Field Level Media

 

The team with the best record in the NBA regular season also won the race to be the first into the postseason conference finals Wednesday night, when the Milwaukee Bucks ran away from the visiting Boston Celtics for a series-clinching, 116-91 victory.

The top-seeded Bucks now advance to the Eastern finals, where they will have the home-court advantage over the winner of the other Eastern semifinal between Toronto and Philadelphia. Those two hopefuls meet in a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday night, with the second-seeded Raptors holding a 3-2 series lead.

"It's amazing. It was a team effort," said Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 20 points. "We did not mess around with the game. We did our job. We defended. We moved the ball. That's how we were able to close the game."

Avenging a seven-game, first-round loss to the Celtics last season, the Bucks won four straight in the series after being stunned 122-90 at home in the best-of-seven opener.

"The first game, we weren't focused enough," Antetokounmpo said. "We weren't ourselves. The next four games, we came out with a different approach, a different mind-set, a killer mind-set, and we were able to win the four games."

Milwaukee trailed for just a matter of seconds late in the first quarter in the clincher, building as much as a 16-point lead in the second quarter and 18 in the third before coasting home.

The Bucks used balanced scoring and a stingy defense to eliminate the fourth-seeded Celtics, who had reached the Eastern finals against Cleveland each of the past two seasons.

Antetokounmpo led seven players in double figures for the Bucks, who will be making their first appearance in the conference finals since 2001, when they lost to Philadelphia. Antetokounmpo also found time for eight rebounds and a game-high eight assists.

Khris Middleton (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (18), George Hill (16), Nikola Mirotic (10) and Ersan Ilyasova (10) also scored in double figures for the Bucks, who shot 44.7 percent overall and outscored the Celtics 45-21 on 3-pointers.

The Bucks also got 10 points in 16 minutes from guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was returning from a heel injury that had sidelined him since March 15.

Mirotic shared team-high rebounding honors with Pat Connaughton with 11 apiece.

Kyrie Irving had 15 points to top the Celtics, who had beaten the Bucks in five of their previous six postseasons head-to-heads.

Irving shot 6-for-21 overall and 1-for-7 on 3-point attempts, and he was limited to one assist in what could be his final game as a Celtic. He can become a free agent this summer.

"They kept a body on me practically the whole game," Irving said. "They did a great job running their offense with pace. They did it all year."

As for his future, Irving said, "I'm going to be honest with you: I'm just trying to get back to Boston first. See my family, decompress, do what human beings do."

Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum finished with 14 points apiece, and Jaylen Brown had 12 for the Celtics, who shot just 31.2 percent from the field.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, "We talk about defense every day. I just think the way we guarded, the commitment we had at the defensive end really set the tone for us."

Morris completed a double-double with a team-high 11 rebounds.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, "This game was disappointing. Our issues have been well chronicled. We didn't meet the outside expectations. We really rode a roller-coaster all year. It was difficult.

"Hats off to (the Bucks). They are one helluva basketball team. They have been building habits every day, and they showed up. They were tremendous. They're better than we are. And they earned that. And it was clear throughout the five-game series."