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Kyrie Irving’s season-high 38 leads Nets to huge win over Bucks in Milwaukee, 126-123

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Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

With Kevin Durant’s return looming and hopefully Ben Simmons shortly thereafter, Brooklyn came away with a huge win that hopefully will serve as a turning point for the depleted Nets heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

Brooklyn escaped Milwaukee with a 126-123 “W” over the reigning champion Bucks Saturday night. With the victory, the Nets improve to 32-29 on the year and a confidence-building win under their belts.

“They deserved it. I think that’s the message to the team after the game,” said Steve Nash. “We had some tough weeks here and we asked them to stay together, first and foremost, and they’ve done that. We asked them to focus to weather this period where we’re undermanned and struggling. They were rewarded tonight.”

The Nets remain in eighth place in the East, a game behind the Raptors who they play in a home and home back-to-back starting Monday. However, post-game, Steve Nash said it was unlikely that KD will play in either game but expects him to play sometime this week.

After a game that saw run and after run, the Nets used an 11-4 run to take a two-point lead into the final minute, which took nearly a half hour! With 26.5 seconds remaining, Andre Drummond rejected Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim to keep the two-point lead standing. James Johnson followed the block with one of his own, a difficult closeout on Bobby Portis.

Take a look...

After a one-out-of-two trip at the free-throw line for Drummond, Kyrie Irving fouled Grayson Allen off a 3-point attempt. The former Duke Blue Devil made two to trim the lead to one with 14.6 seconds left. Out of a Nets timeout and an inbound by Goran Dragic, Brooklyn peeled off six seconds off the game clock before Milwaukee fouled Irving. The star guard drilled both free throws to make it a three-point lead (121-118) with 8.9 seconds.

Brooklyn fouled Khris Middleton to avoid gambling with a 3-Point attempt. Instead of missing the second free throw, the All-Star went on to nail both to make it a one-point game with 7.7 on the game clock. After a series of final-second free throw shooting: Irving went on to hit both free throws to make it a three-point game. Jrue Holiday hit one out of two before the Nets' lone superstar returned to the line, hitting one out of two to give the Nets a new three-point lead. After a pair of free throws from Antetokounmpo and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Greek Freak missed a left-wing three at the buzzer and the game ended.

It was a collective effort led by Irving, who mentioned it was “emotional” preparing for Saturday’s night game since it was his first time playing in Milwaukee since spraining his ankle in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“It was definitely emotional for me to prepare for this game just because of what you just said (sprained ankle in Game 4). I haven’t been back in this building since then,” Irving admitted. “I tried my best not to wear my emotions on my face or on my shoulders, but sometimes they get the best of me. It definitely felt like there was a weight lifted just being back here being healthy, getting a win, and knowing that there’s a possibility of seeing them down the line again.”

In his first game in over two weeks, Irving finished with a game-high 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 shooting from 3-Point range. The Nets star grabbed five boards, dished five assists, and also snagged two steals in the big road win.

“Incredible shot making and carried a big portion of our offense,” said Nash on Irving’s season-high performance Saturday night. “He just allows other guys more space to breathe as well, so he improves the whole team with his presence, shotmaking, and creativity.”

As Goran Dragic said post-game, “When you watch Kyrie, it feels like he’s in a video game. It’s just crazy how he moves and how he’s making those tough shots.”

Drummond had himself a game as well, his best in his short stint as a Net, recording a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds to go along with five assists, two steals, and that one big block in the final minute of play. The newest Net big shot 7-of-9 from the field in his 29 minutes of play. Aldridge led the bench with 11 points in 19 minutes of action.

Seth Curry also had himself another strong showing with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. Bruce Brown continued to come up big for Brooklyn, going for 15 points, seven boards, and two assists in 32 minutes. The Nets swiss army knife is averaging 13.2 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 51.8 percent overall and 50 percent (6-of-12) in the six games since the trade deadline.

In his first NBA game since November 13, Dragic tallied six points, three rebounds, and two assists in 14 minutes off the bench. The veteran guard said he’s feeling good physically after his Nets debut but had his breaking-ice moment in the first six minutes of the contest.

“The first six minutes, I had to take a sub. I was really tired,” Dragic admitted. “I feel good. It’s really awesome to be back on the court and to be part of this great win.”

The Nets started the contest with Irving, Curry, Brown, Jame Johnson, and Drummond (a league-high 34th different starting lineup). The Bucks took an eight-point lead (16-8) early in the opening minutes of the first. Milwaukee picked a part Brooklyn’s lack of floor spacing while locking down Irving and Curry on the defensive end.

Out of the timeout, the Nets head coach made adjustments, putting out floor spacers and it quickly paid off. Without Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, Brooklyn forged a 15-7 burst that included Dragic hitting the first shot of his team debut — a 3-Pointer — to tie the game (23-23) with 2:17 left in the opening period. Milwaukee took a 32-25 lead after one.

The Bucks carried over their consistent 3-point shooting into the second. After a six-point swing that stemmed from a missed foul call for Curry, Milwaukee held a 44-39 lead with momentum on their side resulting in Nash calling a timeout at the 7:45 mark. Brooklyn trailed for the remainder of the second, staying within single digits on the back of Irving, who scored 17 points through two quarters of play. At the break, the Bucks manned a six-point lead (59-53).

If you like defense, the third quarter wasn’t your favorite. Brooklyn remained strong in the opening minutes of the period. Out of a quick 8-0 run that included a friendly bounce for a Curry corner triple, the Nets took a 72-70 lead with 8:12 left. The team followed it up with a statement.

The Nets continued to carve up the Bucks defense, expanding the collective their scoring run to 17-8 to forge an 11-point 89-78 lead with 3:43 left. Out of a timeout called by Nash that sent Irving to the bench for a breather, Milwaukee responded with an 8-0 run led by Bobby Portis to slice their deficit to five points in a matter of two minutes. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded and the Nets’ highest-scoring quarter of the season was in the books (43 points), Brooklyn held a three-point lead (96-93) heading into the fourth.

“It’s the fourth quarter so anything can happen. They started off the quarter getting to the free-throw line. I think they went up seven. From that point on, we called a timeout, came back out, and all of us just swinging the basketball,” Irving said. “When it came under six minutes, it was about who was under the best condition, whose going to get up and down the floor, keep that pace, and we just didn’t want to slow down our offense.”

Milwaukee had the upper hand to begin the fourth. Portis nailed two triples to bring the Bucks a four-point lead. Meanwhile, Brooklyn went cold from the field in the opening minutes. The cold-shooting continued till the midway point of the final period which helped the reigning champions hold a seven-point lead with six minutes remaining. The game came down to the final seconds and in the end, Brooklyn escaped Milwaukee with a huge road win.

“It wasn’t just me, it was all of us, swinging the basketball,” Irving said. “As it got down to under six minutes, it was about who’s in the best condition and who’s going to get up and down the floor and keep that pace. We just didn’t want to slow down our offense. … We just wanted to stay aggressive, stay the course, and we did that tonight.”

Post-game, Irving embraced his father, Drederick who traveled to Milwaukee...

Irving thanks Silver

The unvaccinated Irving also thanked Commissioner Adam Silver for noting the unfairness of the New York City mandate that’s keeping him off the court.

“My respect level for him went to a whole new level ... he took one for the team,” said Irving, adding “I’m glad that things are settling down and there’s light at the end of the tunnel here.”

In response to Silver, Mayor Eric Adams used the word, “unfair” to describe how unvacccinated pro athletes playing for the home team are banned from Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden while those from opposing teams face no such restrictions. However, Adams has said that he doesn’t plan on making any final decision for weeks. Irving won’t able to play in either of the Raptors games this week.

Without any change to the mandate — or him getting vaccinated, Irving will only be eligible to play in seven of the Nets remaining 21 games and in only one of their last eight.

Milestone Watch

The Nets outscored the Bucks 43-34 in the third quarter. The 43 points are the most the Nets have tallied in any quarter this season (previous high: 41 points which took place second quarter of the Wizards game on January 19 in Washington.

Blake Griffin, Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe saw no minutes Saturday, with Steve Nash dividing bigs’ time between Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge, Drummond, Kyrie Irving and Goran Dragic all moved up the ladder in career stats, per Hoopshype...

  • LaMarcus Aldridge No. 44 in points now. Moved ahead of Mitch Richmond with 20,508 points. He’s now 200 away from George Gervin.
  • Kyrie Irving No. 192 in points now. Moved ahead of Predrag Stojakovic with 13,669 points. He’s now 44 away from Thaddeus Young.
  • Andre Drummond No. 50 in rebounds now Moved ahead of Vlade Divac with 9,327 rebounds. He’s now 56 away from Bailey Howell. Also, No. 92 in blocks now. Moved ahead of Robert Horry with 1,036 blocks. He’s now seven away from Paul Millsap.
  • Goran Dragic No. 108 in three-pointers now. Moved ahead of Rasheed Wallace with 1,087 3-pointers. He’s now 3 away from Dana Barros.

Reunion with Bembry and Carter

It was the first Bucks game for DeAndre’ Bembry and Jevon Carter, cut by the Nets because they took in more players than they sent out in the Philly trade (Bembry) and because they needed a roster spot to sign Goran Dragic (Carter).

The two played about 10 minutes each but neither scored, Bembry a little more. Neither scored.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Nets will return to action on Monday, February 28 when the team begins a two-game mini-series against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center. The first game of the back-to-back is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Saturday’s potential postseason preview, check out Brew Hoop — our sister site covering the Bucks.