The Milwaukee Bucks are still breathing in the playoffs – hardly.
Already after 2-0 in a semifinal series in the Eastern Conference against the Brooklyn Nets and was after 3 with 83 seconds left in the 3rd game Thursday night at the Fiserv Forum after a Kevin Durant 3-pointer, the Bucks scored the last six points of the game to show up with an 86-83 victory to claw their way back into this best-of-seven affair.
And afterwards, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday ̵
“Defend first,” Holiday said. “Defense wins games and it wins championships. I think being able to get a stop even with two seconds left means a lot. They score 83 points, I feel like that’s the type of defense , we want to play for us.
“If we were to crush the game, then we would have to crush it. But when it comes down to it, we will be aggressive towards everyone.”
After the Nets burst past the Bucks in each of the first two games of this series in Brooklyn when the series switched back to Milwaukee, it was clear from the moment the game started, the home team was desperate to ensure the tone was different in this . The Bucks, led by PJ Tucker, who spent most of the night protecting Durant, came out far more aggressive – at both ends – to jump out to a 30-11 lead, only to score 56 points in the final 36 minutes as Brooklyn slowly withdrew into the game.
The result was a game that looked somewhat like the 1990s more than the 2020s, with lots of hard defense and long stretches with no made curves on either side.
All that matters to Milwaukee, though, was that Durant, who finished with 30 points but only shot 11-for-28 from the field, got his last shot of the game knocked off the edge of the rim when the buzzer sounded , so the Bucks to give themselves a chance to level the series to two games each time these teams meet again on Sunday in Game 4.
“Shoot, man, they did what they had to do: Get out aggressively, back against the wall, and we had to overcome that storm,” said Kyrie Irving, who had 22 points in 45 minutes. “So definitely kind of put us on our heels the rest of the game just by playing catch-up, playing their basketball style, and then they made some big timely shots that led them forward.
“But we had our chances down the stretch. It was a possession-by-possession game. Both teams are fighting. So it’s a good, old-fashioned playoff game right there.”
Stilpoint does not count for anything in playoff games – which is a good thing, because this game was not exactly crowded with them. Only five players finished in double figures – Durant, Irving and Bruce Brown (16 points) for the Nets and Khris Middleton (35) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33) for Milwaukee. For most of the first half, the rest of Milwaukee combined the list into one field goal. Things were not much better for Brooklyn, who fell 30-11 behind after the first quarter, only to storm back into the game with a big second quarter by itself.
Brown, who has been the unsung hero for Brooklyn in this series after replacing the injured star James Harden in the starting lineup, had several times success throughout the game getting into the field for floaters.
But in the final seconds, Brown missed a pull-up jumper that could have given the Nets a 3-point lead with a 20.8-second walk, was beaten by Holiday to the forward layup with 11.3 seconds to go and then, after entering pass was almost reversed by Brooklyn, Brown settled with taking the ball to the basket and missing a layup with 6.4 seconds left.
“It was a tough, tough playoff game where neither team really shot the ball well and created great opportunities,” said Nets coach Steve Nash.
“Someone wanted to win ugly, and that was them tonight.”
The only thing the Bucks were focused on was getting a win, period after two hard games in Brooklyn – especially the 39-point shellacking Milwaukee absorbed in Game 2. And while the Bucks managed to do so, it did not come without some tense moments.
Part of that was due to the lack of production from the rest of the Bucks’ offense, as the team outside Middleton and Antetokounmpo combined to score 18 points on 8-to-34 shots overall, including 2-for-17 from 3 point range and took (and missed) only one free throw.
“Try to get into the paint and make something happen,” Holiday said of his offensive mindset after going 4-for-14 and scoring 9 points in 46 minutes. “But I think at some point today, I got a little discouraged because I get in there and put it in there, and my shots don’t fall.”
And part of that was because of Antetokounmpo’s ongoing fights that shoot from both the perimeter and the free throw line. Antetokounmpo took a playoff career-high 8 3-pointers on Thursday – which only one who came early in the fourth quarter did. He also went 4-for-9 from the foul line, and he was called up for a 10-second foul for the second time in the playoffs, removing yet another possible attempt from his ledger.
But Antetokounmpo said that as long as teams have to play out of him, he will have to keep making the right play – which, he said, would sometimes include taking 3s.
“It’s about instinct,” said Anteokounmpo, who also had 14 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 turnovers in 43 minutes. “Basketball is all about instincts. At the end of the day, my instinct tells me it’s the right decision to make, I want to live with it.
“It’s the same … as everyone, if you wake up in the morning and think you’ll have to drink a cup of coffee, and that’s what you want to do, that’s what your instinct tells you, it’s what your soul tells you.Whatever the case, you do it.You know it does not matter what happens next time because you live with the decision you make.
“And at the end of the day, I just tried to make the right decision at the right moment, and today it shot 8 3s, and in the next game, it shot zero 3s. Who knows? I just want to try to keep making the right decision. “
After the Bucks managed to get back in this series with a win, Antetokounmpo was just happy to be able to go home and celebrate a win that kept Milwaukee’s chances of getting out of the second round alive. No team has come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit in NBA history.
“A victory is a victory,” he said. “Today we did not score much, but at the end of the day we got a win and that’s all we got to tonight. We knew it was a very, very hard game and we needed this game as much as possible and hopefully we get the next one.
“But at the end of the day, a win is a win. When you can go home and celebrate a W … it feels good.”