Call it a playoff preview or playoff prep, but Brooklyn’s Sunday matinee in Milwaukee did not disappoint.
The matchup between the first-place Nets and the third-place Bucks went down to the final possession, with Milwaukee hanging on for a 117-114 win as Kevin Durant’s 3-pointer missed the mark at the buzzer.
Durant scored 11 straight Brooklyn points at one stretch in the fourth quarter and matched his season high with 42 points on 16-of-32 shooting, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range, matching his career high for 3-pointers made in a game. Durant had nine rebounds as well.
“He carried us for long stretches,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “I think we struggled offensively a little bit, just from our timing, our connectivity. We got a little stagnant. We probably tried to go one-on-one too often, but he kept us in the game offensively at different times. Kevin’s Kevin. One of the best to ever do it.”
The Nets and Bucks went into the fourth quarter tied at 90, but an 11-0 Milwaukee run left the Nets trailing 101-96 midway through the fourth quarter. Durant’s 3-pointer got Brooklyn within 110-107 and gave him nine straight Brooklyn points. After Pat Connaughton��s 3-pointer for Milwaukee, Durant made it 11 straight with two free throws to make it 113-109 with 2:55 to go.
Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer brought the Nets within 115-112, but Giannis Antetokounmpo got to the rim to score for Milwaukee and a 117-112 lead. Irving scored inside to make it 117-114. The Nets got their last shot inbounding with 3.6 seconds remaining as Durant curled up toward the top of the key and turned into a long 3-pointer off the inbounds pass.
“They had an opportunity to foul, so we couldn't be too cute with the play,” said Nash. “We just tried to get him a catch and then get shot off. We got a shot off, it looked like he stumbled a little bit, and didn’t quite have his footing. But you know, Kevin with the ball in his hands at the top of the key, that looks good to me anytime.”
Irving had 20 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Landry Shamet scored 17 for Brooklyn, Blake Griffin had 11 and DeAndre Jordan had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
After leading by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Nets trailed 62-59 at halftime.
Tied at 11 early in the game, the Nets ran off seven straight points, the last five from Irving. That was the start of Brooklyn building a 37-23 lead and going into the second quarter up 37-28.
Milwaukee scored the first six points of the second quarter to cut the Nets’ lead to three points, though it took until the final minutes of the quarter before the Bucks caught Brooklyn at 52. With Milwaukee up by six, Durant’s 3-pointer brought the Nets within three and gave him 18 points at the break.
“I think we started off the game, we were up 12, 13 points,” said Durant. “At the end of the game they were in control. So I wouldn't say they gave us too much trouble to start, but I think the way we were getting stuff that we wanted we started running into the lane and trying stuff against their team, they got long athletic guys and they love getting deflections. So I feel like I ran into the lane and shot some bad ones, a few guys ran into the lane and tried to throw out and they got their hands on there so it was stuff like that that we had to control that got them back into the game and then we were in a dogfight. So I feel like we started off the game solid, started off the fourth quarter solid, but you know you got to give a team has got championship-pedigree, they've been fighting for one the past few years, you got to give them credit for sticking to it.”
Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 16 points of the second half, making 7-of-8 shots, and when Bryn Forbes followed with a 3-pointer the Bucks were up 81-74 with 5:49 to go in the quarter. With Milwaukee up 86-81, Shamet converted a three-point play and Durant knocked down a 3-pointer for an 87-86 Brooklyn lead. Jrue Holiday finished a drive for Milwaukee, Shamet hit a 3-pointer for a 90-88 Nets lead, and Antetokounmpo’s jumper tied the game at 90 going into the fourth quarter.
Griffin and Shamet opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers for a 96-90 Brooklyn lead, but the Bucks ran off 11 straight, with a Holiday 3-pointer putting the Bucks up 101-96 with 7:30 to play.
The Nets fell to 43-22 while the Bucks improved to 40-24. They’ll play again Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” said Nash. “We weren’t really sharp. I thought we got a little stagnant at times. We turned the ball over a ton. Unforced turnovers. They’re a good defensive team. We scored 114 points and didn’t shoot the ball well, turned it over all the time. I think it’s more about us playing a little better, a little sharper, taking care of the basketball. We were a little better in the second half in that respect. Getting a chance to see some of these top teams and play them this time of the season is important for us. Tonight I think we’ll learn a lot from this experience.”