ATLANTA (AP) – The Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed instant NBA success, winning a championship in their third…

ATLANTA (AP) – The Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed instant NBA success, winning a championship in just their third season and reaching the Finals again three years later.

Almost half a century later, they finally have a chance to win another title.

Khris Middleton scored 32 points, including a 16-point streak in a decisive third quarter that took the Bucks to a 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Conference Finals. Is Saturday night.

Milwaukee won the series 4-2, qualifying for the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. Game 1 against the Western Suns champion is Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The Bucks didn’t even need Giannis Antetokounmpo to lock their spot. The two-time MVP missed his second straight game with a knee injury, but Middleton & Co. backed him up.

Jrue Holiday added 27 points and four other players scored in double digits.

Antetokounmpo encouraged them from the bench.

“One of the most important things we’ve done in the last two games is play for him,” said Pat Connaughton, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. “We have a real team.

Trae Young returned to the Hawks’ lineup after missing two games with a bone contusion in his right foot, but the young star never did anything. After both teams struggled to find the lineup in the first half, the Bucks suddenly couldn’t miss in the third quarter.

Especially Middleton.

Atlanta actually had a chance to take their first lead of the game when Young’s back pass gave Kevin Huerter an open 3-point look.

The shot was surrounded and Middleton quickly snatched the next 13 points to suddenly push Milwaukee’s advantage to 60-45.

Young broke the one-man assault with a driving basket, but Middleton responded with a 3-point pointer that gave him 16 straight points in Milwaukee.

Middleton finished the quarter with 23 points, nearly overtaking the Hawks on his own. Atlanta had 29 points during the period as Milwaukee headed into the final quarter with a 91-72 lead.

“My teammates and coaches have told me to keep being aggressive,” said Middleton. “I love it. Each of these guys, they work every day. Everyone stays ready. Everyone stays locked up. We all play for each other. And that’s all you can ask for.

Cam Reddish, who missed much of the season with an Achilles tendon injury, came off the bench to trigger the Hawks. He scored 21 points – making six of seven 3-pointers – as the Hawks reduced a 22-point deficit to six in the dying minutes.

“The message was, ‘No regrets. We don’t want any regrets. …. Empty the tank, ”said Nate McMillan, interim coach of the Hawks. “And they did.”

But the Bucks are done, rekindling memories of the franchise’s early years when Milwaukee quickly became the center of the NBA world with a squad led by two of the game’s greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

The duo led the team to their only NBA title in 1971. The Bucks returned to the final in 1974, only to lose to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

Robertson retired after that season and Abdul-Jabbar transferred to the Los Angeles Lakers a year later, ending Milwaukee’s career as a glamorous franchise.

Now the Bucks are back in the final with a whole new group of stars. As they’ve proven in the last two games against the Hawks, they’re definitely more than the Greek Freak.

With Antetokounmpo sidelined by a hypertensive left knee, the Bucks turned to his supporting cast to finish off Atlanta. Brook Lopez scored 33 points in Game 5 and three other starters scored at least 22.

Middleton and Holiday carried the load in the deciding match.

“These guys worked all year. They deserve to go to the final, ”said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, who previously coached the Hawks. “We still have work to do.

Despite a disappointing finish, the Hawks established themselves as a future force with a young group that knocked out the seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers to surprisingly advance to the conference finals.

Mired at 14-20 when they sacked coach Lloyd Pierce shortly before the all-star break, Atlanta ran a run under McMillan that led the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

They didn’t stop there, qualifying for the conference final for just the second time with Young in the lead.

“We all understand this is just the beginning,” Young said. “It was fun having this city excited. We want it to stay that way. “

After missing Games 4 and 5 with a bone contusion in his right foot, Young was cleared to play shortly before kick-off on Saturday night. The crowd went mad when the charismatic point guard was introduced as the last member of the starting five.

“He’s baaaaack!” cried the presenter.

But, clearly, he hadn’t come back yet.

After being laid off for nearly a week, Young seemed hesitant and in a bad mood. Sure, he flashed a bit of his old form on a few bursts to the basket, but 14 points on 4 of 17 shots was not at all what the Hawks expected from their star.

“I just wanted to fight and try to fight as much as possible, try to be there for my team,” Young said. “But it was really frustrating not being healthy and not being able to give 100% to myself.”

ADVICE

Bucks: With the Hawks focused on doing a better job down the lane, Lopez was limited to 13 points. … Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds on his second straight start for Antetokounmpo. … Jeff Teague, who played for the Hawks when they reached the conference final in 2015, scored 11 points in just over 12 minutes of playing time on the Milwaukee bench.

Hawks: Huerter, the surprising star of Atlanta’s Game 7 victory over Philadelphia, ended the season with just five points on 2 of 10 shots.… Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 20 points. … Atlanta finished 38 of 92 (41.3%) on the court.

HALF Ugly

Neither team seemed capable of winning in the first half.

Atlanta made just 15 of 49 (30.6%) shots, including 4 of 16 from beyond the 3-point arc, with nine turnovers. The Bucks weren’t much better, logging in on 17 of 44 (38.6%) in total and just 5 of 19 outside the strip. Milwaukee flipped it 10 times, split evenly between Middleton and Holiday.

Appropriately, the half ended with Atlanta’s Clint Capela missing just under the basket on a lob pass from Bogdanovic, sending the Bucks to the locker room with a 47-43 lead.

PLAY WITH THE LEADER

Surprisingly, there has been no change of leader in the last three games of the series.

The Hawks never hung out in Game 4, scoring a 110-88 victory. Milwaukee returned the favor in Game 5, taking a 20-point lead in the first quarter and staying ahead to the end in a 123-112 triumph.

It was more or less the same in the deciding game, which the Bucks led from start to finish.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

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