The two top teams in the Eastern Conference meet in series-ending Game 7 when the #2 Brooklyn Nets host the #3 Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday evening. Kyrie Irving is expected to play in Game 7 for the Nets after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

Kevin Durant Khris Middleton NBA Playoffs Brooklyn Nets Milwaukee Bucks Game 7
Kevin Durant (7) of the Brooklyn Nets and Khris Middleton (22) from the Milwaukee Bucks talk smack to one another during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Fiserv Forum on Milwaukee. (Image Michael McLoon/Image: USA Today Sports)

The NBA suits and their media partners got exactly what they wanted — a Game 7 battle between Giannis ‘Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo and the Bucks versus Kevin Durant and the Nets.

The winner advances to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the winner of the #1 Philadelphia 76ers and #5 Atlanta Hawks series, which also requires a full-seven games.

GAME 7: #3 Milwaukee Bucks (3-3) at #2 Brooklyn Nets (3-3)
  • Tip-off: 5:30pm ET
  • Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
  • Point Spread: BKLYN -1.5
  • Total: 216 o/u
  • Money Line: MIL +110 / BKLYN -120

Brooklyn’s Big 3 appeared on the court for exactly 43 second together this series. It’s a win or go home situation, so the Nets will have all hands on deck.

Harden returned to action in Game 5 after he injured his hamstring in the opening minute of Game 1. He missed three games this series. Irving missed two games after he sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

According to an update by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the Brooklyn Nets are +220 odds to win the NBA Championship and the Milwaukee Bucks are +450 odds to win the title.

Gotham Game 7 Grind

It looks like Irving will play for the Nets in Game 7, but how effective can he be on a severely-sprained ankle? James Harden gutted out over 40 minutes in Game 6 on a sore hamstring and he’s obviously not 100%.

In Game 6, the Bucks decided to pound the ball in the paint and focus on the transition game. The shift in tactics worked and Bucks outgunned the Nets 26-4 on fast break points.

“It definitely hurt us,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of the fast-break points. “That’s where they’re really strong. I thought we had some problems getting back in transition.”

Since returning in Game 5, Harden struggled to get back on defense because the hammy injury slowed him down. In Game 6, he scored only five points and shot a dismal 1-for-10 from the field.

“I’m out there to do whatever it takes to win,” Harden said. “I’ve got to be better on both ends of the ball, which I will be in Game 7.”

In the end, it’s all up to Durant and what kind of magic he can conjure up in crunch time. If he replicates anything close to his near-perfect performance from Game 5, then the injury-riddled Nets are advancing to the NBA Finals thanks to his heroics in Game 7.

Greek Freak’s Time to Shine?

Durant put on a clinic in Game 5 with a jaw-dropping 49-point triple-double. That’s what superstars do when their team needs a big-time win. With a beastmode-performance in Game 7, Greek Freak has a chance to show the world he’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath of the NBA’s elite like Durant and LeBron James.

Greek Freak stuck to his strengths in Game 6 and did not chuck up ill-advised 3-pointers (zero attempts), plus he cut down on his usual steady diet of mid-range jumpers. Instead, the Greek Freak took the rock to the hole and tallied most of his 30 points in the paint.

The Freak is under tremendous pressure to go blow-for-blow with Durant in Game 7, which is why role players and the Bucks bench must do their job to help the Freak beat the Nets. Khris Middleton stepped up in Game 6 with a postseason-career high of 38 points, and the Bucks will need another monstrous game out of him if they expect to survive and advance.

“We’re built for this moment, simple as that,” said Antetokounmpo. “Nobody says it’s going to be easy, but we’re capable of doing it.”

PJ Tucker is the x-factor. He’ll be tasked to put the clampdown on Durant. If the Nets leave Tucker open on the perimeter, he has to knock down those easy 3-pointers. Tucker averages only 4.2 ppg this series with two games in which he scored zero points.

Backup guard Bryan Forbes has been quiet with 5.3 ppg this series, which is half his season average. It’s up to him and Pat Connaughton to provide scoring off the bench.

Budenholzer’s Last Hurrah?

Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer and  the Bucks need to win Game 7, then four more games in the Eastern Conference Finals to save his job. Anything less than a trip to the NBA Finals means a pink slip for Budenholzer, who has not been able to get the Bucks over the hump with consecutive disappointing postseasons. If the Bucks lose this series, they could’ve squandered the perfect opportunity to land a knockout blow against a short-handed Nets.

At least there’s a slew of job openings in the NBA right now, so Budenholzer will still have a gig next season thanks to the coaching carousel. At least seven jobs are up for grabs and Budenholzer would be a prime candidate for more than half of those vacancies including the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, and New Orleans Pelicans.

Check out more coverage of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

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