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Milwaukee forces Game 7; Kevin Durant’s 32-point double-double not enough, 104-89

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

The Nets' chase for their elusive first championship will be determined by a Game 7 Saturday night in Brooklyn.

“We didn’t have our pop and our pace like we needed to have for whatever reason. Shake it off, watch some film and be better for Game 7,” said James Harden after the Game 6 defeat.

Brooklyn fell to Milwaukee, 104-89 in Brew Town Thursday night in a game marked by frustration for Nets fans. So, it will be win-or-go-home, the Bucks with momentum, the Bucks with home-court advantage. So far, all six games have been won by the home team.

“We weren’t well tonight offensively. Out of rhythm. Out of sync. We definitely didn’t play the way we wanted to play and the way we planned to play. I would say that for the entire game,” said Steve Nash after the Game 6 defeat. “We had a couple of stretches where we played okay, but really play the way we wanted to offensively.

“Defensively, we weren’t great either, but not a disaster. [It’s] just not a great game from us. We didn’t have our best stuff from us tonight and we got a Game 7 on our home floor.”

Things looked promising in the fourth when Brooklyn forged a 10-0 run that included a must-needed Joe Harris 26-foot three, but on the ensuing possession, Harris fouled Khris Middleton shooting a three. Nash initially attempted to challenge the foul, but Harris waved him off. Middleton — who finished with a game-high 38 points — hit the three free throws to grow the lead to 85-77 with 8:20 remaining ... and then it got ugly.

Milwaukee utilized their size advantage and capitalized on fast break opportunities to forge a commanding 15-2 run to seal the game.

“A couple of shots. A couple of questionable calls here and there. It got ugly fast,” said Harden on the Buck 15-2 run late to seal the game.

After James Harden — who finished with 16 points and seven assists in 40 minutes on one leg — fouled Middleton on a four-point play, the Nets pulled the plug and unleashed their bench at the 4:55 mark, trailing 100-79.

“We let him out of the bag tonight and [we] just got to play better,” said Nash on the defending of Middleton in the Game 6 loss. “We put him on the line when he didn’t need to. We gave up a couple of open shots in transition and offensive rebounds, things like that gets someone going, so we got to take away some of those situations. If you add it all up, I think we can do a better job.”

Kevin Durant did his best, scoring 32 points on 15-of-30 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from deep to go with 11 rebounds and three assists to pencil in his fourth straight double-double. Blake Griffin contributed 12 points in 31 minutes. The Nets did not hold a single lead throughout the Game 6 loss. Harris had yet another subpar game, finishing with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from deep.

“Clearly he made some shots. He did some things; rebounds, assists steals so, James was better tonight as far as what he was able to do but it’s tough,” said Nash on Harden’s play. “He’s really limited and he can’t do a lot of things he’s accustomed to doing so I’m grateful that it doesn't appear that he has any setbacks. If anything, he played a little bit better. Tough, tough position for James,”

Kevin Durant was similarly complimentary of Harden’s play, noting the severity of his co-star’s injury in lieu of the big stage.

“He was moving better today, but you know, that’s a tough, tough injury. He gutting it for us. We don’t expect too much out of him movement-wise,” said Durant. “But he going out there and giving it his all and we respect that.”

The Nets finished the tough loss shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from deep while suffering 16 turnovers (which translated to only eight points). Milwaukee outscored Brooklyn in the paint (46-44) and on the fast break (26-4) — led by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the field. He also grabbed 17 rebounds and three assists. The Bucks star did not attempt a three in the win and made 6-of-10 free throws.

“It definitely hurt us. That’s where they’re really strong in transition,” said Nash on the Bucks dominating the fastbreak. “I thought we had some problems getting back in transition. We didn’t create anything in transition so that was a huge discrepancy that I thought really hurt us tonight.”

The game began very on-brand for Brooklyn.

The Nets opened the first quarter with four costly turnovers — three from Harden — and were “stagnant” offensively as Nash said. They made only two of their first nine shots while going 1-of-6 from deep in the opening six minutes. Meanwhile, Milwaukee came out of the gates outscoring Brooklyn 10-0 on the fastbreak and 12-0 in the paint to forge an early 18-5 advantage. Brooklyn responded with a quick 7-0 run to cut the deficit to six out of the timeout.

The Nets put together a small burst, the team couldn’t maintain an offensive rhythm, a recurring issue all game, and were on the short end of the stick with calls in the opening frame. The Bucks concluded the first with a 26-19 advantage.

“It did hurt to have a tough start. It’s a common theme here. We’ve given up tough starts, climbed back in and we haven’t played well here,” said Nash on the Nets' rough starts.

Durant took his first break since Game 4 at the 7:50 mark of the second after scoring 10 points on 9-of-10 shooting with Brooklyn looking to steal a couple of minutes with their star on the bench. Brooklyn went on to outscore Milwaukee 10-6 in the near three minutes Durant on the bench, led by Harden who had 14 points in 22 minutes of play before halftime.

Since the rough 1-of-6 start, the Nets made 16 of their following 28 shots to shoot 50 percent but the Bucks remained in front with strong shooting. Milwaukee concluded the final two minutes of the second on a 6-0 run to boast a 59-48 lead after nursing a 13-point lead.

Milwaukee didn’t settle in the third quarter with their shots. The Nets hit the five-minute mark trailing 68-59 following a nifty fadeaway jumper from Durant — who scored six straight for Brooklyn — on a mismatch over Holiday.

Although Brooklyn managed to cut it to 67-72 entering the final minute — hitting zero threes in the period — after three free throw makes by Harden, Middleton caught fire and scored six points — including a buzzer-beater tip in — to lift Milwaukee’s lead to 11 (78-67) entering the fourth quarter, a quarter that usually to the Nets’ advantage, but not tonight.

The Film Room

Giannis is a polarizing superstar.

When he’s on, Antetokounmpo is an absolute freight train, torpedoing down driving lanes as a dynastic transition force. When he’s not... it’s ugly. There are the ill-advised pull-up threes, the midrange jumpers without any rhythm, and the ugly turnovers in the painted area. Then come the calls of fraudulence, internet folks calling the two-time MVP “overrated.” You know the drill.

Game 6 was good Giannis.

He was grabbing every fastbreak opportunity for the taking. Blake Griffin stood no chance. Vaporized.

The Bucks could feel it early; Giannis was in his bag. A simple pick-and-roll with P.J. Tucker gives Antetokounmpo the switch he wants with Jeff Green and it’s another rumbling and tumbling finish at the rim.

Why do these possessions matter?

Well, aside from putting points on the board, when Giannis puts his head down and barrels to the rim without settling for jumpers (nor in fear of being forced to take free throws), it makes the defense move, change, and morph to Milwaukee’s attack. He begins to force help and when Giannis is feeling it like this, he’s more than capable of making the kick out to the nearest shooter when the help comes from one pass away.

We’ll see what Giannis we get in Game 7.

Another quiet performance from Joe Harris

As we detailed yesterday, the 2021 NBA playoffs represent an interesting crossroads for Joe Harris. After shooting the absolute cuff off the ball through the first round, he’s picked the worst possible time for a skid, shooting just 20.8% from three since Game 3 against the Bucks.

To help jolt him out of the skid, James Harden mentioned he told Joe he was “the best shooter in the world” during a shootaround before Game 6 to enliven his spirits.

With just nine points and 1-of-4 from deep in what could have been Brooklyn’s series-clincher, it’s safe to say the high praise from Harden did not pay off.

“They’re definitely a very good defensive team, they’re key-in on personnel. I’m not really the type of player where I want to facilitate my own shot, so they've done a good job taking stuff away. For the most part, just overall defensively, they’re very keyed-in, they don’t a lot of mistakes,” said Harris about his shooting struggles. “But at the end of the day, I go through worse stretches in the regular season. It just happens to obviously be big games, big moments. You have to continue to stay aggressive, continue to play with pace, and shoot the ball with confidence whenever you have room and rhythm looks.”

Hopefully, shooting variance will be a little kinder to Sir Buckets for Game 7..]

Milestone Watch

There were a few of them, too few...

  • Kevin Durant (32 points) has scored 30+ points in consecutive games for the third time in this playoff run (he scored 49 points in Game 5). All other Nets in the franchise’s NBA history have combined to score 30+ points in consecutive playoff games once (Vince Carter in 2006).
  • Durant (32 points, 11 rebounds) has recorded a double-double in a new playoff career high four straight games. This is KD’s sixth double-double of this year’s playoffs and his fifth in six games in this series.
  • Jeff Green, coming off a playoff career high 27 points, made his first playoff start since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals w/ Cleveland at Boston (5/27/18). That was the last time a player played all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game (LeBron) prior to KD in Game 5.

Nets fans make presence known in Milwaukee and Brooklyn

As we noted in the game preview, an anonymous season ticket holder has been so impressed by the Brooklyn Brigade’s support that he or she decided to provide a group of them with tickets and lodging in Milwaukee. The Nets set everything up and the fans paid their own airfare.

It wasn’t long before the Brooklyn delegation made their presence known at FiServ Forum. With Bucks fans going silent as a the free throw-challenged Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped to the line, Nets fans took advantage of the quietude and began counting down, hoping to convince the refs that the two-time MVP was once again taking too much time before releasing the ball.

ESPN took note...

Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, a very comfortable Mr. Whammy was throwing hexes from his bedroom. Whammy’s grandson provided us — via the good auspices of Brigade member Doug Bearak — with video of the same sequence, including Whammy’s joy when Antetokounmpo missed.

The video went viral mainly because of fans and others’ horror that the Whammys were watching the game on an antiquey box TV. Many fans even offered to raise money for a newer, flatter screen number. Even Barstool Sports chimed in...

We assume Mr. Whammy, aka Bruce Reznick, will be back at Barclays Center Saturday. We’ll need him!

Injuries matter

Trung Phan, who normally uses his analytical gifts on technology and finance, took a look at the effect injuries are having on teams still in the playoffs. Rather than count up missed games, etc., Phan looked at what percent of the teams’ highest paid players have been lost to injury...

Telling numbers.

What’s next

The Nets will return back to Brooklyn to host a win-or-go-home Game 7 on Saturday, June 19. The game will be nationally broadcasted on TNT and will tip at 8:30 PM ET.

For a different perspective on Game 6, check out Brew Hoop — our sister site covering the Bucks.