For the Boston Celtics, a disappointing season is finally over. For the Milwaukee Bucks, the real challenge might just be getting started.
The Bucks ended their second-round series against the Celtics with a blowout 116-91 win in Game 5 on Wednesday, advancing 4-1 to the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals since 2001.
Meeting the Bucks in the conference finals will either be the Toronto Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers. Toronto currently leads the series 3-2, but either team will likely represent a bigger challenge for the Bucks than what the Celtics mustered.
Giannis Antetokounmpo again led the way with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists, finishing the game with a plus-33 rating in 31 minutes played. He basically signaled the game, and series, was over when he unleashed this violence.
The whole night, in which the Bucks spent the entire second-half up by last nine, was a far cry from the beginning of the series.
Bucks bounce back from Game 1 loss
Just last week, the Celtics were putting the finishing touches on a surprise Game 1 win that had many in the basketball world questioning if the Bucks were a real contender or just a regular season phenomenon. Former Celtics star Paul Pierce went as far as pronouncing the series as over.
"I think it's over."
– Paul Pierce following the Bucks’ 22-point loss to the Celtics in Game 1 pic.twitter.com/XzsRzjQnW6
— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2019
The Bucks responded by winning the next four games by an average of 15.75 points, including twice on the road. The NBA’s leader in defensive rating broke down the Celtics’ offense while Antetokounmpo ran wild.
Kyrie takes his ball and goes home
If that really was Kyrie Irving’s final game with the Celtics — and Vegas seems to think it is — he ended it on the roughest of terms.
The Celtics star posted just 15 points with only one assist and three turnovers. After driving the Celtics to a win with an excellent Game 1 performance, Irving posted the following shooting lines: 4-of-18, 8-of-22, 7-of-22 and 6-of-21.
Irving will now head into the offseason likely to hit free agency, and an exit from the Celtics looks likely given how this season has gone. At the very least, a return will likely require a tough conversation about what has gone so wrong for a team many expected to win the East this year.
Irving praised the Bucks after the game, and didn’t do much to tamp down free agency speculation.
"For me, it's just moving onto the next thing." - Kyrie Irving 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZEWcWNZ2zH
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 9, 2019
Also possibly headed out of Boston are free agent Marcus Morris and Al Horford, who can decline a player option this offseason. Between those two and Irving, you have the team’s top 2 leaders in rebounding and assists as well three of the team’s top 5 scorers.
Malcolm Brogdon strong in return
Closing out a series by 25 is a good feeling, but what made the night even better for Milwaukee was the solid return of guard Malcolm Brogdon from a foot injury.
Coming off the bench and on a minutes restriction, Brogdon posted 10 points, four assists and no turnovers with a plus-14 rating in 17 minutes.
Brogdon’s minutes figure to ramp up from here, and his addition gives the Bucks yet another threat behind Antetokoumpo. As the Bucks prepare for the Raptors or Sixers, they may only be getting better.
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