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Bucks’ Middleton: ‘Hopefully we learn from this’

TORONTO — Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed that with his team’s backs against the wall, the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn’t fold.

The Bucks had just suffered a disappointing Game 5 loss to the Toronto Raptors and for the first time in the 2019 post season, were facing elimination. Antetokounmpo said then that he couldn’t ensure the Bucks would win, but he was certain they would fight.

Through three quarters of Game 6, the Bucks didn’t fold. It was a game of pendulum swings. The Bucks fought hard, earning double-digit leads only to see them wane. Then Milwaukee would build them back up again. Toronto ended the third quarter on a 10-0 run that cut the Bucks’ once 15-point lead to just five. That proved to be the turning point in Toronto’s 100-94 series-clinching win.

“They just made tough shots,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “We made our mistakes and they capitalized.”

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

After nearly every one of the Milwaukee Bucks’ regular season wins, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brogdon or Khris Middleton would say that the win was nice, but they were playing for something bigger.

That “something bigger” was never identified by name, but the underlying, unnamed truth was that they had their eyes on a Finals appearance.

“I think we had a great year,” Khris Middleton said after the game. “Sixty wins, one of the best teams in NBA history. Got past the first round, which we struggled with for a long time. Just fell short of our goals.”

Similarly to Game 5, the Bucks got off to a hot start, building a 31-18 lead by the end of the first quarter. But slowly, the Raptors began to creep back. Each time Toronto scored, the home crowd erupted. Each bucket, after all, got them one step closer to their team’s first finals appearance in franchise history.

At the two minute mark, fans inside Scotiabank Arena began to bounce. Each time the Raptors scored, pushing their lead from one to four and eventually, to six, the Jumbotron screen flashed video of the scene in Jurassic Park outside of the arena where thousands of fans stood cheering. Toronto’s win was sealed off of two free throws from Kawhi Leonard.

The locker room after the game was somber. Players dressed quickly and quietly.

“Experience. You have to go through some things to get to where you want to go,” Middleton said. “So hopefully we learn from this and move on.”

Then Milwaukee’s players and coaches climbed the steps to their team buses and drove slowly through the sea of party-goers and Raptors faithfuls who had waited decades for their city to earn an NBA Finals berth. A Finals appearance for the Bucks, however, will have to wait at least until next year.

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