LOS ANGELES — 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 Friday, with the second-seeded Raptors holding a 3-2 series lead.
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.
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 postseason 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.
Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum finished with 14 points apiece, and Jaylen Brown had 12 for the Celtics, who shot just 31.2% from the field.
Morris completed a double-double with a team-high 11 rebounds.
WARRIORS HOLD OFF ROCKETS DESPITE DURANT’S INJURY
Draymond Green and Klay Thompson buried 3-pointers on consecutive possessions late in the game Wednesday night, allowing the Golden State Warriors to survive the loss of Kevin Durant and hold off the Houston Rockets 104-99 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals in Oakland, Calif.
Top-seeded Golden State’s third narrow win of the best-of-seven series puts the defending champions one victory away from a fifth straight trip to the West finals.
The Warriors will get their first opportunity to earn advancement in Game 6 of the series on Friday night in Houston. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Sunday in Oakland.
After the Rockets rallied from 20 down to take the lead late in the third quarter, and with Durant in the locker room for the final 14 minutes following a calf injury, the Warriors outfinished their fourth-seeded foe.
A 3-pointer by Eric Gordon had the Rockets down just 89-88 with 4:49 to play, and a free throw by James Harden kept Houston within 91-89 with 3:39 to go.
But Green then buried his 3-pointer, and after a Houston turnover, Thompson bombed in his trey to push the Golden State lead to 97-89 with 2:34 to go.
Houston got as close as three one more time, on a layup by Harden with 18.6 seconds left, before Thompson, after nearly throwing the ball away, dropped in an interior hoop for the clinching basket with 4.1 seconds left.
Durant’s injury occurred innocently enough after he hit a jumper from the right side with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
He took a step toward the defensive end of the court before grimacing in pain and looking down at his lower right leg, leading to concerns he might have ruptured his Achilles.
However, the injury was later announced by the Warriors to be a strained right calf.
Thompson finished with 27 points, Stephen Curry 25 and Durant 22 for the Warriors, who continued a run of home wins by the teams in the series.
Andre Iguodala added 11 points, while Green had a brilliant all-around game before fouling out, complementing eight points with 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
Harden was the game’s leading scorer with 31 points for the Rockets, who were both outshot by the Warriors from the field 45.9% to 41.8% and outscored on 3-pointers 39-36. — Reuters