With 2.1 seconds remaining in Thursday’s Game 3 between the Bucks and Nets, Brooklyn had a chance to send the competition into overtime. Fortunately for Milwaukee, Kevin Durant’s desperate triple it bounced off the back rim and fell safely to the ground, allowing fans inside the Fiserv Forum to let out a collective sigh.
After the Bucks clinched the victory, which cut the Nets’ lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals to 2-1, ESPN’s Mike Breen declared they were back in the series. But when it comes to the Hall of Fame announcer, that seems a bit premature.
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Because, in reality, the Bucks shouldn’t have won with a final score of 86-83, and Game 3 shouldn’t have come down to final possession.
Mike Budenholzer’s team started off with a bang, gaining a 30-11 lead late in the first quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were aggressive early on with 15 points each in the opening draw. (They accounted for 68 of the 86 points for Milwaukee, tThe highest percentage of points per duo in NBA playoff history). It was exactly the kind of response the Bucks needed from their stars after the Nets embarrassed them in Games 1 and 2.
But then the bad habits of previous losses returned. Milwaukee fell into isolation against Brooklyn’s heavy exchange scheme instead of moving, passing and passing. Antetokounmpo, who finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds, threw too many pull-up triples. The Nets were clearly happy to let “The Greek Freak” do his best (worst?) Impersonation of Stephen Curry.
“I think the first trimester [Antetokounmpo] what in attack mode. I think the spacing, we were better ” Budenholzer said during their post-game media availability. “We got 30 points, and then from there it was a bit like a fight. So Giannis has to keep finding his spots, he can get to second actions, third actions. He just keeps playing and making good decisions and playing for his team “.
The Bucks also benefited from an unusually poor night of shooting by the Nets, especially considering that Milwaukee was often content to stick to their drop scheme and give Brooklyn a clean look at the basket.
This is the problem of the fall against Kevin Durant. It relies on defense, navigating the screen and even then it’s a 50/50 shot. KD able to get to his place and go back in time. pic.twitter.com/8ntLGbIo6t
– Steve Jones Jr. (@ stevejones20) June 11, 2021
Kevin Durant had 30 points, but made 11 of 28 shots from the field. Kyrie Irving registered 22 points and finished with 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 3s. If only a couple of those shots fell, the Bucks would be facing an insurmountable 3-0 hole.
“It was really simple. I was just taking shots,” he added. Durant said. “I think we look good. We got to the paint. We did the extra pass. And just [didn’t] make shots. Sometimes that’s the name of the game. “
Still, Milwaukee deserves credit for closing strong. Middleton (35 points, 15 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (nine points, five assists, four rebounds) delivered clutch cubes down the stretch. It’s worth noting that those key points came out of some real midfield or transition action against a defense that wasn’t established.
As Antetokounmpo told reporters after Game 3, “A win is a win,” and the Bucks don’t get extra credit for their flair. But Milwaukee can’t hope to truly compete with Brooklyn relying on inconsistent execution and atypical shooting performances from their opponent. The Bucks have a victory under their belt – the real challenge begins now.
“At the end of the day, when you play a basketball game and win, you enjoy [it]. But I think we can play better, “said Antetokounmpo.” We can play better. We can play faster. We can play more together. “