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Nets fall just short in OT, losing to Bucks in possible playoff preview, 120-119

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

In the final regular season game against a title-contender, the Brooklyn Nets fell just short of a needed win but it was a preview of what could come in the NBA Playoffs.

The final score: 120-119. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 40-37 on the season while Milwaukee rises to 48-27. The loss also puts the Nets, Charlotte Hornets, and the Atlanta Hawks in a three-way tie for the 8-10 seeds in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a tough end to the game. On one hand, we made a ton of mistakes and cleaned up a lot of stuff. On the other hand, we’re a brand new group really, playing against the champs,” said Steve Nash on the 120-119 loss to the Bucks. “We haven’t had many common experiences together so trying to put that together on short order is a challenge. Today is an indication of something to build on and improve. It was a quality basketball game.”

A contest that was filled with playoff intensity and riled up fans, the contest came down to the wire. Despite Khris Middleton getting ejected at the 5:05 mark of the fourth after a Flagrant 2 foul committed on Bruce Brown (season-high 23 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks) during a fast break, the Bucks didn’t go away easily.

“I don’t think it’s really disappointment,” said Kyrie Irving on the 120-119 loss Thursday night. “I think it’s more accountability on our end to finish out the regulation with a stronger resolve, a stronger attitude, and just know they’re going to keep coming at us.”

The final 29.4 seconds were indeed wild...

Milwaukee forged a 7-0 run that included a huge 3-pointer by Giannis Antetokounmpo (game-high 44 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and eight turnovers) with 18.0 seconds left to knot the contest at 110. The ball went to Kevin Durant (26 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists, a steal, and one block in 45 minutes) in hopes of sending the fans home with a game-winner but the Greek Freek’s late double-team on the Nets superstar, who missed the heavily contested midrange jumper, instead sent the game into overtime.

“I didn’t think we did a good job getting organized. Defensively, we gave up some timely offensive rebounds and I think that hurt us,” said Nash on the closing stretch of regulation. “Plenty of stuff to clean up. Plenty of stuff for our group to get to know each other. How many really close games has this group played together? It’s still definitely like a training camp for this group, and trying to find ways to play together down the stretch, have an understanding for one another, and sometimes that takes time.”

The Bucks opened OT growing a four-point lead (that was their highest lead in regulation). With 1:39 left, Durant was whistled for a foul on Antetokounmpo in the post, but the Bucks superstar, who became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in the contest, missed both free throws to leave the Nets trailing 118-115. After a sequence where both teams couldn’t buy a bucket, Nic Claxton (11 points, eight rebounds, an assists, two steals, and a block) hit one of two free throws to trim the deficit to two.

With 8.7 seconds left, Durant was fouled by Wesley Matthews in the right corner on a 3-pointer. The Nets superstar was favoring his right ankle and after an unsuccessful challenge by Milwaukee, Durant nailed all three foul shots to put Brooklyn up 119-118. On the other end, Claxton fouled Antetokounmpo on a drive. The Bucks superstar nailed both free throws to put Milwaukee up by one (120-119) with 3.0 seconds left. In their last hope, Durant missed the straight-on 3-pointer and the Bucks escaped with the win.

“I mean, we all thought that was reckless right? I think technically, I have to be in the air and if I come down on his foot, then that’s the flagrant. He came running into my leg a split second before,” Durant said of the foul committed by Wesley Matthews. “As I was coming down, I might have hit the floor and when I hit the floor, he came running at my leg. It wasn’t a contest. I thought it was supposed to be a flagrant. Technically, I didn’t make the correct play to make it a flagrant.”

Kyrie Irving echoed the statement made by his teammate and brother in arms, using the same word to describe Milwaukee’s style of play “reckless.”

“They were playing pretty physical,” said Irving. “I think they were a little reckless at times just on a lot of their fouls — or a few of their fans, I don’t want to say a lot of their fouls — that’s who they are. But I just think it was just reckless sometimes.”

Although Brooklyn forced 23 turnovers (22 Nets points) and held Milwaukee to 29.3 percent shooting from 3-Point range and 44.9 percent shooting overall, it was the offensive rebounds and second-chance points (17-5) that severely hurt Brooklyn. The Nets were outrebounded on the offensive glass, 11-5, and on the boards overall (57-41). In Durant’s eyes, it eas the free-throw differential (28-11).

“We forced 22 turnovers so they didn’t play great. They shot 44 percent. We shot 46 and well from the three. They outrebounded us; 11 offensive rebounds. Mainly, it was defensive rebounds that’s missing,” Durant said. “I don’t think it was one of those games were they dominated us. Downhill, they had 28 free throws. We got 11. We had 31 assists. 16 turnovers to their 22. It wasn’t really a turnover battle. They got the call downhill being aggressive to the rim, and I think that was the game: more free throws than us.”

Indeed, KD didn’t get to the line until he hit those three shots in OT.

Brown, who had his best game of the season — and got hammered by Kris Middleton, also had thoughts on why things worked out the way they did, but declined to talk specifics.

“I think you all know. I’m not going to speak on it. I’m not taking that fine,” said Brown when asked about this biggest frustration in the loss. Brown said that he was sore after the Middleton flagrant, but it was shocking...

The Nets opened the contest with Irving, Curry, Durant, Brown, and Drummond. It’s not often you see Brooklyn play sharp defense from the jump but the Nets brought their defense to start the game, forcing Milwaukee to miss their first five shots and cough up three turnovers in three minutes. After a Curry triple, the Nets manned an early 10-4 lead with 7:09 left in the first period.

The Bucks turned it around fast through their early offense off the Nets' missed shots. Milwaukee forged a 7-0 run to take a 16-13 lead out of their first timeout. Durant facilitating paid its value, dishing a series of passes to Claxton out of the pick-and-roll but Pat Connaughton, who scored seven points off the bench in the first, kept Milwaukee in front. The Nets ended the first in style, hitting their last seven shots to forge an 11-2 run. At the end of one, Brooklyn held a 30-23 lead over Milwaukee.

Although Irving heated up early in the second with nine quick points, Milwaukee got to best of Brooklyn's off-ball screens under the rim and capitalized off the Nets’ mental mistakes on switches. Luckily for the Nets, the Bucks couldn’t gain separation. After Durant checked into the game at the 7:35 mark, Brooklyn found a rhythm stemming from their defense. With 6:37 left, Mills’ triple grew the Nets' lead to 11 (50-39) after an 8-0 burst.

Milwaukee concludes the first half on a 17-10 run to slice Brooklyn’s 11-point lead to only four at the break (60-56). Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 points at halftime) got to the rim with ease and registered 16 points alone in the second to lead the comeback charge. It wasn’t just Antetokounmpo’s dominant second that made Brooklyn suffer. It was turnovers.

The Nets eight turnovers translated to 16 points for the Bucks with Durant (seven points, five boards, and a season-half-high seven assists) leading the team with five. Brooklyn’s superstar duo of Durant and Irving combined for only 16 points at the half.

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Brooklyn carried their electric 3-Point shooting (56.2 percent in the first half) to the third quarter. Irving, who was quiet in the first half, nailed a pair of triples and Brown cashed his 3-Pointer of the contest to help absorb Antetokounmpo’s dominance under the basket to open the frame. At the 6:35 mark, Brooklyn manned a flimsy 73-68 lead.

Milwaukee lingered in the third quarter, creeping closer to retaking their first lead since it was 21-19. The Bucks trimmed the lead down throughout the third at the charity strike after the Nets went over the limit at the eight-minute mark. In the final seconds of the frame, Milwaukee took the lead. Entering the fourth, the Bucks held an 87-86 lead.

The Nets went cold to open the fourth, missing six straight shots. In that span, the Bucks built a four-point lead (96-92) resulting in Durant checking in on a short breather. That opened a higher quality of shots for Brooklyn, but it was one play that shifted the game.

At the 5:06 mark of the fourth, Brown milked a fastbreak that resulted in a hard foul by Middleton and Brooklyn’s ‘Swiss-Army Knife’ hitting the floor really hard. After the officials went to the monitor, Middleton was hit with a Flagrant two and was ejected. Shortly after the key ejection, Brooklyn broke open a 9-3 burst to balloon their lead to nine points (108-99) with 3:43 left. The playoff preview went into overtime and with Brooklyn’s last hope, Durant missed the straight-on 3-Pointer and the Bucks escaped with the win as the buzzer sounded.

“It’s basketball mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes in the game. We’re not going to play a perfect basketball game. It always sucks when you lose. You tend to think back on the mistakes that you made, but we try to play mistake-free basketball. Shit didn’t roll our way. They made one more shot than we did,” Durant said. “I don’t think it was lack of chemistry or we didn’t play hard. It was one of those games that didn’t fall our way.”

Meanwhile, post-game, Brian Mahoney of AP discussed the disparity between Middleton’s ejection and the lack of a flagrant foul on Matthews with John Goble, the crew chief...

Pool Report on Khris Middleton’s Flagrant Foul Penalty 2 with 5:05 Left in the Fourth Quarter and the foul on Wesley Matthews’ with 8.7 Seconds Left in Overtime of Tonight’s Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets Game

QUESTION: Why was Khris Middleton’s foul ruled a Flagrant 2?

GOBLE: The airborne player was in a vulnerable position and due to the contact, there was a high potential for injury. Therefore, the contact was deemed to be unnecessary and excessive.

QUESTION: Why wasn’t Matthews’ foul on Durant’s 3-point attempt in the corner reviewed to see if it was a flagrant foul?

GOBLE: Milwaukee’s coach challenged the defensive foul and during the coach’s challenge during the review, any unnecessary or unsportsmanlike acts can be ruled via the review.

QUESTION: So, it was reviewed then.

GOBLE: During the review during the coach’s challenge, any necessary or unsportsmanlike acts can be reviewed.

Head-scratcher much? The L2M report on the game should be available later Friday.

The Film Room

“I don’t feel like it was one of those games where they dominated us,” said Kevin Durant after the game.

He’s right. The Nets, in fact, led for a majority of Thursday’s game. In fact, the biggest lead that Milwaukee was able to carve out was in the fourth quarter when the Bucks led by just 6 at the 8-minute mark. Brooklyn, meanwhile, held a 9-point lead going into the last three minutes before eventually coughing up the advantage.

But glancing under the hood, certain mechanical issues still plague the Nets — issues that cropped up in last year’s playoff series as well.

Brooklyn nailed a blistering 48.6% of their threes. The Nets got a combined 51 points from their stars. And yet, they still fell short, losing in embarrassing fashion while relinquishing a surefire cushion down the stretch.

So about those mechanical issues.

Rebounding continues to be a particularly gruesome weakness for the Nets against Milwaukee. Brooklyn mustered just five offensive rebounds to Milwaukee’s 17, and the Bucks were able to secure multiple second chance opportunities down the stretch en route to the big comeback. In the final two minutes, Wes Matthews found away to secure the board after a free throw, and here, Bobby Portis cleans up a missed Giannis Antetokounmpo layup with just under two minutes to spare.

On the night, Milwaukee enjoyed a 57-to-41 advantage on the glass.

Generally speaking, Milwaukee gets out in transition at the fourth-highest frequency in the NBA, according to Cleaning the Glass. The Nets, meanwhile, are the third-worst team at defending the fast break according to CTG. We’re sure you can guess what materialized from this discrepancy between both squads. Milwaukee scored 23 points in transition to the Nets' 18.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, in particular, had no issue tearing holes into Brooklyn’s defense as a fastbreak bullet. Ramming into the teeth of the defense was how the Greek Freak drew the game-winning free throws on Nic Claxton. And here, he proves to be too strong and too forceful for Kevin Durant.

Finally, defensive discipline — which admittedly was not an enormous problem in last year’s problem — doomed the Nets against the Bucks. Brooklyn was far too willing to switch its smaller guards onto Milwaukee’s beefiest, toughest players. Jrue Holiday destroyed Seth Curry in the post on multiple possessions. The Nets insisted (for some reason) on switching Kyrie Irving onto Giannis Antetokounmpo repeatedly. Here, the two-time MVP is rewarded with a crossmatch with Seth Curry, which immediately results in a thunderous dunk at the rim.

So yes, while the Bucks didn’t “dominate” the Nets on Thursday night, they did, however, win on the margins — much like they did in last year’s postseason — by patrolling the glass, taking advantage of fastbreak opportunities, and playing with physicality. At some point, the Nets are going to need to make up some ground in these categories to stay pace with the defending champs.

Milestone Watch

The Greek Freak is now the leading scorer in Bucks history, surpassing the Big Fella.

It took Giannis Antetokounmpo 652 games in nine seasons to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 14,211, set in 467 games over six seasons from 1969-1975. The three-point shot didn’t come into the NBA until 1979, so all of Abdul-Jabbar’s points came via two-point field goals (5,902) and free throws (2,407).

The Bucks now have the all-time leading scorers for two NBA franchises: Antekounmpo for the Bucks, Brook Lopez for the Nets.

KD and ‘Little Nicky,’ the ‘peasant’

Not long after the game, maybe while he was still in the locker room, Kevin Durant let Nick Wright of FOX Sports know that he IS Kevin Durant...

Wright tried a retort, but he should’ve realized that was not the smart move...

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will return to the court on Saturday, April 2 when the team travels to Atlanta to play the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Thursday’s game, check out Brew Hoop — our sister site covering the Milwaukee Bucks.