ATLANTA — Nothing that happened in the first half indicated Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton had a scoring flurry coming.
The Bucks guard-forward had a quiet five points by halftime.
Middleton scored 16 of his 23 third-quarter points in a four-minute stretch of the third as the Bucks extended a two-point lead into a 19-point margin against the Atlanta Hawks.
That was too much for the Hawks to overcome even at home and even with Trae Young playing after missing the two previous games with a bone bruise in his right foot.
Milwaukee defeated Atlanta 118-107 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, earning a spot in the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals is Tuesday in Phoenix (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Bucks reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 – when Larry Costello was the coach and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson played for Milwaukee. It’s a long time coming for the franchise.
Bucks All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second consecutive game with a hyperextended left knee sustained in Game 4. Milwaukee won the next two games without him, relying on Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and an unexpected performance from former Hawks guard Jeff Teague.
Middleton finished with a game-high 32 points, Holiday had 27 points, nine assists and nine rebounds and Portis followed up his playoff career-high 22 points in Game 5 with 12 points and nine rebounds. Brook Lopez added 13 points, Teague had 11 and Pat Connaughton had 13.
The Bucks had the roster necessary to win games without Antetokounmpo in the conference finals. His status for the Finals is undetermined.
While Young played in Game 6, it’s unlikely he was 100%. He had 14 points and nine assists but was just 4-for-17 from the field, including 0-for-6 on 3-pointers. He did not have his explosive quickness.
Cam Reddish, who missed months with an Achilles injury and returned in the conference finals, had a team-high 21 points, and Bodgan Bodganovic scored 20 points.
The Hawks were a surprising playoff team, but they have talent and play with an admirable quality: they don’t give up. They had memorable 18-point and 26-point comebacks against Philadelphia in the second round. Even in Game 6 against the Bucks, the Hawks trailed 100-80 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and were down 107-101 with 3:41 remaining.
This was a team that was 14-20, fired its coach Lloyd Pierce in early March and replaced him with Nate McMillan, who made the Hawks a better team.
With Young, Reddish, Bogdanovic, John Collins (13 points, 11 rebounds), Kevin Huerter, Clint Capela (14 points, nine rebounds), Danilo Gallinari (13 points, eight rebounds) and DeAndre Hunter, who was out with an injury, the Hawks will have a say in the Eastern Conference next season.