St. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) -- The "Big Three" aren't a Milwaukee mirage anymore.
The Bucks forced a decisive Game 7 in their semifinal series with the Hornets when Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson combined for 85 points in their 104-97 victory at Charlotte.
It was the first premiere performance by the trio in the playoffs.
Cassell had three sub-par games, all losses, after bruising his ribs in Game 2 against the Hornets, and with Cassell hurting, Allen was effectively double-teamed and Robinson was unable to capitalize on the trapping defense.
That all changed in Game 6 Thursday night.
Cassell had a career playoff-best 33 points and 11 assists despite having banged-up knees and elbows and difficulty breathing from sore ribs.
"Sam was great," Bucks coach George Karl said. "I mean, Sam not only played statistically a fantastic game. I thought he pulled us along with his spirit, his energy, just his guts.
"Sam made big plays in the fourth quarter. When we were down one, it always seemed like Sam's shot to put us back up one. And Glenn had a great run in the third quarter to get us back to even. But I think Sam had the guts to win it for us."
Robinson had 29 points, the most he had ever scored in the playoffs, and Allen added 23, including a late 3-pointer that put the dagger in the Hornets' hearts.
"They hit shots. They're a beast to guard," David Wesley said. "Sam Cassell never got it going in the previous games, so he was never that aggressive. He had four or five shots go in, so he's going to take the next 10. Same way with Big Dog. Ray Allen played a Ray Allen game, like he's been playing the whole series, minus the two games we played here. Those guys smelled blood and they went right for it."
One more such performance out of this trio and the Hornets will be history, Charlotte coach Paul Silas said.
"We controlled at least one of those guys in each of the three games," Silas said of the games the Hornets won. "But when all three are scoring like that, they're awfully tough to beat. We just couldn't find a way to stop any of those guys."
Hornets guard P.J. Brown said he and Elden Campbell have to shut down Cassell.
"Especially when they're in transition and he's pushing the ball real hard," Brown said. "We got keep an eye on our man and an eye on him. When that ball is coming, you never know where Sam is going, whether he's going to set up or shoot. One time I saw Karl call for a timeout and Sam come up and took a 3. He does what he wants to do. That was crazy. We can't relax. We relaxed on Thursday and that's what hurt us."
So did the Bucks' other sharpshooters.
Allen made some early shots to keep the Bucks within striking range and then sank a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left that sent the series back to Milwaukee for Game 7 Sunday.
Robinson knocked down a series of tough shots with 13 points in the third, when the Bucks erased the last of a 15-point first-half deficit.
One consequence of Robinson's offensive breakout was that Jamal Mashburn got weary from guarding him and missed all eight of his second-half shots.
"The best defense is a better offense," Cassell said. "When we're scoring points, we don't even worry about what other teams are doing offensively."
The Bucks trapped Mashburn whenever he got the ball on the right side of the basket, where he's most skillful.
"They double-teamed him and double-teamed him quick and aggressive," Wesley said. "I think they think that might be the key to winning. I think that they might do it even more."
Allen said what the Bucks want is an encore performance from Cassell.
But will he be up to it?
"I'm just hoping that my body feels better," Cassell said. "I went through a lot last night in the game. Charlotte might not think so, but I went through a lot. I'm not in the best of health right now, but I'm not using that as an excuse.
"If this was the regular season, I'd be sitting out for a week or so."
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