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Poor offense early, sloppy play late and Nets fall short, 86-83

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Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Three Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images


The Nets lost to the Bucks, 86-83 Thursday in Milwaukee. It was that simple. With the loss, Milwaukee picks up their first win of the series and their door remains open. Still, the Nets hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“I thought we had ample opportunities. We were back in the game the whole second half. We had a ton of good looks at the end of the game. Probably didn’t execute the way that we would like, but we still got good looks,” said Steve Nash following the Game 3 defeat. “We didn’t make any of them it felt like, but just one of those nights we didn’t execute as well, didn’t have enough poise, but plenty of stuff we can work on and get better at.”

It was the Nets worst offensive performance of the season by virtually any standard. The last time the Nets scored fewer than 100 points was back on March 24 when, without any of the “Big Three,” the Nets scored 88 points vs. the Jazz.

“It was a tough, tough playoff game where neither team was shooting the ball well, creating good opportunities and someone was going to win ugly. It was them tonight,” Nash said.

Kevin Durant described the offensive performance as “a tough one” thanks to missed shots and a slow start out the gates.

“I just think we didn’t make shots down the stretch,” said Durant. “I think we got some good looks. I think we rushed a couple of opportunities there. I like how we clawed back in the game but I hated how we even started off that way. I wish we had made a couple more plays down the stretch, but that was a tough one.”

Conversely, the defense, which held the Bucks to 86 points, was a bright spot for the Nets. In spite of all the missed shots, Kevin Durant was impressed with his group’s tenacity and grit while mucking up Milwaukee’s top-5 regular-season offense.

“I like how we defended all game. I like how we rebounded all game. We didn’t let our missed shots dictate our defense, especially when we got down big,” said Durant. “I just liked how we stayed with it.”

It came down to a contested last second 3-point attempt by Kevin Durant that bounded off the back rim, but the real lost opportunity came 11 seconds earlier when some sloppy play put them in a hole after being up 83-80, their largest lead. Durant had silenced the Milwaukee crowd with a 28-foot three with 1:23 remaining.

After Khris Middleton made a driving layup at 1:17, the Nets entered the final minute with an 83-82 lead. Bruce Brown — who had a great game with 16 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field — missed a 15-foot push shot and Milwaukee answered on the other end with Jrue Holiday hitting a spinning layup to put the Bucks up 84-83 with 11.4 seconds remaining.

“In those final less than 24 seconds, I thought Coach Bud was going to call a timeout. I’m sure other guys on the floor did and they went for the quick two,” said Irving on Holiday’s layup late. “That put them up one and it took pressure off them to come down and get into an organized set.”

Then, it got ugly. Another sloppy inbound play by Brooklyn almost led to a turnover and after the dust settled, it was Brown who missed a layup with Kevin Durant nearby but heavily guarded. The Nets had to foul Middleton and the Bucks second star calmly made both free throws to put them up 86-83 with 2.1 remaining. Brooklyn had one final hope of tying but Durant missed the heavily contested left-wing three and Milwaukee escaped with the win.

“We all know we want Kevin and Kai to shoot the ball but if they don’t get free, they got to make the right play. We made the right play,” said Nash on Brown’s missed layup late. “You give some credit to the Bucks. We still got some makable looks. It was a great test for us tonight and a lot for us to learn from.”

It was the second straight game that the Nets held the Bucks to 86 points but in Game 2, they won by 39. In Game 3, they lost by three.

“We were pretty solid again. Three games now that I thought our defensive effort was good. It’s interesting that we lose a game because of our offense but it was a tough game,” said Nash on the Nets defense. “[We] couldn’t find a rhythm. A great opportunity for us to learn and grow from this and the defense was solid.”

Whether it was defensive intensity or bad offense — take your pick — the shooting struggles were evident for both teams throughout. At one point in the fourth, the score was knotted up at 76 for seemingly an eternity (actually three plus minutes) as neither team could find the net. with three minutes remaining.

Then, the rest of the way it was Middleton vs. Durant. Middleton finished with 35 points on 12-of-25 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 from deep — while Kevin Durant — who after an uncharacteristic slow start, countered with 30 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals on 11-of-28 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 shooting from deep.

Kyrie Irving had a tough shooting night, going 9-of-22 from the field and 2-of-8 from deep to finish with 22 points, five rebounds and one assist in 45 minutes of play. But once again, he did a solid defensive job on Jrue Holiday, holding him to 4-of-14 shooting and nine points.

Other than Brown, Durant and Irving, the Nets did not have any other player finish in double-figures and shot a miserable 36.2 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three. Still, they were in the game till the end.

It didn’t look like it would be the Nets night at all in the first a near perfect quarter by Milwaukee.

The Bucks opened the contest hitting three of their first six shots, but the difference early was their defense. Milwaukee not only dictated the pace and physicality but was decisive and aggressive with their defensive actions — resulting in Brooklyn to miss their first seven shots and grow an early 9-0 lead.

Out of the Nets timeout, Milwaukee remained in the driver's seat behind Antetokounmpo and Middleton — who scored all of the Bucks 30 points in the first. The Greek Freak thrived as the roller in the screen and roll, allowing him to operate in more space and drive down the lane. That resulted in Griffin picking up two early fouls and hitting the bench. Claxton followed, also picking up two fouls. Meanwhile, Brooklyn struggled to find a rhythm offensively — ending the first shooting 20 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from deep — trailing 30-11 after one.

Brooklyn followed an embarrassing first quarter — in the words of Nash over the telecast “we just weren’t good enough” — with a 7-0 run behind the shooting from Shamet and Irving to cut the deficit to 12 and resulting in Milwaukee to call an early timeout with 10:47 remaining.

The Bucks weren’t doing much defending in the short roll and Brown took advantage of finding the pockets. Brown — who scored two points in the first — led the Nets offensive comeback with a series of signature floaters, scoring eight points on 5-of-8 shooting to cut the deficit to six with 7:43 remaining on an extended 15-2 run.

The Nets ended the second cutting the deficit to three points (45-42). While Brown led Brooklyn in scoring with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, Irving heated up in the second, tallying 10 points in 22 minutes of play while Durant had a quiet seven points. He did snag six rebounds and dished out four assists. The Nets concluded their strong second shooting 39.1 percent (18-of-46) from the field and 25 percent (3-of-15) from three while dishing eight assists on 18 made shots.

The Nets opened up the third with Durant shooting his way out of his cold streak. Durant’s first three of the game put Brooklyn within one (55-54), leaving the Bucks to call their first timeout of the third with 7:04 remaining.

Then it got chippy. Tucker and Durant got into it and needed to be separated. Tucker — who got called for a foul at the nail — complained to the officials and Durant responded, resulting in the heated moment. Both players were issued double technicals.

After the dust-up which featured intervention by second guards from both sides, the crowd began chanting, “F**k KD,” the first ugliness in the series.

Brooklyn snagged their first lead of the game (65-64) courtesy of a 15-foot floater from Brown. On the following posession, Brown picked up his fourth foul and hit the bench to finish out the final minute of third. The Nets concluded the third trailing 67-65 with both teams raising their defensive intensity and the game came down to the wire. When it was all said and done, Milwaukee escaped in the crucial Game 3 win.

The Film Room

Bruce Brown has made Brook Lopez unplayable for large stretches of this series.

That sentence will certainly make Bucks fans unhappy. It may even make a handful of longtime Nets fans a little queasy. But since Milwaukee made the adjustment of moving Brook Lopez away from Blake Griffin and onto Bruce Brown defensively in Game 2, the 6’4” mini-center has absolutely torched his matchup, 8-inch height disadvantage and all, to the tune of 29 points through the last two games.

Bruce said it after Game 2: “I love when they put the 5 on me because they’re always in a drop.”

That rule proved to be a golden one in Game 3, as Brown continued to give Brook Lopez problems in the drop coverage. The goal of drop defense is to place a center in an advantageous position to swat away layups, alley-oop tosses, dunks, and any sort of shot at the rim. What drop gives up are midrange shots, pull-up threes...

And apparently, high-arching floaters lofted perfectly by a fearless role player.

Check out Brown’s timing on this teardrop layup, tossing it high into the air before Lopez can swipe at the ball in the air — just high enough to go over the top of the former Net’s fingertips.

It’s a shame his performance ended the way it did — a well-contested floater after a pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving and then a wild driving layup against a great rim protector with 6 seconds remaining on the clock.

“We have a couple of end-of-game plays that we like to practice and we had an opportunity to execute and we failed to do so,” said Kyrie Irving about the last shot. “Ended up in Bruce’s hands with a contested layup — usually Bruce puts us in a great position to at least have something at the rim that goes in, but tonight it just didn’t go for us. It’s not on him. It’s not on any one person.”

So sure, Brown missed the final two shots. But let’s not let that overshadow the fact that he got the Nets in the game in the first place.

Milestone Watch

Not a lot of milestones in a game filled with such offensive inadequacy, but here ya go...

  • Kevin Durant (team-high 30 points) has reached the 30-point mark for the fifth time in eight 2021 playoff games. The five 30-point games matches the most recorded in a single postseason run by a Net in the franchise’s NBA history (Vince Carter in the 2006 playoffs).
  • Bruce Brown (16 points, 10 rebounds) has set new playoff career highs for points and boards tonight. This is also the first double-double of Brown’s postseason career in a playoff career high 38 minutes.
  • After trailing by as many as 21 points, Brooklyn outscored Milwaukee 31-15 in the second quarter to trim the halftime deficit to 45-42. The +16 advantage is the biggest in a second quarter in Nets Playoff history.
  • Kevin Durant moved past Manu Ginobili in career 3-point makes in the post-season. He’s now sixth all-time with 326. Next up? James Harden with 336.
  • Per Elias Sports, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Bruce Brown, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined for 80.5 percentage of the points in tonight’s game. That is the highest percentage by five players in NBA postseason history.

Joe Tsai in the house

It’s hard to recall the last time a Nets owner attended a road playoff game, but there was Joe Tsai sitting courtside tonight at Fi-Serv Forum. The Nets don’t talk about his attendance, but it appears the governor has been at all three Bucks games.

What’s next

The Nets will remain in Milwaukee and be back in action on Sunday, June 13 for Game 4. The game is scheduled for 3:00 PM ET and will be nationally broadcasted on ABC.

No word yet on whether James Harden (hamstring) or Jeff Green (plantar fascia) will be ready to play.

For a different perspective, check out Brew Hoop — our sister site covering the Bucks.