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Nets lose season series and tiebreaker, falling to Bucks, 124-118

Outworked and out-hustled, the Brooklyn Nets fell short against the Milwaukee Bucks to lose the season series.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The stakes were high in the potential playoff preview and Milwaukee capitalized. Brooklyn did not.

The Nets suffered their third straight loss, losing to the Bucks, 124-118. With the loss, it’s not just a loss for the books (43-23). Brooklyn, which lost to the Bucks Sunday, has now dropped the season series and has lost the tiebreaker in a potential future playoff matchup. It was another nail-biter down the stretch.

The Nets entered the final 12 minutes of play leading by two and built a six-point lead before Milwaukee took control. The Bucks, behind aggressive drives and dominance down low, forged an 18-1 run - 15 of which came in the paint - to balloon their lead to nine points with 4:40 remaining. While Milwaukee was rolling, Steve Nash declined to call a timeout. Nash clarified his decision not to call a timeout when the Bucks started to pull away, saying he wanted his players to gather experience in “problem-solving.”

“We could’ve called a timeout here or there for sure, but there’s also a part of our team that you want to learn to problem-solve,” Nash said on the lack of timeouts in the fourth quarter. “We’re getting good looks at the basket and for stretches and so you want to keep having them problem solve. You want to keep having them attacking. Tonight, maybe I could have called another timeout, but you also want to make sure you save a few for the end of the game.

“So yeah, I was caught in a dilemma, but you know, maybe I should have. At the same time, I don’t think it was going to make a big difference at that point.”

Brooklyn tried getting back in it late and got two big threes from Kyrie Irving, who finished with 38 points and Joe Harris deep to head into the final minute down six. The Nets failed to capitalize on back-to-back 3-point looks from Kevin Durant, who led Brooklyn with 32 points but came away empty twice.

The rest of the quarter and game was frustrating no end. With 51.9 seconds remaining, Blake Griffin intentionally fouled Giannis Antetokounmpo - who led the Bucks with 36 points but he connected on the pair of three throws to lift their lead to 124-118.

“Very similar. We made a few mistakes but overall, you are going to live with a lot of the shots he took,” Nash said on guarding Antetokounmpo in the loss. “He didn’t shoot it as well tonight and again, that’s not the reason we lost.”

With one last hope, Irving turned the ball over and the Bucks dribbled the ball out to escape with the win.

Steve Nash referred to the early fourth quarter as a “poor stretch.” While talking about the stretch, the Nets head coach followed with the unfamiliarity of his group. He wants his players to bridge that gap of familiarity but at the same time, capitalize on the small details during the contests to offer a cushion.

“We had a poor stretch,” Nash said on the fourth-quarter play. “They were just overall more physical than us at both ends of the floor. Our gap for our team is that we don’t have a common history. We’re brand new. Everything’s new. We changed teams more or less a number of times. We got a gap to make up as far as our understanding of one another.

“While we make up that gap, we got to be more physical, win 50-50 balls and do the dirty work. We have to give ourselves some sort of buffer while we figure each other out, get more familiar with our schemes and our sets and give ourselves that little cushion where it’s not as smooth, not as seamless at all times, but we’re still able to scrap, claw and stay in the games.”

The Nets were out-worked in the loss, being outrebounded 55-39. Out of Milwaukee’s 55 boards, 15 were offensive rebounds compared to Brooklyn’s six. Outside of rebounding, Brooklyn shot poor from the free-throw line (16-of-26) and forfeited 13 turnovers, translating to 14 points.

“You talk about all the offensive rebounds. You talk about the 50-50 balls. You talk about missing 10 free throws. There’s a lot of areas we can clean up,” Nash said.

Griffin was disappointed that the Bucks outworked the Nets in Tuesday’s loss. The veteran, who is one of the most physical players on the roster, wants Brooklyn to want it more and be the more physical team on both ends - outside of rebounding.

“Definitely disappointed we were outworked. They were more physical than us on both ends of the floor. That can’t happen. We have to match the team's intensity. It’s not a thing you can control,” Griffin said on the Nets being out-worked. “That’s on us. When a team is really long - Brook and Giannis in there - getting offensive rebounds is one thing but, we can’t let guards come in and affect the game the way they did. Donte DiVincenzo had six offensive rebounds. That can’t happen. We have to want it more. We have to be the more physical team on both ends of the floor.”

It was only the second time in the 2020-21 season that the Nets lost after leading at the end of the third quarter. They’re now 33-2 in those games.

In fact, it was frustrating from the beginning with the Nets unable to establish themselves. KD and Irving had big games and Harris did as well, but in the end, that was it. Jeff Green had 10 points but was only 2-of-6 from the line. Mike James, who came in early and scored seven points, was the only other Nets to hit double figures, also with 10. Landry Shamet had one of his worst games as a Nets, going 1-of-8 overall, including 1-of-6 from deep. Three Nets who have been part of the rotation didn’t play at all: Tyler Johnson, Alize Johnson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were all DNP-CD.

The Nets turned over the ball three times in the opening five minutes of play. Although the Bucks turned the three turnovers into only two points, Milwaukee converted their defense into offense to forge a 10-0 run to nurse an early 12-9 lead.

After missing six straight looks, the Nets gathered their footing and shots started to fall on the backs of Irving and Durant, who combined for 19 of the Nets 33 first-quarter points.

Antetokounmpo was hitting a majority of the dare shots early with the Nets sagging off him and going with single coverage. The Bucks got a boost from Jrue Holiday, who scored 14 points in 11 minutes of play in the first frame to give them a 34-33 advantage after one.

The Bucks faced a big issue with 7:57 remaining in the second as Antetokounmpo drew his third fouls off a charge down low. Durant beat him to the spot down low, slid his feet, and took the charge. The Greek Freak got pulled for the three minutes of the second. That helped. Brooklyn couldn’t find an answer for him with the Bucks star finishing with 21 points on 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-5 from deep.

Brooklyn failed to capitalize when Antetokounmpo on the bench, going -9 in the near three minutes. Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only star picking up three fouls early as Irving got his third with 3:24 remaining. Nash took the risk and left him in for the remainder of the second, but the Nets offense didn’t benefit.

The Nets offense was stagnant and sloppy, leaving Nash to call a timeout while the Bucks were on a 6-0 run. Out of the timeout, the Bucks stole the inbound pass, scoring on the other end and ended the frame on an 11-3 run to take a 66-58 lead to the break.

Durant held the Nets afloat with 17 points in the first half on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 from three followed by Irving with 14 points on 50 percent shooting in 19 minutes of play.

While Brooklyn trailed by eight at the break, the Nets led the Bucks in assists (12-10) but Milwaukee held the advantage on the boards (29-21). Brooklyn’s seven first-half turnovers were costly, resulting in eight points for the Bucks.

Brooklyn’s offense remained stagnant in the opening minutes of the third, banking on their superstar duo of Durant and Irving to hit shots. If the first half shooting from Antetokounmpo didn’t show a necessity to contest his looks, the adjustment wasn’t made. The Greek Freek hit his fourth three with great space, leaving the Nets dazed but not out of it.

Nash went small, implementing Green at the five and it was working, forging a 10-3 run. Green was replaced by Brown, who didn’t see minutes in the first half, but the Bucks ballooned their lead back to seven by getting to the paint and to the charity strike but that didn’t last long.

The intensity and physicality rose in the final minutes with Tucker and Durant competitively jawing and Griffin picking up a technical. With the emotions high, Brooklyn served a solid punch to the Bucks in the final two minutes of play, cutting the deficit to two (94-92) behind the play of their two superstars, who entered the final 12 minutes combining for 61 of the Nets 94 points.

James delivered a boost to start the fourth, getting into the defense and kicking out to shooters while drilling a side-step 28-foot three on an ISO with Lopez. Despite the early burst, the Bucks countered with a 7-0 run with a pair of threes, leaving Nash to call his first timeout of the final frame with 8:52 down 104-103.

“I thought our second unit did a good job to start the fourth getting the six-point lead, but they had four of their starters in to start the fourth quarter. Obviously, having more talent on the floor and having their guys on the floor, that can change quickly,” Durant said on the second unit’s play in the opening minutes of the fourth. “I thought the start of the fourth quarter was pretty solid for us. They got a nice groove going into that fourth. Made shots, made plays. You got to give them credit.”

The Bucks took control midway through the fourth with an 18-1 run, attacking the driving lanes with aggression, to expand their cushion to nine points with 4:40 remaining. Milwaukee went on to hold on and escape with the victory.

While Antetokounmpo paved the way for the Bucks, Jrue Holiday (23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists) and Khris Middleton (23 points, seven rebounds and four assists) followed. Donte DiVincenzo served as the x-factor in the win, snagging 15 rebounds (six offensive) to with 10 points and two assists in 29 minutes of play.

The Film Room

On Sunday, it was death by Giannis. On Tuesday, it was *checks box score, winces* death by second-chance points.

“We didn’t rebound enough,” explained Kevin Durant. “They shot 14 more shots than us and a team like that, we can’t allow that to happen.”

If we were to award the game-ball to just about anyone on the court after Tuesday’s game, it wouldn’t be Giannis. It wouldn’t be KD. It wouldn’t be Kyrie Irving (though he had a terrific bounce-back game). It wouldn’t be Khris Middleton. It wouldn’t even be Jrue Holiday, who also looked resurgent after a subpar Sunday outing.

No, the honors would go to Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee’s 6’4” shooting guard who provided gobs and gobs of energy on the glass by tipping misses to teammates and acting as a midwest Bruce Brown. Though Brooklyn may enjoy a talent advantage, Milwaukee closed that gap by scrapping from every 50/50 ball in sight and clogging Brooklyn’s glorious spacing. Donte DiVincenzo was the engine to that.

Here, he simply outworks DeAndre Jordan on the glass, who did not have himself a good second outing against Milwaukee, and this low effort play was pretty emblematic of that. All Jordan has to do is jump — just slightly! — to get the board, but alas.

Here, DiVincenzo sneaks in from the weak side for the tip-in. Credit to former Net Brook Lopez for clearing space (Jeff Green, namely) to give Donte room for the second chance at the tip-in. Again, effort!

And though DiVincenzo isn’t directly responsible for this board, he does run it down after Bryn Forbes brilliantly boxes out Kyrie Irving and tips the ball out to the perimeter.

“Definitely disappointed that we were outworked,” said Blake Griffin after the loss. “They were more physical than us on both ends of the floor, and that can’t happen. We have to match teams’ intensity because that’s a thing that you can control. That’s on us... We can’t let guards come in and affect the game the way they did.”

Steve Nash leaves door (slightly) ajar for Spencer Dinwiddie return to play but it’s unlikely

Spencer Dinwiddie posted his latest ACL rehab clip to Instagram Tuesday with the caption - “I think it’s been 17weeks. What’s the fastest anybody ever returned to Bball? Lol

Steve Nash was asked pre-game about Dinwiddie, calling his return unlikely considering all the variables from his partially torn ACL to re-adapting to NBA playoff basketball. The Nets head coach also noted that he hasn’t seen his guard since the turn of the year.

“I don’t think so. We haven’t seen him since the turn of the year almost, so it’s very difficult to one expose him to full NBA playoff basketball after the type of injury he had. We want to look after his long-term health first and foremost,” Nash said. “Second of all, adapting back to the team environment. All those things together can make it seem like it’s unlikely, but who knows. Stranger things have happened.”

Ramping up Nic Claxton

In a surprise, Nic Claxton got some early minutes Tuesday. With 3:02 left in the first, Steve Nash subbed the 22-year-old for Kevin Durant. It was his first time on the court since April 18, when he went into the league’s health and safety protocols. Nash had said over the weekend that it might take a week for Claxton to ramp up.

Claxton played five minutes, all in the first half, didn’t score, but did grab two boards.

The Nets haven’t discussed the specifics of why Claxton had to go into the protocols, but Steve Nash said it had to do with the Nets trip to Miami a couple of days earlier. Same with the lost time that Reggie Perry and Alize Johnson’s shorter terms in the protocols. Claxton turned 22 on the trip.

30-30 Club

With Kyrie Irving tallying 38 and Kevin Durant 32, the Nets now have two duos in franchise history that have scored 30+ points in the same game three times in a season...

  • Kevin Durant and James Harden (2020-21)
  • Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (2020-21)

KD and Kyrie had previously scored 30 each two previous times, April 25 vs. Phoenix and January 20 at Cleveland.

KD moves past rival

With his 30th point Tuesday, Kevin Durant passed Charles Barkley (23,757) and moved into 26th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. We all remember KD’s call-out of Sir Charles earlier this season.

Next up? Allen Iverson at 24,368. That’s a goal for next season.

Meanwhile, Basketball Reference reports that Kyrie Irving’s 38-point outing was his 114th 30-point game, matching Reggie Miller’s career total. That puts him at No. 68 on the all-time list. Next up for him? Chris Mullin and Spencer Haywood with 115. Michael Jordan is No. 1, with 562.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley

What’s next

The Nets will return to play on Thursday, May 6 when the team travels south to play the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center.

For a different perspective on Tuesday’s game, check out Brew Hoop - our sister site covering the Milwaukee Bucks.