Exhaustion draped Giannis Antetokounmpo early in the game, at the end of the game and all points between.
With his two main teammates struggling offensively, Antetokounmpo helped drag the Milwaukee Bucks to a 115-111 Game 7 overtime victory against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday and into the Eastern Conference finals.
Antetokounmpo had 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and received some much-needed offensive help in the fourth quarter and overtime. Trailing 101-96 with four minutes left, the Bucks outscored the Nets 19-10 down the stretch and in overtime.
The Bucks went scoreless for the first 3:48 of overtime. But Brooklyn had made just one basket. Antetokounmpo’s short jumper tied the score at 111-111, and Khris Middleton gave the Bucks a 113-111 lead with 40.7 to go in OT.
Kevin Durant, who had another masterpiece offensively in regulation, missed a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left in OT that would have given Brooklyn a 114-113 lead. He was 0-for-6 in overtime after scoring a Game 7-record 48 points in the first four quarters.
Back-to-back baskets by Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday put Milwaukee up 104-103. Clutch free throws put Milwaukee ahead 109-107, and Durant’s long 2-pointer (his foot was on the 3-point lwith one second left in regulation forced overtime.
Milwaukee advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2019 but just the second time in the past 21 seasons. The Bucks will play the winner of Sunday’s Atlanta-Philadelphia Game 7 in the East finals starting Wednesday.
Milwaukee had to overcome another wonderful offensive performance from Durant, who also had nine rebounds and six assists, and for the second time in the series, he played the entire game.
Holiday and Middleton struggled offensively for much of the game. They were a combined 14-for-49 from the field, including 4-for-16 on 3-pointers. But they found just enough offense when Milwaukee needed it most in the fourth quarter.
Middleton had 11 points in the fourth, and Holiday had nine. Both made big 3-pointers and important free throws with the game in the balance. Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday were the only Bucks to score in the fourth quarter. Brook Lopez scored 19 points, and three of his four blocked shot came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Nets were hampered by injuries and still almost won. Kyrie Irving missed the final three games of the series with a sprained ankle, and James Harden missed all but 43 seconds of the first three games of the series with a sore hamstring.
Harden had 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Game 7. Every Nets starter scored in double figures and played at least 40 minutes. Harden also played all 53 minutes, and Bruce Brown played 52. The short Nets bench did not score a point.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bucks outlast Nets in Game 7 overtime thriller to reach East finals