The Brooklyn Nets desperately needed a win on Saturday afternoon to stay alive in the playoff race at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They took on a team that had nothing left to play for after confirming they would have the home court advantage throughout the playoffs after Thursday’s win in Philadelphia. Milwaukee didn’t make it easy by any means, but the Nets did come out on top in the end, 133-128.
With the best record in the NBA clinched and a game tomorrow, Giannis Antetokounmpo was smartly given the night off. D.J. Wilson replaced him in the lineup and the regular starters minus Brogdon were available. Khris Middleton was expected from the start to have limited minutes similar to Thursday when he played 25 minutes. Ersan Ilyasova broke his nose for the second time this year in that same Thursday game but was available to start. Brook Lopez won the tip obviously and Khris got his first jumper to go on the first possession of the game.
Eric Bledsoe hit his first three after being ejected in the first three minutes of Thursday’s game after an altercation with Joel Embiid. Bledsoe has been essential part of Milwaukee’s number one ranked defense so it was great to have him back for a game in which their star defender got the night off. Giannis is usually the guy that gets the crowd going but without him, other players needed to step in to get the energy up. Khris, D.J., Bledsoe, and Sterling Brown all helped the cause early by playing a part in two transition dunks with Brooklyn players draping over them.
The Bucks’ players looked like a team that had nothing to play for in the first quarter. Their defense was often out of place and players were trying passes they hadn’t tried all season. Coach Bud wasn’t happy with the experimentation or the lack of communication on defense and took a couple of early timeouts. D’angelo Russell was proving to be a problem by going 5-5 with 12 points halfway through the first quarter. The Nets built their lead up to as high as eleven and held a 34-26 lead over the Bucks through twelve minutes. Brooklyn shot 54% from the floor compared the Milwaukee at 40% in the first.
George Hill replaced Wilson to start the second quarter. Hill had been averaging 20 points per game in the past three games and has been a huge help in filling Brogdon’s missing minutes. Both teams were scoring at a high rate in the opening minutes of the second. Brooklyn was slightly more efficient and extended their lead to fourteen within four minutes. Russell hadn’t slowed down at all, scoring 18 of the Nets first 50 points of the game. Lopez’s first three of the afternoon brought a timeout from Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson with an eight point lead.
The lead shot back up to twelve before Milwaukee went on a run that included threes from Pat Connaughton and Tim Frazier. Yet, for some reason, the Bucks could not stop fouling Ed Davis so the deficit refused to evaporate. The final TV timeout of the half was called with four minutes remaining, Bucks down 59-50. The timeout revitalized Milwaukee as well as put Brooklyn in a funk that led to an 13-0 run from the Bucks to regain the lead with a minute to go. The Nets got a couple baskets down the stretch and held a 66-65 lead going into the locker room. Khris and Bledsoe combined for 31 of Milwaukee’s 65 in the first.
Wilson was back in with the starters for the second half and hit his first three attempt from the corner. On the first defensive possession for the Bucks, defenders seemed to pay more attention to Russell than in the first half. He had a game high 18 points so it made sense, although he wasn’t the only Net that was killing Milwaukee’s defense. The NBA’s leader in three point percentage, Joe Harris, found himself open on multiple occasions and the Nets had a 76-68 lead to force an early timeout from Coach Bud.
Shortly after the break, Brook Lopez picked up a technical foul when he was fighting for position with Rodions Kurucs and caught him with an elbow around his head and neck area. Lopez seemed to have gotten frustrated with Kurucs and took it out on the rim with a massive jam to bring the lead back down to seven with seven minutes left in the third. Bledsoe was 8/10 with 21 points up to this point, leading all scorers.
Then the shots started falling. The score escalated very quickly behind what seemed like perfect three point shooting from both teams. The score was 96-93 with four minutes remaining in the third, pacing for a score much higher than the two teams average. The final minutes of the quarter was a different story, at least for Milwaukee. Brooklyn went on a 12-3 run to end the quarter and held a 108-96 going into the final period. Bledsoe was up to 24 points and Caris LeVert led the Nets with 20 of his own off the bench.
Khris hit his first shot of the fourth quarter after going scoreless in the third. The playmakers for the Bucks, including Khris, were going to need to have an outstanding scoring quarter to bring this one home if Brooklyn continued to shoot like they had. Milwaukee received their second technical of the game after a questionable foul call on Tim Frazier led to Coach Bud yelling at the officials. With his team still down, he was clearly doing anything he could to get his team amped up for the closing minutes. It produced a short run capped off by a Bledsoe three that forced a Brooklyn timeout with nine minutes left, Nets up 113-109.
Right out of the timeout, Bledsoe found Sterling for an easy layup and Khris followed that up with a deep two to take the lead on an 11-0 run. Bledsoe and Khris came out of the game after the run to rest up so the backups for Milwaukee were going to have to hold their own for a few minutes. Connaughton carried a lot of the load by hitting jumpers and finding the lanes in Brooklyn’s defense. By the time Bledsoe made his way back onto the court, the Bucks had taken a 124-123 lead with four minutes left in the game.
Two minutes later, the game was even at 128. Neither team could find the shot that could put this one away. Finally, Joe Harris received a pass on the perimeter for a wide open three after a tap out on a miss by Jared Dudley with a minute and a half remaining. Sterling went to the line on the next possession but missed both of his attempts. Russel got a layup to go on his next trip down the court and Brooklyn sealed with win 133-128.
Bledsoe led all scorers with 33/4/11 on 12-17 shooting and 5-6 from deep.
Khris had an efficient night with 24/4/3 on 50% shooting. Despite Milwaukee shooting 56% from the field and 47% from deep, they couldn’t make up for the four more turnovers.
Brooklyn was the only team with something to play for tonight after Milwaukee clinched the best record in the NBA on Thursday night. The Nets are still in a tight race at the bottom of the East standings so this one was very important to win with Giannis out. The Bucks got great performances from Bledsoe and Khris as well as some solid play from Hill, Connaughton, and Ilyasova but in the end the defense let them down. It was a very winnable game down the stretch but the Bucks just happened to make more mistakes than the Nets and the Nets were rewarded with a win. Still, I’m sure Milwaukee’s players wouldn’t mind getting to 60 wins on the season. They have two more chances left to do it, as they currently sit at 59-21.
Their next chance will be tomorrow against Atlanta at Fiserv Forum. Tip is at 6:00 p.m.