Milwaukee can breathe momentarily after its atypical but victorious performance versus Brooklyn on Thursday night. The Bucks arrived at Fiserv Forum coming off a mortifying 39-point loss to the Nets in Game 2 of the second round and dealt their visitors a dose of old school punishment in 48 minutes of low-scoring, mucked-up basketball.
Here’s five things we learned from Milwaukee’s 86-83 win over Brooklyn in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals:
A win is a win
It’s exactly what Giannis Antetokounmpo said postgame and it’s ultimately what bears the bulk of importance after Monday’s forgetful showing.
The Bucks now trail 2-1 in a series that could easily have all but drawn its curtains after three consecutive losses. A contested fling by Kevin Durant from 28 feet as time expired nearly resurrected a Nets team that shot just 36% from the floor (a stark difference from Brooklyn’s 47% and 52% clips in Game 1 and Game 2).
Instead, Milwaukee lives to fight another day, not perilously staring at a 3-0 series deficit.
Holiday SZN came early
Jrue Holiday washed away a painfully bad shooting act (4-for-14) and delivered an NBA Top Shot moment to put the Bucks ahead 84-83 with 11.4 seconds remaining.
Milwaukee’s veteran guard scored nine points, grabbed four boards, dished five dimes and nabbed one steal in 45 minutes on the floor. In other words, Holiday wasn’t a big factor.
But with the game (and for all intents and purposes the series) on the line, Holiday dribbled through a defender, spun to his right, right around Bruce Brown frozen in his tracks and went up with his left hand to lay in the Bucks’ biggest bucket of the night.
It proved two things, both things Milwaukee fans have likely realized since the team acquired Holiday from New Orleans in November: He’s resilient, unequivocally resilient and he brings a vigor to the Bucks’ backcourt that wasn’t present before.
“Big Money” must still rediscover his shooting stroke -- he's hit 40% of his total shots with a series-high of 17 points in Game 1 -- perhaps his clutch basket spurs a scoring outburst in Game 4.
Army of Two
Five words and two nicknames were almost entirely responsible for Milwaukee’s 86-point effort Thursday night: “The Greek Freak” and “Khash Money.”
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined for 79% of the Bucks’ points, which is...wait for it...the highest percentage scored of any team’s points by any duo in NBA playoff history.
The former tallied 33 points, the latter 35, while six other players who saw action for Milwaukee totaled 18 points combined. That’s startling. Yes, a reassuring sign that the team’s top two scorers did what they’re supposed to do. But nevertheless not a pace that can be maintained, nor a performance the Bucks’ should hope to repeat.
Antetokounmpo hit 14 of his 31 attempts. Middleton was more efficient, going 12-for-25. The pair scored the first 30 points of the game for Milwaukee and, impressively, teamed up to bring down 29 of the team’s 56 rebounds.
It truly was a two-man show and the Bucks were fortunate in a lot of regards that the Nets put together their worst shooting performance of the series or else Game 3 might have turned sour.
The odds are slim that Brooklyn’s struggles from the field continue in Game 4, which means Milwaukee must get more from its supporting cast. A lot more.
3-point woes could be costly
What once was undeniably Milwaukee’s greatest strength has proven to be its greatest weakness in the second round. The Bucks can’t get their 3-point shots to drop.
Bryn Forbes, who nailed 45% of his looks from downtown during the regular season, has gone 3-for-13 (23%) from deep in the first three games of the series. Simply put, the Bucks’ flamethrower is out of fuel.
Even Middleton, after draining three of his six shots from beyond the arc in Game 3, has seen his 3-point percentage drop from 41% to 32%.
As a team, Milwaukee has been horrendous in a category that acted as a catalyst en route to scoring a league-high 120 points per game throughout the 2020-21 campaign. In three games versus the Nets, the Bucks have sunk 20 of their 88 looks -- oof, that's 23% -- from 3-point land.
What does it mean in the grand scheme of things? We’re beginning to find out. Milwaukee can’t play its best version of basketball averaging merely seven-made 3s and 93 points per game against Brooklyn. The Nets have too much firepower, too much potential to shoot lights out.
Bucks’ best weapon is home-court advantage
Milwaukee is 3-3 against Brooklyn in 2021.
Three wins at Fiserv Forum, three losses at Barclays Center.
Why have the Bucks been able to find more success on their home court this year? Presumably a multitude of reasons, like any sport. Players' minds are eased by a good night’s sleep. They’re comfortable playing in a familiar environment. Less travel means more rest, so on and so forth.
Another factor played an enormous role Thursday night … A crowd loaded to capacity with cheering Bucks fans. Whether it was chants aimed at Durant, the oohs and ahhs emanating from the rafters when Antetokounmpo hammered home seismic slams or the sound of jubilation when Holiday captured the fateful game-winner, Milwaukee’s faithful raised the volume and in turn the Bucks elevated their performance.
The bottom line is this: home-court advantage is more than a myth. Milwaukee will aim to take advantage of it, again, in Game 4 on Sunday.