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Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Bucks past Pacers with dominant 50-point performance

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MILWAUKEE — The last time Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points was Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals, as he clinched the Milwaukee Bucks‘ first championship in 50 years. When he did it again on Tuesday night in a 128-119 win over the Indiana Pacers, it wasn’t quite as important, but it was just as impressive. 

A young Pacers frontcourt of Goga Bitadze and Jalen Smith simply had no answers, as Giannis outclassed and outmaneuvered them all night long. He finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds and four assists on 17-of-21 from the field. Giannis now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for 50-point games in Bucks history. The Hall of Famer has 10, however, so it will be a while before that record is truly in danger. 

Sitting at the podium for his postgame press conference, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer paused and shook his head in near-disbelief as he considered the performance. 

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“It’s Giannis,” Budenholzer said. “He’s special. It’s hard to fathom scoring 50 on 21 [shots].”

There’s a reason it’s hard to fathom; it’s almost never happened. Per Basketball Reference’s Stathead, Giannis is just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 or more points on 21 or fewer shots. In addition, Giannis is just the ninth player ever to score 50-plus points while shooting at least 80 percent from the field. 

For as dominant as Giannis was on Tuesday, perhaps the most encouraging sign was that he went 14-of-18 from the free throw line. After some of the struggles he went through the last few seasons, and the chanting during the playoffs, he seems to have truly figured things out. He’s now shooting 72 percent, which would be his best mark since 2019.

“I get upset when I miss free throws,” Giannis said. “I work too hard. I love when I make my free throws. It gives me rhythm, makes me feel good. Like I can miss every three, I can miss layups, but when I make free throws it’s like my dopamine hit because I work extremely hard to make them. It just makes the game easier. It makes me able to drive the ball all the time and when I get hit I’m excited to go to the free throw line. I don’t second guess myself anymore. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna make this.’”

All told, it was a stunning, historic performance. Even Giannis’ teammates, who are with him every single day, were in awe. 

“What’s going through my head is ‘damn,’ Jordan Nwora said. “It’s special seeing it in person. What’s really crazy about it is he makes it look so easy. He’s like barely sweating. I think I was looking at him when he scored his 50th point, the crowd’s cheering and he’s barely sweating. Still full of energy in the locker room after he does it. It’s just part of being one of the greatest ever to play.”

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Playoff Takeaways: Stars steal momentum with back-to-back wins over Golden Knights

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It is easy to say – because it’s logical to project – that there’s no way the Dallas Stars are actually going to win four straight games to save their season against the Vegas Golden Knights.

This conclusion isn’t because the Stars aren’t an excellent team. They are. But so are the Knights.

It’s more math than emotion: only four teams in National Hockey League history have rallied from a 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series, and it has never happened in a conference final, where teams that win the first three games are 46-0 in advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

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The Golden Knights, a 51-win team that had 111 points in the regular season, aren’t going to lose four straight playoff games after losing only three times in the first month of the Stanley Cup tournament.

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This Stars’ comeback almost certainly is not happening despite Dallas’ impressive 4-2 road win Saturday in Las Vegas.

But the fantastic thing about sports is that you actually have to play the games. 

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And ask yourself this: Can the Dallas Stars win two consecutive games? Because that’s all they have to do now after halting the Knights and stealing momentum by winning Games 4 and 5 in the Western Conference Final.

The Stars no longer have to climb Mt. Everest. They just have to get up the Eiger.

Game 6 is Monday in Dallas. And the Stars will have captain and key forward Jamie Benn back after a two-game suspension.

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So check your climbing harness and make sure you’re roped in. This could get wild.

“We’ve done it all year long where we’ve stayed with our game and we find a way,” the senior Star, Joe Pavelski, said in his walkoff interview with Hockey Night in Canada. “It was a gutsy win coming in here. It gives us life, gives us life.”

The guy most responsible for giving Dallas life was depth forward Ty Dellandrea, who scored twice in 87 seconds halfway through the third period to triple his playoff goals total and propel the Stars to victory in an elimination game they trailed twice.

Luke Glendening, another bottom-six winger, tied the game on a deflection at 15:24 of the first period. And Dallas sniper Jason Robertson, re-ignited in this series, made it 2-2 at 5:29 of the middle frame.

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Importantly, the goals were an immediate response by the Stars after Ivan Barbashev scored for Vegas at 13:36 and Chandler Stephenson at 3:20, respectively. The Knights’ two leads lasted less than four minutes.

Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 27 of 29 Vegas shots for his second straight win since getting pulled from Game 3 for the third time in eight playoff contests.

STANLEY CUP MAGIC

Much like the 82-game regular season, it’s the journey that surprises and enthralls us in the playoffs – not merely the destination. 

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Dellandrea scored just nine times in the regular season and was a healthy scratch for coach Peter DeBoer when this series began. He was also a healthy scratch when the Stars decided their second-round series by winning Game 7 against the Seattle Kraken.

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But there he was on Saturday, extending the Stars’ season by scoring twice in the third period while playing his ass off every fourth shift. Besides his pair of goals, Dellandrea had five shot attempts and three hits in 15:59 of ice time.

The 22-year-old, 2018 first-round pick from Port Perry, Ont., had logged one NHL playoff game before this spring.

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Asked about his performance, Dellandrea told ESPN: “We’ve got bigger things that we want to accomplish here. So, this was a big win and we get to go back home and have another opportunity. But we’re playing for a lot.”

BIG BENN

It’s not difficult finding inspiration at playoff time, but the Stars made Benn’s suspension a rally focal point. His teammates were determined to win twice without him so their captain’s season didn’t end with his unprovoked cross-check to the neck of Mark Stone two minutes in Game 3.

Mission accomplished. Getting an impactful, battle-hardened veteran like Benn back should turbo-charge the Stars. But they need to be careful about letting their urgency or focus wane after playing the last two games for Benn.

Relief can turn into a dip in emotion when teams get key players back from injury, as if the player’s return alone means the hardest part is over.

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“We’ve been through a little bit of adversity this round,” Dellandrea said. “A big message in the room was: We want to get Jamie back, you know, get our captain back. I think we just focussed on that. We’ve got him back (and) head home for Game 6. That’s what we’re thinking about right now.”

FOUR-LINE PERFECTION

The thoroughness of the Stars’ engagement on Saturday was reflected in the ice times of DeBoer’s four centres: Roope Hintz, 15:43; Wyatt Johnson, 15:52; Max Domi, 16:32; and Radek Faksa, 15:05. Why didn’t Dallas’ best players play more? Because the guys in the bottom half of the lineup earned their ice time in a must-win game.

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LONG NIGHT FOR KNIGHTS

There are a couple of things Vegas can latch on to after Game 5. 

Their top players, especially the first line of Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev, can play a lot better – even if Barbashev did open scoring on a strong move to the net after Dallas defenceman Miro Heiskanen drifted out of position to converge on Eichel along the side boards.

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And the bounces could have scarcely gone worse for the Knights. Glendening’s goal was a tip on a seeing-eye point shot by Thomas Harley. Robertson’s goal came after his initial attempt bounced back to him off defenceman Shea Theodore, and the follow-up shot tumbled off the Knight’s stick and up and over goalie Adin Hill. Dellandrea’s tie-breaker ticked the stick of Vegas defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and rattled between Hill’s blocker and pad. And Dellandrea’s clincher came from a scramble when the puck bounced to him in the slot off Stone’s skate, and Hill was unable to make a save because Domi has been knocked into him by Golden Knight Nicolas Hague and a turnover by Zach Whitecloud.

None of the goals was clean. But the Stars earned them by battling to get to the dirty areas. And the Knights are allowed to score greasy goals, too. They just didn’t. And now they have to play a sixth game on Monday.

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ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The Knights did not expose their 61.4 per cent penalty-killing, the worst by any team that has won at least one playoff round since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1977-78, because they did not take a penalty in Game 5.

But Vegas also failed to score on the game’s only power play, a slew-foot tripping penalty by Mason Marchment just 50 seconds in. In 16 playoff games, the Knights’ power play has scored nine goals and ranks 11th among 16 qualifiers at 17.7 per cent.

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The Knights have been winning by dominating five-on-five play. But they didn’t on Saturday.

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Philadelphia strengthened its hold on the North Division thanks to a comeback led by QB Case Cookus and WR Corey Coleman.



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'Playoff Jimmy' continues to falter, must recall superstar form for Game 7

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