Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks beat Celtics to advance

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks found another gear after their first loss of the playoffs.

Kyrie Irving and the Celtics just couldn’t keep pace.

Antetokounmpo had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Milwaukee routed Boston 116-91 on Wednesday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

After sweeping Detroit in the first round, top-seeded Milwaukee struggled in Game 1 against Boston and lost 112-90 in one of its worst offensive performances of the season. Antetokounmpo then led the way as the Bucks responded with four straight wins by a combined 65 points.

“I think our mind-set changed,” Antetokounmpo said. “In the first game, we weren’t focused enough. We weren’t ourselves. The next four games, we came out with a different approach, a different mind-set.”

The Bucks used a balanced attack to close out the Celtics in Game 5, placing seven players in double figures. Khris Middleton had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Eric Bledsoe finished with 18 points.

“We didn’t mess around with the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “We did our job. We defended. We moved the ball.”

Next for the Bucks is the winner of the Philadelphia-Toronto series. The Raptors are up 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Thursday night.

It’s the first Eastern Conference finals for Milwaukee since 2001.

Prior to the clinching win, several Bucks took turns speaking to the team.

“Giannis’ speech was, ‘A lot of us probably came from nothing and we have the opportunity to write our own story right now.’ That’s what everybody did,” guard George Hill said.

The Celtics clamped down on Antetokounmpo for most of the game, but Middleton, Bledsoe, Hill and Nikola Mirotic picked up the scoring to help rob the game of any drama in the final minutes.

Hill finished with 16 points, and Mirotic had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon also had 10 points in his return to the lineup after being sidelined by plantar fasciitis.

“Everybody was ready to play,” Hill said. “Everybody was ready for the opportunity to put them away as quick as we can.”

Irving scored 15 points for Boston, which shot 31.2% from the field.

Boston head coach Brad Stevens was impressed with the Bucks. “They are one helluva basketball team,” he said. “They were tremendous. They are better than we are.

Joe Totoraitis is an Associated Press writer.

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