LOS ANGELES – The Milwaukee Bucks started strong and held on late to beat the Brooklyn Nets 86-83 on Thursday and work their way back to their NBA Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
Khris Middleton scored 35 points and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 as the Bucks, defeated in two games in Brooklyn, cut the deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
Kevin Durant led the Nets with 30 points and 11 rebounds, but his three-point attempt to force overtime bounced off the rim and the Bucks avoided falling to a 0-3 hole.
“He looked good, but thank God he didn’t go in,” Antetokounmpo said of Durant’s latest attempt.
The Bucks were coming off a humiliating 39-point loss to the Nets in Game 2 in Brooklyn, and in Game 1 of the series in Milwaukee they came out playing as if their lives depended on the outcome.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton each scored 15 points in the first quarter as the Bucks took a 30-11 lead.
The Nets turned the tables in the second period, opening the quarter on a 15-2 streak.
They outscored the Bucks 31-15 in the second, but didn’t get their first lead of the game until the third quarter, when Bruce Brown’s jump shot put them up 65-64 with just over a minute left in the period. . .
The rest of the road was crisp and the Bucks took a two-point lead in a fourth quarter that saw four lead changes, with neither team leading by more than four points.
It was tied at 80-80 with 1:30 left. Durant ran out a 3-pointer to set the nets with 1:23 left.
Middleton drove a layup to cut the deficit and Jrue Holiday laid a layup to put Milwaukee up by one with 11.4 seconds left.
Middleton pushed the Bucks’ lead to three with two free throws topping the score.
“At the end of the day, we kept our composure,” said Antetokounmpo. “We stayed together … we continued to trust our habits and we were able to stay in the game and get the victory.”
The Bucks will try to level the series when they host Game 4 on Sunday.
Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets, who were again left without the third piece for their star trio, James Harden, who is suffering a hamstring injury.
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