In the end, what defined them, their record-breaking offense, failed them. And what plagued them, their steady stream of injuries, broke them.
After a season filled with ups and downs and a postseason rattled by those injuries and adversity, the Nets were officially eliminated from the playoffs and the pursuit of their first championship Saturday night, losing to the Bucks, 115-111, in overtime, a Game 7 instant classic that produced history, drama but ultimately disappointment.
“I just told them how proud I am of them. Just an unbelievable effort and gave us everything they had. So much adversity this year in the first year together. So many changes to the roster and so many injuries, COVID protocols, and they couldn’t have given us anything more,” said Steve Nash after the Game 7 loss.
The Nets scored only two points in the extra period. The Bucks only four but it was enough.
The final result obscured what was the single most dramatic shot in the club’s Brooklyn history: a stunning deep two that sent the game into OT. A couple of inches back and the Nets, not the Bucks, would be waiting to see who’d face in the Eastern conference finals.
“My big ass foot stepped on the line. I just saw how close I was to ending their season with that shot,” said Durant after the Game 7 defeat. “It wasn’t in God’s plan and we move on.”
Out of a timeout, Kevin Durant — who finished with another masterful performance of 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 53 minutes — delivered when they needed him most; drilling a heavily-contested yet incredible 24-foot fadeaway to knot the game up at 109 with 1.0 seconds remaining — a shot that had Durant’s foot slightly over the three-point line.
The Bucks couldn’t capitalize in the final second with Giannis Antetokounmpo — 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in 50 minutes — missing a heavily contested fadeaway.
Then, in overtime, with the score tied at 111, the game was decided.
“I think we had some fatigue, but we missed a couple of open looks and then didn’t make some really difficult ones and they made theirs,” said Nash on the closing minutes in overtime. “There’s nothing in it. Just couldn’t get it done but at that point in the game, guys are fatigued and at the end of seven games and overtime, it’s a flip of a coin.”
After a Brook Lopez rejection at the rim on Durant and Joe Harris — who had another rough night with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field with all but one of his shots coming from three-point range — missed the left wing three that would’ve put the Nets ahead.
“I’m disappointed. I wish that I played better. There’s a lot of things where you can go back and be a tough critic on yourself but at the same time, you got to bring more to the table than just one thing. I wish I shot more efficiently, help alleviate some of the pressure other guys were facing, but this is the situation that we’re in. Frankly, if I played better, we might be in a little bit of a different spot,” said Harris on his disappointing performances in the series.
Off the miss, Khris Middleton — 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists — drilled a 13-foot two to put Milwaukee up 113-111 with 40.1 seconds remaining. Out of the Nets timeout, Durant drove down the right side and missed the pull-up jumper.
The Nets had one last chance at some more Durant magic, but fatigue caught the superstar late with him air balling a 24-foot jumper near the top of the key with 0.3 seconds remaining and Lopez — the Nets career leader in points — put the nail in the coffin with two free throws.
“I don’t know what more Kevin can do. It’s just out of this world and you can say that for all of our guys in a different part of the season gave us something. [I’m] just really, really proud of the group and I hurt for them more than anything,” Nash said.
James Harden — who was battling right hamstring tightness — finished the Game 7 loss with a near triple-double of 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 53 minutes and Blake Griffin provided Brooklyn with big minutes, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes before fouling out in overtime.
“It’s basically a Grade 2 hamstring strain. First possession of Game 1 up until Game 5, that was the first time I did anything and any basketball competition against anybody. I was literally going out there on a limp.” said Harden playing through his right hamstring injury.
Normally, a Grade 2 hamstring strain requires four to six weeks of rest and rehab. From the time Harden got hurt in Game 1 and his return for Game 6, he had two. Not enough.
Jeff Green spoke of his injury as well prior to the game.
“My foot is great. It’s still attached. It’s still there. So that’s a good sign,” he said. “How much pain am I in? I mean, I’m good. I’m going to go out there and play. So I don’t like to talk about certain things. If I’m out there on the floor and I’m playing hard, I’m not worried about certain things, and that’s one of them.”
The game was close throughout with no lead greater than 10 points and 20 lead changes.
Milwaukee came out of the gates with a 6-0 run, but Brooklyn avoided another on-brand start by responding with an 11-0 run that included a wide-open left-wing three from Harris. While Brown held Middleton to 2-of-7 shooting from the field in the first, the Bucks opened Game 7 missing 7 of their first 11 shots but hit three of their five threes. Meanwhile, Durant scored five of Brooklyn’s first 11 points and Harden took another step from games 5 and 6 by upping his aggressiveness and getting himself to the foul line.
Despite a trade of runs early, the two championship contenders went back-and-forth throughout the first with Brooklyn taking a 28-25 advantage after one, led by Durant with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Brown — who went back to wearing a mask to start the second — provided Brooklyn with big minutes in the second to spark an 8-0 run that included a thunderous slam over Antetokounmpo.
Bruce Brown over Giannis pic.twitter.com/gauZ6YSTd0— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 20, 2021
Brooklyn started to gather momentum and the 16,287 fan-sellout crowd came alive. Each time Giannis Antetokounmpo went to the line, the arena, led by the Brooklyn Brigade, the crowd responded with a 10-second count and Antetokounmpo seemed visibly affected by the noise. The Bucks superstar ended up air balling a free throw. And despite numerous instances where the count exceeded the 10-second limit, the refs never called.
Meanwhile. the Nets slowly paced themselves and led by as much as 10 points behind the play of Durant — 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from three in 24 minutes — to hit the break with a 53-47 advantage and nursing valuable momentum.
Despite being only down six, Holiday — four points on 2-of-11 shooting — and Middleton — 2-of-11 — struggled in the first half with Antetokounmpo carrying the Bucks first half load with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 1-of-3 from behind the arc.
At the Half— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) June 20, 2021
KD ▪️ 20p ▪️ 5r ▪️ 3a
James ▪️ 12p ▪️ 4r ▪️ 3a
Bruce ▪️ 10p ▪️ 3r pic.twitter.com/xgrfRs2X22
Then, the script quickly flipped. It was a third-quarter that included 11 lead changes as the Bucks came out with more energy and more assertiveness to start the second half with an extended 12-1 run to take the lead in the opening minutes of the third before a three-point shootout between the two teams with Milwaukee getting more shots up than Brooklyn.
Steve Nash banked on his starters late risking late fatigue. Harden missed a series of threes while the Bucks capitalized in the closing two minutes to take an 82-81 advantage into the final 12 minutes.
After trading baskets and lead changes, Brooklyn gathered some momentum late with five minutes and some change left in the game. Off an unusual possession, Harden gathered the loose ball at halfcourt and tossed it to a cutting Durant who slammed an and-one dunk to electrify the crowd and put the Nets up 96-91 with 5:39 remaining.
In the end, though, the team offense failed them. And the bench played only 20 minutes, failing to score a single point. That hadn’t happened in a playoff game in 14 years.
And injuries sapped them again. The Nets “Big Three” played only a bit more than 300 minutes together in 84 games of regular season and post-season.
”Not having James...and then Ky going down,” said Griffin. “I don’t care what anybody says, nobody would’ve had us winning this series.”
The Film Room
Season on the line, the Nets made an adjustment. The starting lineup — which was Kevin Durant, James Harden, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, and Jeff Green in Game 6 — was altered... some might say significantly.
Bruce Brown was named a starter. That’s right, after playing in just 5 minutes in Game 6, the 24-year-old turbo small-ball center/guard/whatever-the-heck-Bruce-is was entrusted with a big responsibility for the biggest game of the season. Presumably, his job was to come in and shut down Khris Middleton.
When he gives you a little something on offense, well, that’s just the juice you need in a Game 7.
With James Harden limited and Kevin Durant’s pick-and-roll game somewhat neutralized (at least compared to Game 5) with Brook Lopez playing higher up the floor, Bruce didn’t have many opportunities to affect the game as a roller. But if you’ve been reading us this season, you’ll know Bruce is one of the more adaptable bit players on the roster. Take away his roll-game? Great, he’ll gobble up offensive rebounds. If those offensive boards are limited by a frankly ginormous Milwaukee Bucks team, he’ll improvise and bust out his unteachable cutting skillset.
Cutting while another player (Kevin Durant below) posts up seems counter-intuitive given that you’d want as much spacing as possible to keep help defenders at bay. But when the help on Durant’s post-ups comes from Bruce’s defender, Brook Lopez, Brown can sneak into open crevices for silky floaters.
With the defense keyed in on Durant, Bruce utilized the scrambling coverage to get to that monstrous poster. Sure, the dunk itself is an exciting highlight. But just as (okay, maybe not just as) exciting is his spatial awareness to find the hole in the defense in the heat of the moment.
We gotta tell you again? BRUCE PLAYS BIG. pic.twitter.com/kOgFsUxMzc— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) June 20, 2021
Late in the game, he produced a MASSIVE deflection to stifle what looked to be an open Milwaukee transition play, eventually sending the game to overtime. In overtime, he grabbed a tremendous offensive rebound in a sea of three Bucks players.
Brown, a free agent, is one of the many big decisions Brooklyn must make — 9, to be exact — and is sure to have a list of suitors in need of his junk-the-game-up skillset.
“I hope I’m here. I know my contract is up, but I hope I’m staying in Brooklyn,” said Brown. “I love playing with these guys, they made me better this year. I worked on a lot of things. I’ve got a lot to work on this summer and I will get better. But I hope I’m here, for sure.”
We’ll see what his future holds, but in the last game before his big payday, the guy was just marvelous.
WandaVision is real!
It was a moment on the sidelines. Wanda Durant, aka The Real MVP, let her feelings be known about P.J. Tucker’s very physical defense of her son.
Wanda Durant: "This is basketball! This ain’t football!”— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 20, 2021
PJ Tucker smiling: "I love you.”
WD: "I love you too.”
Some good, some bad.
- The game was the seventh overtime Game 7 in NBA post-season history.
- Kevin Durant’s 48 points were the most ever scored in a Game 7.
- Durant now has averaged 36.2 points in five career Game 7’s, the highest ever in NBA history. He is 3-2 in those games after last night.
- Two players scoring 40 or more points, in the same Game 7:
—2021: Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo
—2008: LeBron James and Paul Pierce
—1963: Sam Jones and Oscar Robertson
- Durant (48 points) tallied 411 points in this postseason, setting a franchise record for most points scored in a single postseason. KD had three 40-point games in this year’s playoffs. All other Nets in the franchise’s NBA history have combined for three 40-point games.
- Durant is the first player in Nets NBA history to record 30+ points in three straight playoff games. KD has scored 30+ points eight times in this postseason, which is a franchise record for most 30-point games.
- Zero bench points for Brooklyn. who used only seven players if you don’t count Nic Claxton’s one second of inbound defense late. The last time that happened in the NBA: was April 15, 2015, when Miami ran five guys out there for virtually every second in a meaningless finale against Philadelphia. Last time in a playoff game? April 26, 2007 (Houston vs. Utah)
- The Bucks and Nets combined for five field goal attempts from the bench. According to @EliasSports. That’s the fewest in any playoff game since starters were tracked in 1970-71.
- Marv Albert called his last game in New York City, something he’d done for six decades with the Knicks, Nets and the NBA.
Joe Tsai says thanks and Wait till next year!
It was the long-time Brooklyn Dodgers fan response to a disappointing season: “Wait till next year!” Joe Tsai didn’t quite say that, but the sentiment was similar.
This is just the start of our journey. Appreciate our guys, who left it all on the floor. Appreciate our fans — you are the loudest and the best! @BrooklynNets— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) June 20, 2021
And we do appreciate it!
The NBA Draft, we guess which is July 29. It’s undetermined whether it will be back at Barclays Center or virtual, like it was last season. Summer League starts a week later in Las Vegas. Then, there’s the Olympics.
You can also turn to Brew Hoop, our sister site on SB Nation, if you wish and we wish you did. They do a good job.
More links in the morning. We’re tired and numb and ... well, you get it.
- Box Score: Milwaukee Bucks 115, Brooklyn Nets 111 - NBA.com
- Game Highlights: Milwaukee Bucks 115, Brooklyn Nets 111 (Video) - NBA.com
- Highlights: Kevin Durant 48 points (Video) - NBA.com
- Highlights: James Harden 22 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists (Video) - NBA.com
- Steve Nash on Nets’ Game 7 loss to Bucks (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on tough Game 7 loss (Video) - YES Network
- James Harden on dealing with a hamstring injury against Milwaukee (Video) - YES Network
- Joe Harris on Game 7 loss to Bucks (Video) - YES Network
- Blake Griffin’s on Brooklyn’s Game 7 loss to Milwaukee (Video) - YES Network
- Halfway there: Bucks reach East finals after outlasting Nets - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Bucks edge Nets in OT in Game 7, withstand Durant’s 48 - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 40 as Bucks top Nets in epic Game 7 - Larry Fleisher - Reuters
- Milwaukee Bucks Eliminate Nets From N.B.A. Playoffs - Sopan Deb - New York Times
- Nets’ season ends with crushing OT loss to Bucks in Game 7 - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Joe Harris’ shooting woes cost Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets show resiliency sometimes isn’t enough - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post
- Kevin Durant’s legend grew even in defeat - Ian O’Connor - New York Post
- Nets’ all-in trade for James Harden didn’t end with title - Marc Berman - New York Post
- Giannis Antetokounmpo silences Nets fans in the end - Marc Berman - New York Post
- Nets season ends after overtime loss to Bucks in Game 7 - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- The Nets’ season crumbled before my eyes - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily Nets
- Jeff Green is playing through strained plantar fascia: ‘My foot is still attached. That’s a good sign’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Post
- Kevin Durant’s 48 points not enough as Nets fall in OT to Bucks, losing Game 7 and semifinal series - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Why Islanders and Nets hosting big playoff games on same night is historically significant - Neil Best - Newsday
- Nets’ Game 7 loss to Bucks a cruel reminder of what injuries cost them - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York
- Milwaukee Bucks survive instant classic to make Eastern Conference finals - Tim Bontemps - ESPN
- Brooklyn Nets faced ‘one too many obstacles this year,’ Steve Nash says - Malika Andrews - ESPN
- 2021 NBA Playoffs: Everyone on Twitter knew Kevin Durant would get the ball, and then KD delivered - ESPN
- Offseason moves for the Brooklyn Nets: Extensions coming for the Big Three? - Bobby Marks - ESPN+
- NBA playoffs 2021: The Brooklyn Nets’ dynamic, dramatic, disappointing season — in their own words - Malika Andrews & Tim Bontemps - ESPN+
- BUCKS 115, NETS 111: BROOKLYN’S SEASON ENDS IN GAME 7 OVERTIME THRILLER - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- NETS VS. BUCKS GAME 7: KEVIN DURANT, JAMES HARDEN, AND STEVE NASH TOP QUOTES - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- GALLERY: NETS VS. BUCKS GAME 7 - Brooklyn Nets
- Bucks 115, Nets 111 (OT): The beat goes on after thrilling Game 7 - Jim Owczarski - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
- Bucks dig deep to outlast Nets in Game 7 overtime thriller, reach Eastern Conference finals - Jeff Zillgitt - USA Today
- Bucks-Nets score, takeaways: Milwaukee survives Kevin Durant’s record night in Game 7, advances to East finals - Jack Maloney - CBS Sports
- Bucks-Nets: How Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee shook off struggles and playoff failures in chaotic Game 7 - James Herbert - CBS Sports