ORLANDO, Fla. - Brook Lopez sensed bonds between Milwaukee Bucks players strengthening after their decision to boycott a playoff game sent ripples across the NBA and other major pro sports leagues, which joined in suspending play to protest against racial injustice.
And when it was time to return to the court, they were in sync.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 17 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Orlando Magic 118-104 on Saturday to close out the Eastern Conference series in five games.
“You could just feel the closeness,” said Lopez, who had 16 points. “We’re still out there on the floor taking care of our mission and what we want to achieve, but I think being through all this brought us together even more.”
The Bucks advanced to face Miami in the second round, beginning Monday. But they showed little interest in congratulating themselves or talking about basketball after the first NBA game played since they declined to take the court on Wednesday night, when Game 5 was originally scheduled.
Their decision not to play came in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, in Wisconsin. Before long, games were being postponed in the NHL and in Major League Baseball, while some NFL teams chose to call off training camp practices.
“Trying to end racial injustice and end racism and make this world a better place is still more important than anything we did today,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our players, their professionalism and their ability to come out and play today, it’s what we expect from each other, but it’s still hard to do.”
Khris Middleton had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee. The Bucks had a 21-point lead trimmed to three in the fourth quarter before regaining control with the help of Marvin Williams’ timely outside shooting.
Williams scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers for Milwaukee, which won four straight after dropping the opener.
“We did a great job, just from Game 1 until Game 5, just improving,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully, it can carry over to the next round.”
Nicola Vucevic had 22 points and 15 rebounds for Orlando, while Evan Fournier added 18 points.
Milwaukee led 74-53 when after Middleton’s 3 early in the second half. The Bucks still led by 20 with about three minutes left in the third quarter before Orlando surged back into the game.
Consecutive 3s by Terrence Ross and Wes Iwindu, followed by D.J. Augustin’s floater, ignited a 24-7 run that saw the Magic cut it to 96-93 when Fournier hit a 3 with 7:37 to go.
The Bucks called timeout, starters checked back in, and Milwaukee quickly pulled away again, starting with Williams’ 3 after Lopez’s offensive rebound.
Middleton followed with a fade from the top of the key, Williams added another 3 and Middleton’s free throw pushed the lead back to 105-93.
“They’re a championship caliber team,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said of the Bucks. “We hung in there because we had the right approach and we had our chances.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.