Bucks get clutch buckets in OT, beat Nets in instant classic Game 7 despite Durant’s 49

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By the end, with just a couple of minutes left in overtime, these Eastern Conference heavyweight contenders looked like two heavyweight boxers in the 12th round of a title fight — exhausted, leaning on each other, slow to move but summoning every bit of energy they have to step back and throw a haymaker, trying to end it.

Kevin Durant thought he landed one at the end of regulation —a ridiculous two-pointer that forced overtime, but a shot he thought at first won the game.

In OT, Durant had nothing left in the tank, went 0-of-6, and airballed a late shot to try and force a second overtime. He was completely spent, and it’s hard to blame him: 48 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and carrying the offensive load for a Brooklyn team where one of the other big three was hobbling around the court at half speed, and the other was in street clothes on the bench.

On the other end, Giannis Antetokounmpo had the energy for an overtime bucket, but it was Khris Middleton — who had been ice cold much of the night — who had the energy for the game-winner that put Milwaukee ahead for good.

In the end, the Bucks had just enough left to defeat the Nets 115-111 in overtime of an instant classic. Milwaukee advances to the Eastern Conference Finals, which will begin Wednesday against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Brooklyn will head into an offseason where they work to get healthy, look for more depth to put around their three stars, and prepare for a campaign where they will have a target on their backs as the likely title favorites.

But the Nets are not getting a ring this year.

What made this game a classic was the biggest stars stepped up. Durant had 48, but Giannis Antetokounmpo had 40 points on 15-of-24 shooting, he attacked the paint, and he got 13 rebounds.

There were only two other Game 7s where two players scored 38+ points: Sam Jones and Oscar Robertson in 1963, and LeBron James and Paul Pierce in 2008 (stat via Tim Reynolds of the AP). Now Durant and Antetokounmpo join the club.

Like most Game 7s, this was not always a thing of beauty — the pressure of the moment weighs on guys and shots tend to fall short.

That was true of this game as well. Jrue Holiday was 2-of-16 shooting with four points through three quarters. But the fourth quarter showed why the Bucks gave up so much to get the man this offseason: 3-of-5 shooting overall, 2-of-3 from 3, nine points, plus some key defensive stops.

James Harden did what he could for the Nets, drawing fouls (10-of-10 from the stripe) on his way to 22 points, but he was 2-of-12 from three. Blake Griffin added 17 points, and Bruce Brown brought energy and made key plays, shooting 7-of-9 to get 14 points.

In the end, it just wasn’t enough, and the Milwaukee Bucks feel like they got a win that got them over the hump… even if there is another hump in front of them starting Wednesday.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.