CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 17 (AP)
-- Down 15 points and on the brink of elimination, the Milwaukee Bucks never panicked. Instead, they turned to their "Big Three," and forced a seventh game.
scored a career-playoff high 33 points, Glenn Robinson
had 29 and Ray Allen
added 23 to rally the Bucks to a 104-97 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night to send the Eastern Conference semifinal series back to Milwaukee.
Game 7 is Sunday.
"There was never any pressure on us," Allen said. "We know that when we play together we play our best and that brings a calm to us. We know that all we have to do is get together and everything will be fine."
After struggling through three straight losses, the Bucks' shooters finally broke out when it mattered the most by lifting Milwaukee back into the game.
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Cassell, bothered by sore ribs the entire series, was 10-for-16 from the floor and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Robinson had 13 in the third quarter to help the Bucks climb back into the game, and Allen drained a 3-pointer with 27 seconds to play to break a 97-97 tie and give Milwaukee the lead for good.
"We controlled at least one of those guys in each of the three games we won, but when all three are scoring like that they are awfully tough to beat," Charlotte coach Paul Silas
said. "We just couldn't find a way to stop any of the those three guys and that gave them the victory."
led the Hornets with 27 points. Jamal Mashburn
scored 24 -- but had only six points in the second half, all on free throws.
"What the Hornets did to me the last four games is what we did to Mashburn," Allen said. "Eventually that kind of defense is going to wear you down and I think he was tired. He didn't have the confidence late in the game like he's had in the previous ones."
But Mashburn refused to take the blame for the loss.
"It's a team game," he said. "I've preached that from day one, especially this time. It has to be five guys playing real well to beat a club like Milwaukee."
The Hornets were playing well early, when they built a 15-point lead.
That's when frustration began to show from Milwaukee and Cassell came close to getting ejecting for arguing a call.
After Tim Thomas
was called for a foul, Cassell stormed after referee Derrick Stafford, who hit Cassell with a technical. Cassell screamed at him until Ervin Johnson
raced over and pulled him away.
As the Hornets hit three free throws to make it 45-31, Milwaukee coach George Karl
implored his team to settle down.
Baron Davis uses the crossover to elude Sam Cassell and nails the fadeaway jumper:
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They did, pulling back into the game in the second half behind the "Big Three."
"We've been nicknamed that and we finally played the part," Cassell said.
Cassell and Allen hit their first shots of the second half and Robinson scored seven straight points to help the Bucks cut Charlotte's lead to 61-60 with five minutes left in the third.
"We needed to take a chance and make some tough shots," Robinson said. "I finally realized what George always tells me, Sam and Ray -- there's going to be a point in the game when you have to take tough shots to win. That's what we did."
The Bucks opened up a four-point lead at the start of the fourth and kept it there behind Cassell's solid free throw shooting -- he made eight straight and didn't even flinch after banging his head on a hard tumble out of bounds.
The Hornets went up 94-93 on Mashburn's two free throws, but Cassell answered with a jumper. The Hornets then turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation and Robinson stretched the lead to 97-94 with a jumper with 1:05 to play.
But Baron Davis
tied it for Charlotte with a 3-pointer.
The Hornets closed in on Cassell at the other end of the floor and for a moment, it looked like Cassell would take the shot. He drove deep into the lane, but tossed the ball out to a wide-open Allen at the last second.
Allen didn't hesitate to throw it up, draining the 3 with 27.8 seconds to play to give the Bucks a 100-97 lead.
"I knew there was no way Sam was getting to the hole so I just got ready," Allen said. "Miss or make, I was taking the shot."
The Hornets looked for a 3 at the other end, but the ball got kicked out to Eddie Robinson
, the unlikeliest of suspects to make a long shot. His attempt was short, the Bucks got the rebound and Charlotte had to foul Robinson.
Robinson made both shots to seal the win with 15.1 seconds to play.
"It's tough, but we have a Game 7 and we'll be ready," Mashburn said.
The Bucks started Johnson at center in place of Darvin Ham
for the second straight game. ... Hornets forward Derrick Coleman
has not played in the last four games. ... Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" sang the National Anthem. ... The Hornets played a clip of Allen missing a free throw in the movie "He Got Game" during a timeout. ... One sign spotted in the crowd was a likeness of the front page of Friday's newspaper with a blaring headline that read "Hornets Advance Eastern Conference Finals!"