The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and resurgent Golden State Warriors completed 4-1 series victories to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs on Wednesday.
In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points as the Bucks brushed aside the Chicago Bulls 116-100 to clinch a comfortable series win and advance to an Eastern Conference showdown with the Boston Celtics.
In San Francisco, Golden State relied on 30 points from Stephen Curry and a crucial late 15-point cameo from Gary Payton II to seal a pulsating 102-98 victory over reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
The Warriors will now face either the Memphis Grizzlies or Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The Warriors, who had led the series 3-0 before dropping game four in Colorado on Sunday, dug deep in the fourth quarter to clinch victory at the Chase Center.
The Nuggets, buoyed by a towering 30-point display from Jokic, had led by eight points at the end of the third period.
But Golden State outscored the visitors 32-20 in the fourth quarter — with Payton contributing 10 points — to claim a dramatic win.
The victory was Golden State’s first playoff series win since 2019 after two consecutive seasons where they missed the postseason.
“I think you could see those first three quarters we’d forgotten what it felt like to try and close out a game,” Curry said.
“The nerves, the energy, the pressure in the building. It’s been a long time since we’ve felt this. We still know how to do it but we had to grind it out. It’s a good feeling to go through and get the win.”
While Curry led the Warriors scoring, Draymond Green delivered another huge shift marshalling the defense against the threat of Jokic.
“What Draymond does is hard to quantify because the stats never do him justice,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“I just feel like he’s built for the playoffs. This is what he’s all about. Regular season is hard for him because the games aren’t as meaningful and he’s at his best when the games are most important.”
Bucks gore Bulls
In Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo was in dominant form, shooting 11-of-15 from the field and finishing with nine rebounds as the defending NBA champion Bucks romped to victory at the FiServ Forum.
“I just wanted to set the tone, come out and play hard,” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes when you’re up 15 or 20 points you start being sloppy with the ball or not playing as hard.
“I think our team kept their composure, kept playing hard, kept making shots.”
Antetokounmpo received scoring support from Pat Connaughton with 20 points while Bobby Portis had a double-double with 14 points and 17 rebounds.
It was another emphatic win for Milwaukee after victories by hefty double-digit margins in games three and four of the best-of-seven series.
Milwaukee now advance to an Eastern Conference semi-final series against the in-form Boston Celtics, starting on Sunday.
“It’s big,” Antetokounmpo said of the task in front of his team. “We’ve got to get some rest, go back and practise, watch some film, take care of our body and get ready for Boston.”
On Thursday’s evidence, Milwaukee will approach that series brimming with confidence after swatting aside sixth-seeded Chicago with ease.
The Bucks blazed into an early 20-7 lead in the first quarter and remained comfortably ahead of Chicago for the remainder of a one-sided contest.
Milwaukee’s lead stretched to 29 points in the second quarter and although Chicago closed the gap to 11 points early in the third, another burst of scoring saw the Bucks surge into a 91-68 lead heading into the final quarter.
Chicago star DeMar DeRozan was restricted to just 11 points while Patrick Williams led the Bulls scorers with 23 points.