The Milwaukee Bucks powered into the second round of the NBA playoffs on Saturday, three days after their refusal to take the court in the wake of a police shooting in Wisconsin brought the post-season to a halt.
Just days earlier there was a real chance that players would opt out of the remainder of the post-season in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
The Bucks were prepared to forfeit game five against the Magic on Wednesday after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
But the Magic, and eventually the rest of the teams remaining in the bubble, backed their action, to launch hours of discussion among players, coaches and league officials on how they could unite to combat racial injustice and police brutality.
The unprecedented NBA action rippled through the rest of the US sports world, with games and training postponed in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League, NFL and the ATP and WTA Western & Southern Open.
With plans in place for concrete action to promote voting and civic engagement and support police and criminal justice reform legislation, the season resumed.
“The information we got we thought we could make more of a statement staying here and playing instead of going home to our respective cities, our respective communities and doing it by ourselves,” said Bucks forward Khris Middleton, who scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “We thought together our voice would be much bigger.”
There were signs of rust early from both the Bucks and Magic, who hadn’t played since Monday.
Both teams connected on less than 40% of their shots from the field in the first quarter, but Milwaukee picked up the pace in the second led by Antetokounmpo’s 6-of-6 shooting.
After Orlando reserve Terrence Ross drained a three-pointer to level the score at 31-31, an Antetokounmpo dunk launched a 13-0 scoring run for the Bucks who led 67-50 at the half.
Milwaukee quickly pushed the lead to 20 after the interval and took a 90-79 lead into the final frame.
With Antetokounmpo in foul trouble, the Magic trimmed the deficit to three points with less than eight minutes remaining on a three-pointer by Evan Fournier.
Fournier was fed by Nikola Vucevic, who led the Magic with 22 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Fournier added 18 points, but the Bucks were just too much.
“Just keep getting better,” was Antetokounmpo’s prescription for Milwaukee as they moved ahead. “Keep getting better every game, playing hard always. Defensively we’ve just got to pick it up a little bit, just make it as tough as possible for whoever we play.”
– Moment of silence –
There was a somber mood to the restart with pre-game moment of silence in memory of former Trail Blazers star Cliff Roberts, Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson and actor Chadwick Boseman, who all died this week.
Roberts, 53, helped the Trail Blazers reach two NBA Finals in his 18-year career that included an All-Star nod.
Olson, 85, mentored future NBA stars as he made the University of Arizona a college basketball power.
Boseman, star of the ground-breaking superhero movie “Black Panther” died at the age of 43 after a battle with cancer. The actor who also starred in the Jackie Robinson baseball biopic “42”, was remembered as a “close friend of the NBA.”
The game marked the first time Houston’s Russell Westbrook faced his former team in the postseason. Westbrook, who missed the Rockets’ first four playoff games, finished with seven points.
Dennis Schroder led Oklahoma City with 19 points before being tossed out of the contest halfway through the third quarter for hitting Houston’s P.J. Tucker in the groin.
Tucker was also ejected for bumping his head into the back of Schroder’s head which led to a heated exchange between the two.
Chris Paul had 16 points and Steven Adams finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder.