With 2.1 seconds remaining in Thursday’s Game 3 between the Bucks and Nets, Brooklyn had a chance to send the contest to overtime. Fortunately for Milwaukee, Kevin Durant’s desperation 3-pointer bounced off the back rim and fell safely to the floor, allowing the fans inside Fiserv Forum to let out a collective exhale.
After the Bucks secured the victory, which trimmed the Nets’ Eastern Conference semifinals lead to 2-1, ESPN’s Mike Breen declared that they were right back in the series. But with respect to the Hall of Fame announcer, that seems a bit premature.
Because, really, the Bucks shouldn’t have won by a final score of 86-83, and Game 3 shouldn’t have come down to the final possession.
Mike Budenholzer’s squad started off with a bang, running out to a 30-11 lead by the end of the first quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were aggressive early on with 15 points each in the opening frame. (They accounted for 68 of Milwaukee’s 86 points, the highest percentage of points by a duo in NBA playoff history.) It was exactly the type of response the Bucks needed from their stars after the Nets embarrassed them in Games 1 and 2.
But then the bad habits from the previous losses returned. Milwaukee fell into isolations against Brooklyn’s switch-heavy scheme rather than moving, passing and screening. Antetokounmpo, who finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds, fired far too many pull-up 3-pointers. The Nets were clearly happy to let “The Greek Freak” do his best (worst?) Stephen Curry impersonation.
“I think, the first quarter, [Antetokounmpo] was in attack mode. I think the spacing, we were better,” Budenholzer said during his postgame media availability. “We got 30 points, and then from there, it was a little bit of a slugfest. So Giannis has just got to keep finding his spots, can get to second actions, third actions. He’s just going to keep playing and making good decisions and playing for his team.”
The Bucks also benefited from an uncharacteristically poor Nets shooting night, especially considering Milwaukee was often content to stick to its drop scheme and give Brooklyn clean looks at the basket.
This is the problem with drop vs. Kevin Durant. It relies on the defense navigating the screen and even then it’s a 50/50 shot. KD able to get to his spot and rise back to back times. pic.twitter.com/8ntLGbIo6t
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 11, 2021
Kevin Durant totaled 30 points, but he shot 11 of 28 from the field. Kyrie Irving posted 22 points and went 9 of 22. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Joe Harris, who led the league in 3-point percentage during the regular season, shooting 1 of 11 on field goals and 1 of 7 on 3-pointers. If just a couple of those shots fall, the Bucks would be staring at an insurmountable 3-0 hole.
“It was really simple. It was just making shots,” Durant said. “I think we got good looks. We got to the paint. We made the extra pass. And we just [didn’t] make shots. Sometimes, that’s the name of the game.”
Milwaukee does deserve credit for closing strong, though. Middleton (35 points, 15 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (nine points, five assists, four rebounds) delivered clutch buckets down the stretch. It’s worth noting that those key points came off some actual halfcourt action or in transition against a defense that wasn’t set.
As Antetokounmpo told reporters after Game 3, “A win is a win,” and the Bucks don’t receive extra credit for style. But Milwaukee can’t expect to truly compete with Brooklyn by relying on inconsistent execution and outlier shooting performances from its opponent. The Bucks have one win under their belts — the real challenge starts now.
“At the end of the day, when you play a basketball game and you win the game, you enjoy [it]. But I think we can play better,” Antetokounmpo said. “We can play better. We can play faster. We can play more together.”