Bucks advance to NBA Finals against Suns

·2-min read

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 - and 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 117-107 away victory over the upstart Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night.

Milwaukee won the series 4-2, advancing to face the Phoenix Suns in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

"They have a focus and an edge," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his team. "That's put us in a position to keep playing. That's impressive, but we've still got more work to do."

En route to a 51-21 record in the West - five games better than Milwaukee's 46-26 in the East - the Suns swept a pair of thrillers from the Bucks in the regular season, winning 125-124 in at home in February and 128-127 in overtime at Milwaukee in April.

The Suns will get a six-day rest before Game 1 in Phoenix on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST), whereas the Bucks have less than 72 hours to travel and prepare.

"It's a quick turn, but we'll be ready," promised Budenholzer. "We've had long, extended pauses in between each round. I'm kind of excited to try it without one. Maybe we can be the team that's in rhythm."

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.

With Antetokounmpo looking on for the second straight game with a knee injury, the Bucks used spurts to open both halves and a combined 59 points from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday (29 points) to set up a second straight win.

"I know they were missing Giannis, but Milwaukee is a really good team," Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. "That team was on a mission. They've been on a mission the last couple of years."

The Bucks have rekindled memories of the franchise's early years when Milwaukee became the centre of the NBA world with a team led by two of the game's greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

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 Los Angeles Lakers, ending Milwaukee's run as an elite franchise.

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.

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