Since their first-round sweep of the Miami Heat, the Milwaukee Bucks have lacked continuity. Against Miami, they had six players average double-figure points and limited the Heat to just 39.5 percent shooting. In losing Games 1 and 2 to the Brooklyn Nets in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Bucks weren’t clicking, specifically Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Milwaukee is not out of it yet, but there were encouraging signs in Thursday’s 86-83 Game 3 win at Fiserv Forum.
Middleton scored a game-high 35 points on 12-of-25 shooting, and Holiday clinched the must-win with a spinning layup with 11.4 seconds left. Their contributions were crucial in aiding Giannis Antetokounmpo (33 points and 14 rebounds) to reduce the Bucks’ series deficit to 2-1.
Milwaukee also played well defensively in a way that may not even show up on a stat sheet. Kevin Durant (30) and Kyrie Irving (22) combined for 52 points, but the Bucks forced role players like Joe Harris (1 for 11, three points) and Bruce Brown (8 for 17, 16 points) to shoot the ball.
Antetokounmpo has been the butt of jokes for taking more than 10 seconds to shoot a free throw, and he was penalized for it Thursday.
He continues to struggle at the line, making four of nine free throws on Thursday. For the series, Antetokounmpo is shooting 31.6 percent.
However, the two-time MVP hit some big fourth-quarter shots and, to loosely quote James Brown, gave the Nets the big payback in the form of a posterizing dunk after falling prey to Blake Griffin’s air assault in Brooklyn.
The Nets didn’t play their best basketball and still almost won the game. But a flaw worth acknowledging was Brown being forced to take a contested layup over Milwaukee center Brook Lopez after Holiday’s go-ahead bucket. That shot was what Nets Twitter was discussing afterward, and while it’s disappointing to lose any game, Brooklyn shouldn’t be worried.
Here are two reasons why:
James Harden didn't play: Harden (hamstring) missed his second straight game after only playing 43 seconds in Game 1. The Nets are still up 2-1 without his insane playoff stat line of 23.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 55.6 percent shooting. If I’m Brooklyn, I’m looking to see how fast Harden can return to close this series as quickly as possible.
Milwaukee needed this win: Game 3 was a low-possession game played in the 80s that’s better-suited to the Bucks. And Harris didn’t shoot well. Neither did Griffin. They should bounce back in Game 4 on Sunday.