, he threw me off. That shot was incredible," Tucker said. "People don't really appreciate the level of difficulty with that shot, it was incredible.

"I laughed, I just laughed when he made it. I appreciated it, as a fan of the game, when someone makes that shot."

Durant was one of just 11 different players to score, the fewest in any regular season or postseason game since the merger.

Kevin Durant turned in the most productive Game 7 performance in NBA playoffs history, but it was not enough to get the Brooklyn Nets through against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Brooklyn's 115-111 overtime loss in the Eastern Conference semi-finals decider saw the exhausted Nets give everything they had before the visitors prevailed in the end. 

Durant scored a Game 7-record 48 points but could not do it all as a Brooklyn team missing the injured Kyrie Irving did not have enough weapons in the end. 

 "We've got to give credit to the Milwaukee Bucks," Durant told reporters. "They're a great, great team who've got a good chance to win a championship.

"The story should be about them and how well they played this series -- how well they played all year."

Though Milwaukee ultimately prevailed, few have performed better than Durant on the big stage. 

With little in the way of a supporting cast, he played all 53 minutes in defeat after carrying the hobbled Nets through the series as Irving missed the decider and James Harden played the entire game though he has not been fully healthy for some time. 

"I can't even speak about how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor and how much we missed James to start the series," Durant said.

"I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two and how much they care about us and how much they put their bodies on the line to help us out as a team.

"Kyrie had a gruesome ankle injury and he was thinking about when can he play next -- that shows that he cares about us so much.

"James, playing on one leg, came out there and gave it his all. ... There's nothing but respect and love for those two guys; we missed them out there. But we still had a chance to win."

The second-seeded Nets ultimately came up short, as head coach Steve Nash ran out of options to help ease the load on Durant. 

"We didn't have a lot of buttons to push at the end in this series," Nash said. "But we had a chance to win, so that's all you can ask for."

Now the Nets are left to look forward rather than back, as they can only hope they will be at full strength this time next year. 

"We want to win every game we play, we want to win a championship, just like every team," said Durant. 

"So the last game of the season, you lose ... but the beauty of our profession is, we get up and keep going.

"Everybody on this team works extremely hard, they care about the game, so we get ready for next year."

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a record-breaking performance from Kevin Durant to defeat the Brooklyn Nets 115-111 in overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Antetokounmpo scored 40 points and Khris Middleton had 23, including what proved to be the game-winning shot, as the Bucks won a Game 7 for the first time in 20 years, stunning the Nets in Brooklyn. 

Durant finished with 48 points, the most ever scored in a Game 7, and for much of the game appeared ready to will the Nets through to the next round on his own. 

Brooklyn was playing without the injured Kyrie Irving and leaned on Durant to carry the load as he had throughout the series. He played 53 minutes, making 17 of 36 shots from the field and 10 of 11 from the line, but he did not get enough help in the end. 

James Harden was just five of 17 from the field, including two of 12 on three-point attempts, but every time the Nets needed a shot down the stretch they went to Durant. 

That worked for a while, most notably at the end of regulation when he hit a turnaround jumper with his foot on the three-point line to tie the game at 109-109 and force overtime. 

But the Bucks clamped down on Durant and everyone else in the extra session after Bruce Brown hit a jumper early in the period to put Brooklyn up by two.

The Nets would not score again the rest of the way, as Antetokounmpo tied the game with a shot over Durant with 1:12 to go before Middleton hit a jumper from the middle of the lane with 40.7 seconds remaining to take the lead and Brook Lopez added a pair of free throws with 0.3 seconds left for the final margin. 

Entering the game, home teams were 109-31 in Game 7s in NBA history, but Milwaukee bucked that trend to advance. 

They will await the winner of Sunday's Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Final.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers host the upset-minded Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, with Atlanta looking for their fifth road win of the playoffs so far. Earlier Sunday, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns open their Western Conference Final series. 

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will not face the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, head coach Steve Nash confirmed.

Irving has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle in the Nets' Game 4 loss, missing Game 5 and 6 in the NBA playoffs.

With the second-round series set to be decided in Brooklyn on Saturday, the second-seeded Nets will be without Irving.

"Kai is still getting treatment ... he's got some miles to make up, but progressing and sticking to his rehab," Nash said. "He is officially out."

Kevin Durant has been carrying the load for the Nets, with fellow MVP winner James Harden far from his best since returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5.

"If we're able to advance, I think he'll [Irving] be back at some point," Nash said. "So I don't know if that's in a few days, in a week or beyond, but it's not a season-threatening situation."

Irving has been averaging 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 2020-21, while boasting career highs in field-goal percentage (50.6) and free-throw percentage (92.2).

In this season's playoffs, Irving is averaging 22.7 points, a career-best 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Nets, who are eyeing their first NBA championship.

Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he was playing to his strengths in repeatedly attacking the rim in Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, ending without a three-point attempt.

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar came up with 30 points and 17 rebounds on Thursday to help keep his team alive in the postseason, levelling the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3.

While Khris Middleton led the Bucks in scoring with 38 points, Antetokounmpo was crucially more efficient than earlier in the playoffs.

In the 2020-21 postseason, the 'Greek Freak' is a 52.3 per cent shooter from the field, but that breaks down to 70.2 per cent at the rim, 39.3 per cent from midrange and a measly 17.1 per cent from three.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 4.1 attempts per game from beyond the arc – up on 3.2 in the regular season, which was an increase on a career average of 2.2.

Against Brooklyn, though, Antetokounmpo did not shoot once from deep.

It was only the fourth time this season the two-time MVP had zero three-point attempts, one of which came as he sprained his ankle at Houston after 46 seconds in April.

Meanwhile, Game 6 was the eighth occasion across Antetokounmpo's NBA career he had 20 field goal attempts and none from three – the first since 2018 and first in the playoffs since his home postseason debut in 2015.

"That was just how it went," he said. "I didn't shoot a three tonight, but I'm just trying to be aggressive. Get downhill, make the right play.

 

"I think there was maybe one or two plays I was open at the three-point line and maybe could have shot it.

"But what I know is that I enjoy the game when I'm aggressive and I can get downhill and I can get my team-mates involved, and when I play to my strengths.

"That's when I enjoy the game the most, and that's what I try to do."

Coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Giannis coming into the game was in a good place.

"Just get him where he's attacking and creating for his team-mates, creating for himself. He came in today in a good place, and we've got to stay there going into Game 7."

Game 7 is back on the road, with all six games to this point having been won by the home team.

Antetokounmpo, who has only once been beyond this round and never past the Eastern Conference Finals, said: "We knew what kind of game this was.

"There was only one option: win the game. We knew if we didn't win the game, our season would be over, and we've talked about it multiple times in the locker room among the guys that it's not going to be easy.

"As I've said all year long, we're built for this moment. Simple as that. No one said it was going to be easy. It might be hard. But we are capable of doing it.

"So, everybody had a great mindset, came to play, came to compete, and hopefully we can do that in Game 7."

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