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Nets lose third-straight game against Bucks, 118-104

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

The Nets are officially 1-5 since moving on from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn lost its third-straight game on Tuesday to the Milwaukee Bucks, 118-104. The Nets have yet to win since the All-Star Break, whereas the Bucks stretched their league-best winning streak to 15-straight victories. The result gave Milwaukee a 0.5 lead over the Boston Celtics for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, it shrunk Brooklyn’s lead to just 1.5 games over the Miami Heat for the sixth seed, placing the Nets closer to falling into the play-in tournament. Milwaukee improved to 2-1 against Brooklyn in the season series.

“We don’t have time to make excuses,” said Dinwiddie after Brooklyn’s third-straight loss. “We don’t have time for fatigue, we have to try to come together as quickly as possible and make this thing happen.”

Though the Nets had a strong showing in the first half, building a 10-point lead at halftime, Brooklyn fell apart in the second half. The Nets mustered up just 42 points in the final two periods of play, and its defense allowed 39 points in the third quarter to give Milwaukee a lead it never looked back on. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s bench was just putrid, shooting just 4-of-22 as a group, lowlighted by a combined 1-of-12 showing from Royce O’Neale and Cam Thomas.

“Our approach at the beginning of the game was really good, gave ourselves a chance at halftime. I think overall that’s the message for us to be able to sustain this thing and be able to do it in the third quarter, fourth quarter against an elite team when we’re not shooting well,” said Vaughn about Brooklyn’s subpar performance in the second half.

On a more positive note, Mikal Bridges led the Nets with 31 points, his second 30+ piece in four games. Bridges continues to show glimpses of being an efficient star-level player that scores with balance, going 11-of-19 from the field and 3-of-7 from three.

Cam Johnson also turned in another solid performance after his 27-point outing in Atlanta. Johnson had 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, and he made half of his 12 total shots.

Spencer Dinwiddie also had arguably his best performance as a Nets since arriving from Dallas via the Irving blockbuster trade. Dinwiddie’s 26 points came on a very tidy 9-of-17 shooting line and 5-of-10 from three, and he pitched in eight assists as well.

Unsurprisingly, MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for Milwaukee with a game-high 33 points to go with 15 rebounds. He was just monstrous.

“I don’t think there’s many players in the league that can guard him one on one. Obviously, we’re not necessarily the tallest team in the world or the biggest team in the world. We just gotta built that wall and our activity level has to be extremely, extremely high to try to force turnovers and be active. Maybe even take some charges as well, I don’t think we got any,” said Dinwiddie. “But yeah, he turned it up a notch and we didn’t match it.”

Jrue Holiday was also exceptional for the Bucks, turning in a very methodical 14-point scoring night on 7-of-12 shooting and 8 assists. Khris Middleton also looked every bit the part of one of Milwaukee’s three stars, dropping 18 points on 7-of-13 from the field in just 23 minutes while continuing his slow re-acclimation process from a knee injury.

The Nets as a team shot just 12-of-36 from three (33.3%) while the Bucks shot a strong 37.8%. To compound the issue, Milwaukee also outrebounded Brooklyn (55-38), scored more points in the paint (62-44), and outpaced the Nets in fastbreak scoring (28-15). Essentially, the Bucks outpaced the Nets in almost every single major statistical category as a team. It’s tough to win games when that happens.

That said, the Nets came out and showed some real intensity defensively initially. The Nets forced 7 Bucks turnovers in the first 10 minutes of play and frustrated Milwaukee’s stars, Giannis especially. Nic Claxton was at the epicenter of Brooklyn’s strong defensive start with 2 early blocks, as the Nets held Milwaukee to just 43.5% from the field and 20% from three. The scoring load, meanwhile, was carried by Bridges with 11 points and Dinwiddie with 8. Brooklyn finished ahead, 34-22, after one period of play.

Claxton and Antetkounmpo got into a fun back-and-forth to start the second. After Antetokounmpo concluded the first quarter with a poster dunk over Claxton and Dorian Finney-Smith, Claxton got him back with his third rejection of the game to go with three steals. Then it was Giannis’ turn to joust, and he did so by slamming down yet another dunk on Claxton’s head. Antentokoumpo began to get it going after those two thunderous poster dunks, and Milwaukee was able to close the gap with a 20-12 start to the second quarter. Then, the Nets returned with a 9-2 run after some pretty shotmaking from Dinwiddie and Johnson. In the end, Brooklyn finished ahead at halftime, 62-52.

Bridges and Antetokounmpo kept pouring it in during the third period. Bridges had a team-high 10 points in the third, but the Nets as a group could not find any rhythm from behind the three-point line, going just 1-of-7. Giannis, meanwhile, led all scorers with 13 points as the Bucks dropped in a tremendous 39 points, the highest-scoring performance for either team in any quarter. Behind this, the Bucks took the lead, up 91-85 heading into the fourth.

The Nets’ scoring issues continued in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn shot just 2-for-11 as a team in the first 6 minutes of play, and Milwaukee grew its advantage to double-digits. Though Dinwiddie had a solo 5-point run on a floater and a stepback three, the Bucks could not miss from three, getting six points off a pair of transition deep balls from Khris Middleton and Grayson Allen. With the Bucks up 15, Jacque Vaughn officially pulled the plug and inserted Dru Smith, Day’Ron, and David Duke Jr. into the game at the 4:13 mark, a concession to the Nets losing their third-straight game.

The Film Room

How about we have some fun with tonight’s film room? Because lord knows there wasn’t a ton to get excited about as a Nets fan after this one.

As mentioned, Giannis and Claxton got into a little back-and-forth. Here’s a video guide-through of the two unicorn big men jousting.

First, it was Giannis’ turn to strike, and he did. Mightily. With time expiring in the first quarter, Giannis pushed the break and took two giant “Gyro steps” to slam down a hellish dunk on poor Claxton and Finney-Smith. Nasty.

But Claxton, never one to back down, wasn’t going out like that. Less than a minute into the second quarter, Giannis posted up Claxton, spun, and elevated for the hanging finish, which Claxton swatted away emphatically.

Giannis, however, is built like Claxton. He doesn’t back down from a fight. Just 30 seconds later, Antetokounmpo, one of the most fearsome fastbreak players in the league, ripped down a rebound, pushed it up the floor, and kicked things into high gear to find a backtracking Claxton. From there, he unleashed a monstrous slam that appeared almost powered by the sun. I mean, my goodness! Look at how hard he dunks this dang ball!

It’s always enjoyable when there’s a game within the game.

Ben Simmons update

Ben Simmons was out for the third straight game with soreness in his left knee and there’s no set date for his return. Jacque Vaughn, however, insisted there has been no discussion of shutting Simmons down for the season.

“That’s a zero on that one,” said Vaughn, who was asked about the possibility of a shutdown. “Think I went zero last time, going zero again, no discussion.”

Vaughn says Simmons is working on strengthening his knee. He’s already had fluid drained from his knee and received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection during the All-Star break.

“We want to get to a position where we have no reoccurrence of swelling or anything of that nature,” Vaughn said postgame. “I don’t want to get into markers and what he’s doing on a daily basis. I just kind of want to put it all in the bucket of strengthening. That’s what it is at the end of the day, whether that’s consisting of weight room stuff, whether that is conditioning stuff, whether that is basketball stuff, it’s all built around him trying to strengthen and get back to playing.”

Simmons won’t be available vs. the Knicks on Wednesday. His status for Friday’s game vs. the Celtics remains unclear.

Milestone watch

  • At the 11:11 mark in the first quarter, Spencer Dinwiddie hit his 439th three-pointer as a Net to move him past Kyrie Irving for seventh place on the Nets’ franchise all-time leaders in three-point makes. Next up is Deron Williams in sixth place with 485 made threes.
  • Brooklyn forced 7 turnovers in the first quarter, which tied their record for the most turnovers forced in a first quarter this season.
  • Nic Claxton finished with 3 blocks and 3 steals, becoming the first NBA player this season to finish with at least 3 steals and 3 blocks in consecutive games. Only Buck Williams in 1985 has achieved this feat in Nets history.
  • Mikal Bridges dropped at least 30 points for the second time in four games. In the previous 367 games of his career, he scored at least 30 points just twice. This was also the fourth time in six games that Bridges has dropped at least 20 points as a Net, and he’s registered 20+ in 10 of his last 12 games overall.

What’s next

The Nets head across the Brooklyn Bridge to play against the crosstown rival New York Knicks for the second half of the midweek back-to-back. Coverage begins on the YES Network at 7:30 PM EST on Wednesday.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to Brew Hoop, our Bucks sister site.