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Bucks bounce back to force Game 7 against Nets

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (right) drives against the Nets' Jeff Green  Thursday night.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (right) drives against the Nets' Jeff Green Thursday night.Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Khris Middleton scored 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and the Milwaukee Bucks never trailed in a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night to force a decisive seventh game in their second-round playoff series.

Game 7 will be Saturday night in Brooklyn. The home team has won each of the first six games in this series.

Milwaukee never trailed and broke the game open by going on a 14-0 run that started with less than 8½ minutes left.

Middleton answered every Brooklyn comeback attempt and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals to go along with the highest scoring total of his playoff career. Antetokounmpo had 17 rebounds.

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The Bucks shot just 7 of 33 from 3-point range but made up for it by outscoring the Nets 26-4 in fast-break points.

Milwaukee bounced back two nights after blowing a 17-point lead in a 114-108 Game 5 loss at Brooklyn that featured an epic 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist performance from Kevin Durant.

Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden added 16 points but still looked as though he was at far less than full strength in his second game since returning from a hamstring injury.

Harden had left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and returned in Game 5 but shot 1 of 10 and scored just 5 points.

The Bucks owned a 14-point lead early in the second half before Durant again sparked a third-quarter comeback, scoring 10 straight Nets points during one stretch.

Brooklyn cut Milwaukee’s lead to 72-67 with 1:27 left in the third when Harden made two free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point shot. Middleton restored Milwaukee’s double-digit advantage by scoring the last 6 points of the third quarter, including a putback at the buzzer.

Milwaukee extended the lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter, but Brooklyn stormed back again with 10 straight points, as Joe Harris’s 3-pointer made it 82-77 with 8:41 left. Middleton again responded, drawing a foul on Harris while shooting a 3-pointer and making all three free throws.

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Those free throws started a 14-0 run that included 7 points from Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP capped the spurt by converting an offensive rebound into a dunk with 6:24 left.

Clippers’ Leonard out for Game 6

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is officially out Friday night for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz, but coach Tyronn Lue did not have any update on if it will be longer.

Leonard sprained his right knee Monday night in a Game 4 win. He traveled with the Clippers to Salt Lake City, Lue said, then returned to Los Angeles for further testing. A sprain, by definition, is a ligament injury, but the Clippers have not said which of the four knee ligaments he injured.

Despite missing Leonard, Los Angeles took a 3-2 series lead on Wednesday night with a 119-111 victory behind 37 points from Paul George. The Clippers are 12-9 without their All-Star forward this season, including 1-0 in the playoffs.

Carlisle quits as Dallas coach

Rick Carlisle stepped down as coach of the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the second major departure for that franchise in as many days.

Carlisle spent 13 seasons in Dallas, leading the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title. His decision was announced one day after general manager Donnie Nelson and the team agreed to part ways, ending a 24-year run for Nelson as part of the organization.

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“This was solely my decision,” Carlisle said in a statement released to ESPN shortly before the team announced that he was leaving.

Dallas becomes the seventh team with an coaching vacancy, joining New Orleans, Washington, Orlando, Indiana, Portland — and Boston, where Carlisle played for the team that won the 1986 NBA title.

And now the Mavericks need a coach and a GM, in an offseason where they’re also expected to offer 22-year-old Luka Doncic, the team’s best player and now a two-time All-NBA performer, a $201 million extension.

Carlisle went 555-478 in Dallas, taking a team built around Dirk Nowitzki to the title in 2011 — the first, and still only, in Mavericks history. Dallas made six playoff appearances in the 10 seasons that followed, never getting out of the first round in any of them.

But Dallas owner Mark Cuban insisted after this year’s playoff run ended — the Mavericks went 0-3 at home in what became a seven-game first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers — that Carlisle was safe and would be back.

Carlisle, apparently, had other ideas. Carlisle told ESPN that he had “a number of in-person conversations” with Cuban in recent days, then came to the decision that it was time to go.

Rick Carlisle went 555-478 in Dallas.
Rick Carlisle went 555-478 in Dallas.Keith Birmingham/Associated Press

“Rick informed me today about his decision to step down as head coach,” Cuban said. “On top of being a tremendous basketball coach, he was also a friend and a confidant. Rick helped us bring the O’Brien Trophy to Dallas and those are memories I will always cherish.”

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Simmons’s foul shooting foul

Ben Simmons’s foul-shooting woes so far in the playoffs aren’t just obvious.

They’re basically unprecedented.

The Philadelphia guard is 22 for 67 from the line so far in this postseason. He’s down to 32.8 percent after going 4 for 14 in Philadelphia’s Game 5 109-106 loss to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night — and nobody in NBA playoff history, with that many attempts in single postseason, has ever been worse.

Atlanta's Trae Young watches as Philadelphia's Ben Simmons struggles from the line Wednesday night. The Sixers' guard has abysmal numbers when it comes to free-throw percentage.
Atlanta's Trae Young watches as Philadelphia's Ben Simmons struggles from the line Wednesday night. The Sixers' guard has abysmal numbers when it comes to free-throw percentage.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The next lowest percentage, among those with at least 67 foul shots in a postseason, is Shaquille O’Neal’s 37.4 percent for Miami in 2006 — when the Heat wound up winning the NBA championship anyway.

“Obviously, I’ve got to knock down free throws,” Simmons said. “I’ve got to step up and do that.”

Game 6 of the series is Friday in Atlanta, with the top-seeded 76ers now in a win-or-go-home scenario since they trail the best-of-seven 3-2.