The NBA in-season tournament quarterfinals delivered nonstop excitement and highlight-reel plays on Tuesday night. In the first game, the Bucks outgunned the Knicks 146-122 behind a barrage of 3-pointers. Then in a controversial finish, the Lakers held off the Suns 115-114 to advance. The final four is now set with some star power and compelling matchups.
Giannis and Lillard Dazzle as Bucks Rain 23 Threes on Knicks
The Milwaukee Bucks leaned heavily on their dynamic duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, combining for 62 points in a run-and-fun shootout. The Bucks exploded for a staggering 23 made 3-pointers, shooting over 60% from beyond the arc.
“Our offense is starting to click and we just tried to play free and have fun out there,” said Lillard. “When everyone is touching the ball and shots are falling, we’re tough to slow down.”
Lillard continued his stellar play of late, pouring in 27 points on 5-of-8 shooting from deep. The six-time All-Star is finding his rhythm alongside Antetokounmpo and making the Bucks offense hum. Milwaukee is embracing an uptempo pace that is paying dividends.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo did damage with his usual array of powerful drives and dunks, chipping in 35 points on 60% shooting. The “Greek Freak” imposed his will in transition, bull-rushing his way to buckets whenever the Bucks forced a turnover.
“We want to use our athleticism and play with pace. I think that style helps Giannis and all of us,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “We have a lot of weapons offensively and we showed that tonight.”
Newly acquired guard Malik Beasley provided a key spark off the bench with five made triples. His outside shooting prowess helps generate space for Antetokounmpo to attack.
The Knicks had no answers defensively, hemorrhaging points in the paint and from the perimeter. New York shot a respectable 44% from the field but simply couldn’t keep up with Milwaukee’s scoring explosion.
“We didn’t bring the necessary intensity and physicality on defense,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. “We allowed them to get too comfortable and didn’t make them work hard enough for shots.”
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 36 points but the Bucks cruised in the second half to punch their ticket to Las Vegas. They will face the tough Indiana Pacers in the semifinals on Thursday at 5 PM Eastern on ESPN.
Controversy Clouds Thrilling Lakers-Suns Finish
LeBron James showed flashes of playoff brilliance, Anthony Davis patrolled the paint on defense, and the Lakers held on by the slimmest of margins against their recent nemesis. But the hotly contested ending left the Suns and fans perplexed by a controversial call.
With around 15 seconds left and the Lakers clinging to a 113-114 lead, Phoenix swung the ball around the perimeter searching for an open look. The ball eventually found its way to Kevin Durant, who attempted a contested three that would have tied the game.
But before Durant’s shot left his hands, referee Tom Washington blew his whistle and granted the Lakers a timeout – despite the fact that L.A. did not have possession. Replays showed Austin Reaves losing control of the ball after receiving the inbound pass. What should have been a turnover and possibly a Suns fastbreak opportunity turned into a crucial extra possession for the Lakers.
“I really don’t understand what happened on that last play,” said Suns guard Devin Booker. “We were playing solid defense when all of a sudden we heard a whistle. It didn’t feel right.”
Suns coach Monty Williams voiced his displeasure with the referees after the game. “There has to be accountability when it comes to making rulings that impact the outcome,” said Williams. “I would hope that gets properly evaluated after the fact.”
For his part, veteran official Tom Washington admitted it was the wrong decision after reviewing the replay. “Upon reviewing, the out of bounds was incorrectly called as a timeout. The officials missed the Lakers’ deflection that led to a turnover.”
The controversy cast a shadow on an otherwise stellar showdown between the longtime rivals. Davis and Booker both tallied impressive double-doubles while LeBron took charge down the stretch with 13 fourth-quarter points.
James finished with 31 points, 11 boards and 8 assists in a vintage performance. He dictated the offense, finding Davis for point-blank looks and spacing the floor for shooters. As James’s teams often do, the Lakers also ratcheted up their defensive intensity when it mattered most.
“We’re starting to develop an identity and confidence at the end of close games,” James said. “It wasn’t perfect, but making winning plays on both ends helped us advance.”
The Lakers will now face the dangerous New Orleans Pelicans in the semifinals on Thursday at 9 PM Eastern. Second-year stud Zion Williamson powers a young, hungry Pelicans squad thirsting for the upset.
Takeaways From a Thrilling Round of Basketball
Defense Remains a Concern for Bucks
While the Bucks boast an overflowing treasure chest of offensive firepower, their occasional disinterest on defense is troubling. A team coached by defensive guru Mike Budenholzer surrendered 122 points on 52% shooting to the Knicks. Milwaukee ranks in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency.
Budenholzer and his staff face the tall task of crafting a competent defense around the limited mobility of Brook Lopez and the general indifference of their stars. How well the Bucks defend as the playoffs approach could determine their ceiling.
Lillard Makes Bucks Scary Good
It cannot be overstated just how lethal of a offensive machine the Bucks can be when Lillard looks like his old self. His clutch shot-making, playmaking and effortless scoring ability perfectly complements Antetokounmpo’s dominant interior game.
With Middleton back healthy and the additions of Beasley and Bobby Portis, Milwaukee’s offense starts five deep with weapons. When defenses try to take away Antetokounmpo’s drives, Lillard and company make them pay from the outside. It’s a pick your poison scenario for opponents trying to slow down the Bucks.
Giannis Continues Hot Streak
Lost amid the 3-point barrage was another monster stat line for Antetokounmpo. He poured in 35 points on 21 shots along with 15 rebounds in just 30 minutes. ‘The Greek Freak’ is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Over his last nine games, he’s averaging 33.8 points on over 60% shooting. He remains impossible to stay in front of in the open floor where he’s often Euro-stepping past hapless defenders for rim-rocking slams. If he continues ascending into the MVP conversation, the Bucks become legitimate title threats.
LeBron Dials Back the Clock
Now in his 20th NBA season, James continues adding to his growing legend with dominant playoff-level performances like Tuesday night. He fearlessly initiated contact in the paint while sinking turnaround fades reminiscent of his Miami Heat days.
And as he has throughout his career, James lifted the Lakers to victory with big scoring down the stretch. His 13 fourth-quarter points helped stave off the Suns’ rally.
It remains to be seen if James can sustain this MVP-caliber play for an entire postseason run. But flashes of his vintage self should put fear into opposing teams come playoff time.
Davis Steps Up Defensively
The Lakers investment in Davis hangs primarily on his ability to be an inside intimidator in big games. Hampered by injuries last season, Davis showed positive signs by protecting the rim well against the Suns’ combative guards.
He tallied key blocks throughout the game including one on Booker’s potential game-tying layup attempt late. Davis racked up 20 points, 16 rebounds and 3 swats while helping fluster Phoenix’s offense.
When health permits, Davis can raise the Lakers’ ceiling substantially thanks to his two-way impact. He remains one of the NBA’s truly elite big men.