The Milwaukee Bucks are still breathing in the playoffs.
Trailing 2-0 in an Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets, and trailing by 3 with 83 seconds left in Game 3 Thursday night at the Fiserv Forum after a triple by Kevin Durant, the Bucks managed to score six points in the final to emerge with an 86-83 victory and work their way back to this best-of-7 series.
And then Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, who hit the layup with 11.3 seconds left, said that if Milwaukee needs to continue to play ugly to get wins on the defensive end by advancing in this series, the Bucks will be more than happy. to do so.
“Defense first,” Holiday said. “The defense wins games and wins championships. I think being able to stop even with two seconds left means a lot. If they score 83 points, I feel like for us that’s the kind of defense we want to play.
“If we have to screw up the game, then we have to screw it up. But when it comes down to it, we want to be aggressive with everyone.”
After the Nets quickly broke through the Bucks in each of the first two games of this series in Brooklyn, when the series returned to Milwaukee, it was clear from the moment the game began that the home team was desperate for make sure the tone was different. The Bucks, led by PJ Tucker, who spent most of the night defending Durant, came out much more aggressive, on both ends, to jump to a 30-11 lead, only to score 56 points in the final 36 minutes. Brooklyn moved slowly back to the game.
The result was a match that looked more like something from the 1990s than 2020, with lots of tough defense and long stretches with no baskets made on either side.
However, all that mattered to Milwaukee was that Durant, who finished with 30 points but fired only 11 of 28 shots from the field, had his last shot of the game hit in the back of the rim when the buzzer sounded, allowing Bucks win for a chance to tie the series at two games each when these teams meet in Game 4 on Sunday.
“They did what they were supposed to do: come out aggressive, with their backs against the wall, and we had to weather that storm,” said Kyrie Irving, who scored 22 points in 45 minutes. “So he definitely was on our heels for the rest of the game, just to catch up, play his style and then they did some big, timely shots that carried them forward.
“But we had our chances down the stretch. It was a possession game for possession. Both teams fought. So that’s a good old-fashioned playoff game.”
Style points don’t count at all in playoff games, which is a good thing, because this game wasn’t exactly full of them. Only five players finished in double digits: Durant, Irving and Bruce Brown (16 points) for the Nets; Khris Middleton (35) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33) for Milwaukee. For most of the first half, the rest of the Milwaukee roster combined to make a field goal. Things weren’t much better for Brooklyn, who fell behind 30-11 after the first quarter, only to return to the game with a great second quarter.
Brown, who has been Brooklyn’s unsung hero in this series after replacing injured star James Harden in the starting lineup, was repeatedly successful throughout the game getting on the float line.
But in the closing seconds, Brown missed a jumper that could have given the Nets a 3-point lead with 20.8 seconds. He was beaten by Holiday for the lead layup with 11.3 seconds to go and then Brown ended up getting the ball to the basket and missing a layup with 6.4 seconds to go.
“It was a tough, tough playoff game where neither team was throwing the ball well, creating good chances,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
“Someone was going to win playing ugly and it was them tonight.”
The only thing the Bucks focused on was getting a win, period, after two tough games in Brooklyn, especially the 39-pound beating Milwaukee took in Game 2. And even though the Bucks managed to do that (win) It wasn’t without some tense moments.
Part of that was due to a lack of production from the rest of the Bucks offense, as the team outside of Middleton and Antetokounmpo combined to score 18 points on 8 of 34 total shots, including 2 of 17 from 3- range. points, and they made (and missed) only one free throw.
“I tried to get in the paint and make something happen,” Holiday said of his offensive mentality, after he was 4 of 14 and scored 9 points in 46 minutes. “But I think at some point today I got a little discouraged because I’m going in and getting in and my shots aren’t falling.”
And part of that was due to Antetokounmpo’s continued struggles to shoot from the perimeter and the free throw line. Antetokounmpo tried 8 3-pointers on Thursday, his career high in the Playoffs, scoring just one, which came early in the fourth quarter. He was also 4-of-9 from the free throw line and was penalized for a 10-second infraction for the second time in the playoffs thus far.
But Antetokounmpo said that as long as teams play him, he will have to continue to make the right play, which, he said, would sometimes include trying 3s.
“It’s about instinct,” said Anteokounmpo, who also had 14 rebounds, two assists and five turnovers in 43 minutes. “Basketball is all about instincts. At the end of the day, my instincts tell me that this is the right decision.
“It’s the same … like, everyone, if you wake up in the morning and think you have to have a cup of coffee, and that’s what you want to do, that’s what your instinct tells you, that’s what that your soul is telling you, whatever the case, that’s what you do, you know, no matter what happens next, because you live with the decision you make.
“And at the end of the day, I was just trying to make the right decision at the right time and today I was shooting 8 3-pointers, and the next game maybe I hit zero. Who knows. I’m just going to try to keep making the right decision.
After the Bucks managed to return to this series with a victory, Antetokounmpo was happy to be able to go home and celebrate a victory that kept Milwaukee’s chances of advancing alive. No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in the Playoff series in NBA history.
“A victory is a victory,” he said. “We didn’t score much today, but at the end of the day we got a win and that’s all we came for tonight. We knew it was a very, very difficult game, and we needed to win this game as much as possible and hopefully we will win the following.
“But at the end of the day, a win is a win. When you can come home and celebrate a ‘W’ (win) … it feels good.”