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Kyrie Irving suffers right ankle sprain as Bucks knot up series at 2-2, 107-96

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

All tied up at 2-2 and lots to worry about.

The Nets couldn't overcome the 12-point deficit heading into the fourth — and a devastating injury to Kyrie Irving earlier, losing to the Bucks, 107-96. With the defeat, Brooklyn drops back-to-back games for the first time this postseason and heads back to Barclays Center with the series tied up at two games apiece.

“We lost a great player during the game, which is tough. We didn’t play particularly well.” said Steve Nash after the loss. “ I thought we had a pretty good start. The level dropped a little bit. They got going on some transition breakdowns. They got the three balls going and some offensive rebounds, 50-50s and got a little separation going into the half and then we struggled in the second half.

“We missed him [Irving] obviously and it was a big adjustment to play without him and James, but we’ve had that type of year. We got to figure out and look to get better.”

Irving suffered a right ankle sprain after landing on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot with 6:04 left in the second quarter. The Nets guard had just come down on a made push shot. X-rays taken inside the arena proved negative. Irving will undergo more tests on the team’s return to Brooklyn. The key issue is the severity of the sprain. Sprains are graded 1 through 3 with the worst being a Grade 3. Even a Grade 1 sprain can result in a one-to-three week absence.

Irving was seen exiting the FiServ Forum in a walking boot and on crutches, ESPN reported.

Here’s the video...

“It’s always deflating when one of our guys goes down. Like we always have been through the year, it’s next man up,” said Jeff Green about losing Irving. “They went on a run and we just didn’t bounce back, so it’s no excuses. Everybody is prepared, everybody is ready. Just glad it’s a sprain and nothing more and hopefully he can heal up in the next 48.”

Irving was in a lot of pain and remained down on the floor for a couple of minutes with seemingly the entire training staff quickly surrounding him. The Nets guard gingerly walked back to the locker room on his own power and the team ruled Irving out for the remainder of the contest prior to the third quarter beginning.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen with Kai in the coming days. We’ll cross our fingers and hope it’s better than missing the next game,” Nash added.

In wake of Irving’s injury, the Nets head coach made it clear that he doesn’t plan to speed up or rush James Harden back in Brooklyn’s shorthanded backcourt, calling James Harden’s situation as an “independent.”

“I think it’s an independent case. I don’t want James to be rushed back. If he’s able to play next game and the game after, that’s fantastic. If not, I don’t want to rush him back,” Nash said.

After Irving went down and James Harden still out with a right hamstring strain, the burden well on Kevin Durant — who finished with a double-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists in 42 minutes — but was often triple-teamed in the second half. The Nets superstar manned the helm in the third, scoring 16 of the Nets 21 points in the frame, but he didn’t get the help from the supporting cast.

“It’s tricky with Kevin. We all got to pitch in and we all got to play together. We got to move the ball and I thought tonight we got a little single-minded with Kevin every time. It puts a little too much pressure on him and makes us a little more predictable at that which puts a lot of burden on him,” said Nash on Durant carrying a heavy load. “Of course, we are looking for Kevin as much as we can but within reason without confining ourselves in being predictable.”

Nash also offered a veiled criticism of the officiating, noting P.J. Tucker’s defense on KD.

“He’s playing extremely physical, and made it difficult,” Nash said. “That’s his role on their team and I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times, but that’s the playoffs. You have to adapt and adjust. Something definitely in a sense changed from the way the game was played in Brooklyn and here in Milwaukee.”

Joe Harris’ offensive woes carried into Game 4 adding a new layer of concern. The Nets sharpshooter scored only eight points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from deep in 38 minutes. In the last two games, both losses, Harris has shot 4-of-19 overall and 3-of-13 from deep. Moreover, he seemed hesitant as the game wore on and his shooting worsened.

“I thought Joe got good looks last game. Tonight, he made a few shots. We would’ve liked him to shoot a little more,” said Nash on Harris’ performance.

Bruce Brown — who scored 16 points in the Game 3 defeat — couldn’t match that performance in Game 4, scoring seven points in 21 minutes of play.

Brooklyn shot 43.4 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three as a team to go with a series-high 17 turnovers that resulted in 25 points for Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Bucks were led by their two stars once again with Antetokounmpo finishing with 34 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists in 38 minutes and Khris Middleton garnering 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 from three.

The Nets got off to a good start — hitting four of their first seven shots — taking a quick 9-2 lead while the Bucks hit one of their first seven shots, leaving the Bucks to call their first timeout with 8:17 remaining. Although the strong start, Milwaukee responded with a 7-0 run out of the timeout to spark a back and forth game.

Unlike Game 3, the shots were falling early for both teams which resulted in a shootout behind the arc. Brooklyn concluded the first frame shooting 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from the field and 4-of-11 from three (36.4 percent) while Milwaukee went 9-of-24 from the field and 5-of-11 from three. Although the Bucks' three-point shooting did the damage, the Nets headed to the second period with a 26-23 advantage with Durant in the driver's seat and leading all scorers with nine points.

Brooklyn started the second on an extended 13-0 run stapled by a deep 27-foot three from Mike James, leaving Milwaukee — who went 0-of-5 with five turnovers in the stretch — to call a timeout with 10:22 remaining down 34-23.

And then it got ugly ... very ugly. Milwaukee answered with a 19-2 run themselves that included back-to-back corner threes from PJ Tucker and Claxton picking up back-to-back fouls, hitting the bench to gain momentum on their side to go with a 44-38 lead. It was then that Irving was injured. Shortly after halftime, the Nets announced that Irving was done for the game.

Despite the huge blow, the Nets powered through the adversity and upped their physicality to keep it close. Brooklyn hit the locker room trailing 53-48 on 46.2 percent (18-of-39) from the field and 35.3 percent (6-of-17) from deep.

Durant — who had a tough half getting calls — was tested mentally, piling up four turnovers in a span of 10 possessions, but led the team in scoring with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting and 1-of-4 from three. Brooklyn’s turnovers (9) added up with Milwaukee capitalizing 11 points off the Nets’ miscues.

Milwaukee opened the second half on a 7-2 run to grow a 10-point advantage. Following an emphatic slam by Antetokounmpo, the Bucks star flexed towards Griffin after the finish. While the Bucks began to harvest more momentum and grow their lead — the biggest lead was 17 —, Durant — who scored 16 of Brooklyn’s 21 points in the third — wasn’t getting much help from the supporting cast in the period. Despite Durant needing to carry a heavy load, Brooklyn entered the final 12 minutes of play trailing by 12 (81-69).

The deficit was too much to overcome as Nash unleashed the bench — Chris Chiozza, Tyler Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Alize Johnson and Reggie Perry — at the 4:28 mark of the fourth to finish out the loss.

The Film Room

The Bucks brought something new to the table.

It wasn’t necessarily a Giannis-related adjustment. It wasn’t a new defensive scheme. They didn’t bust out new sets for Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

The Bucks adhered to a simple tenet of basketball utopia: Passing up good shots from great ones. Their process improved.

Prior to Game 4, the Bucks had been playing one of the most isolation-centric offenses in recent memory. Giannis was driving to the rim without a plan. Jrue Holiday was forcing up layups through a sea of hands. The Bucks just looked... off, nothing like an NBA playoff team.

In Game 4, the Bucks brought it offensively. If the Giannis-Khris Middleton pick-and-roll didn’t yield a great look, the Bucks would simply reset and flow into a secondary action — a Giannis-Jrue Holiday dribble-handoff, for example — rather than having one of Giannis or Khris forcing up a shot to salvage the pick-and-roll possession.

Milwaukee’s improved process and ball-movement on offense bled into its defense; the Bucks got a hand on everything, using the, um, interesting officiating to their advantage to rough the Nets up and interrupt their sets. That forced turnovers, 17 of them in fact. And with live-ball turnovers, THAT is when the Bucks are at their best, dominating in transition.

Especially when that transition offense comes from maybe the most terrifying fastbreak player in the game, the two-time MVP himself.

Depending on the return of James Harden and what Kyrie Irving’s status is, the Nets could have to dig deep with a shorthanded group. That means cleaning up the little errors and playing more sound, succinct basketball. It’s time to lock-in.

LeBron James reacts to Kyrie Irving injury

Well said.

Joe Tsai reacts to Kyrie Irving injury

Tsai’s reaction was not quite as pithy as LeBron’s. In two overnight tweets, the Nets’ governor went from subdued to hopeful...

No indication if Tsai had any inside information on Irving’s condition.

Jeff Green made his return to the floor

Jeff Green played his first bit of NBA basketball since Game 2 of the Boston Celtics first-round series, making his return to the floor after suffering from a strained plantar fascia. Within seconds, the Nets’ veteran leader made an impact, sliding over from the weakside of the floor — Blake Griffin style — to take a charge against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Green finished with with points on 2-4 shooting, five rebounds, an assist, and two turnovers in 27 minutes admitting that he was a little “tired” after not playing in almost three full weeks.

“Tired, but I mean I knew that was gonna happen. I’ve gotta find my rhythm sitting out that long, especially for the playoffs. It’s tough to just bounce back in and try to come out and be who I was before the injury,” said Green. “The rhythm has to come. I wasn’t TIRED, tired, but I got a little fatigued. It’s tough to replicate game-like situations, especially the playoff intensity. It’ll come. It’ll come back. I gotta get my rest and do whatever I can to help my team for Game 5.”

Milestone Watch

Hard to look at milestones after a game that saw two losses, the game and Kyrie Irving, but there were two, both for Kevin Durant.

  • Durant moved up on both the list of most field goals in post-season and most free throws. KD passed Larry Bird to move into the 11th spot with 1,459 in field goals and passed Dirk Nowitzki to move into the eighth spot with 1,075 in free throws.

As Sponge Bob might say

What’s next

The Nets will return back to Brooklyn to play Game 4 against Milwaukee on Tuesday, June 15. The tip time has yet to be released and the game will be nationally televised on TNT.

“The message is to keep our heads up. Now it’s a three-game series. We got to get home, rest up, get our mind and bodies right, study the film and try to put out our best performance on Tuesday,” Nash said.

For a different perspective, check out Brew Hoop — our SB Nation sister site that covers the Bucks.