NBA playoffs

Giannis, Bucks push Nets to Game 7

Giannis, Bucks push Nets to Game 7

GRITTY. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo kicks it back out against Nets guard James Harden (right) in Game 6.

Michael McLoone/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks take full control against the Nets to force a decider for the Eastern Conference finals berth

Khris Middleton exploded for a postseason career-high 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo chipped in 30 to complement 17 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense wore down the Brooklyn Nets en route to a 104-89 victory that forces a Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The best-of-seven set will be decided Saturday night in Brooklyn, where the Nets have won all three previous meetings in the series.

In a duel of different preferred paces, the Bucks got their open-court game going late en route to a 26-4 advantage in fastbreak points against a Nets team still missing star point guard Kyrie Irving (ankle) on Thursday, June 17 (Friday, June 18, Manila time). 

Milwaukee never trailed, but Kevin Durant’s 32 points and another gutty performance by James Harden had the visitors within 82-77 after a Joe Harris three-pointer with 8:41 to go.

However, Middleton turned a foul on a three-point shot into three free throws on the next possession. 

Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday got into the open court for a layup before Antetokounmpo converted a PJ Tucker steal into two free throws and turned a Tucker block into a three-point play as part of a 14-0 flurry that broke the game open.

Middleton’s 38 points, which came on 11-for-16 shooting, 5-for-8 from three-point range and 11-for-12 at the foul line, were two more than his previous playoff high, set last year in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat.

On Thursday, Middleton also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals, giving him his third double-double of the series.

Antetokounmpo got to the line 10 times, making six, as the Bucks outscored the Nets, 23-8, on free throws.

Holiday added 21 points for the Bucks, who outrebounded the Nets, 51-39.

In an encore performance to his 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in the Nets’ Game 5 win, Durant grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds but just managed 3 assists.

Harden, who prompted Brooklyn’s slow pace because of a hamstring injury, followed up a 1-for-10 shooting performance in his return in Game 5 with 16 points, shooting 5-for-9 overall and 3-for-6 on three-point attempts. He also led the Nets with 7 assists and 4 steals.

Blake Griffin added 12 points for Brooklyn, which outscored the hosts 27-21 on three-pointers, outshooting Milwaukee 30% to 21.2% from beyond the arc. –