The impact of Brooklyn’s 86-83 Game 3 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night may ultimately be determined by the result of Sunday’s Game 4. If the Nets win and take a 3-1 lead back to Brooklyn, Game 3 will likely become a footnote on the road to the Eastern Conference finals. A Milwaukee win to even the series will change the shape of things and Game 3 will feel even more like Steve Nash and Joe Harris acknowledged on Saturday — a missed opportunity to have seized a commanding lead in the series.
“Those Game 3s — especially when you're up 2-0 — those are huge games in terms of how the series might shift,” said Harris. “But this is the reality of the matter. We lost a tough one. And I think all the focus and energy is not necessarily dwelling on what happened. We build on it, try and learn from it, you know, analyze some of the film; but all of the focus and attention is on Game 4 and trying to have a better night.”
The Nets continued their excellent defensive showing against Milwaukee, holding the league’s highest scoring team to 86 points for the second consecutive game. Anything in the neighborhood of an average Brooklyn offensive showing would have put the Nets over the top. But they shot just 36.2 percent overall and 25.0 percent from 3-point range after ranking first and second in those two categories during the regular season and going into the game shooting 49.6 percent and 43.2 percent through their first seven playoff games.
“It was a missed opportunity,” said Nash. ‘We missed a lot of shots, lot of makeable shots but we don’t just chalk it all up to that. We recognize that you still have to find a way to win even if the ball’s not going in the basket like it normally does. We missed a great opportunity but we also have a lot of things that we can improve and clean up and have a better performance.”
How much of an aberration was Thursday’s game? It was Brooklyn’s lowest-scoring game of the season, only the second time out of 80 games they scored fewer than 90 points. The Nets also had their second-lowest field goal percentage of the year. The other game in both of those fields was the 118-88 loss to Utah on March 24 in which the Nets were without James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant and Harris played just five minutes when the game got out of hand quickly.
That doesn’t mean they’re taking the offensive end for granted going into Game 4.
“We definitely cannot bank on that our offense is always gonna be there,” said Harris. “I thought even though it wasn't, we still gave ourselves a chance to win because the defense was sound and pretty solid for most of the night, but offensively, a lot of the stuff that we needed to clean up, areas where we definitely got good looks. There was good offensive action, we executed pretty well and we got a lot of clean looks, but we also had a lot of contested ones, tough ones and put ourselves in a bad spot defensively as well where they were kind of attacking us, putting us on our heels in transition primarily early on in the game. You can't come out and have the start that we did and expect to win a pivotal playoff game.”
ANOTHER DEFENSIVE STAND
Brooklyn’s outstanding defensive results continued against the Bucks in Game 3. After averaging 120.1 points per game during the regular season, Milwaukee is averaging 93.0 through three games and shooting 42.2 percent overall and 22.7 percent from 3-point range. In Game 3 the Bucks shot 37.8 and 19.4 percent.
“I think we always look to have the requisite fight and connectivity defensively,” said Steve Nash. “I think that's been pretty consistent throughout the playoffs. I just think our group is learning, growing as we go here. We got a lot of opportunities of late to test ourselves to ask questions of ourselves and come up with solutions and continue to improve. We're always looking to improve, so win or lose we're looking to improve. When you lose obviously it hurts and you want to make up for it, but I think our team is moving in the right direction. We're defending better than we have all year.”
Milwaukee got 68 of its 86 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, who had scored 30 points total through the first two games while shooting 30.2 percent overall and 3-for-13 on 3-pointers. While Antetokounmpo had 33 points, it took him 31 shots to get there and he launched eight 3-pointers against Brooklyn’s drop coverage, making just one.
“At the beginning of the series, it’s kind of like I said, you don’t really guard him one-on-one, you guard him by committee,” said Blake Griffin. “For the most part, we’ve done a solid job. I know he’s got points here and there, he had points in the last game, but we’re just trying to make it tough on him. Being physical, giving him some space, but he’s a two-time MVP so he’s going to get shots. You can’t overreact to certain things. We’ve got to stay on it and tweak a few things and be better, but overall, I think we’ve done a solid job.”
HARDEN OUT, GREEN QUESTIONABLE
Steve Nash said James Harden is out for Game 4 and Jeff Green is questionable. Green has been out since Game 3 of the first round series against Boston with a plantar fascia strain while Harden left Game 1 against the Bucks with hamstring tightness.
“I know it's tough. I know it's eating him alive inside just being on the sideline,” said Kyrie Irving of Harden. “So he does what he can to offer us advice and just keeping us balanced and grounded throughout the…It's unfortunate that even in the regular season, he was in street clothes when we were playing the Bucks. So we're very familiar with this territory, where we just don't want to lose our momentum. So he tries to keep us going in that sense. And we're just thankful and grateful that we have him out here with us as kind of player coach.”
BRUCE BROWN, BACK TO THE FLOATER
When the Nets were stuck in neutral, scoring just 11 first-quarter points in Game 3, it was Bruce Brown who got things moving in the right direction in the second quarter. Brown scored eight straight Brooklyn points in a familiar way — rolling into the paint and dropping in floaters, this time over the outstretched arms of Milwaukee’s seven-foot center, Brook Lopez. Brown’s run brought the Nets within 32-26 just over four minutes into the quarter after they had trailed by as many as 21 points.
“Brook Lopez was in the drop, committed to the ball,” said Brown. “So I was just really getting to my floater every time.”
Brown finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, both playoff career highs, and his first career playoff double-double.