The championship chase came to a close for the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night in a 115-111 Game 7 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center.
Kevin Durant’s stunning game-tying shot at the end of regulation gave Brooklyn one more chance in a series in which the Nets had battled through to a seventh game despite losing Kyrie Irving to an ankle sprain in Game 4 and missing James Harden for all but a minute of the first four games before returning to battle through the final three on a strained hamstring.
Both Harden and Durant played all 53 minutes and Bruce Brown played 52 as the Nets pushed their season to the limit, but after Brown’s rebound basket to start the overtime, they went scoreless the rest of the way as the Bucks held them off to bring an end to a season in which Brooklyn navigated one test after another in the winningest regular season in franchise history.
“I just told them how proud I am of them,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Just an unbelievable effort. Gave us everything they had. So much adversity this year. First year together. So many changes to the roster and so many injuries, COVID protocols. They couldn't have given us anything more. They couldn't have given us...to take that team without Ky and James on one leg out there doing anything he can to help his teammates it's just...you go down the line what (Blake Griffin) gave us, Kevin's just, I don't know what more Kevin could do it's just out of this world. And you can say this for all our guys at a different part of the season gave us something. Just really, really proud of the group and I hurt for them more than anything.”
The final game of the year was an epic, highlighted by another historic performance from Durant, whose 48 points were the most ever in an NBA playoff Game 7. They went shot-for-shot with Milwaukee through the second half in a game with 20 lead changes and 10 ties.
Up by five with four minutes to go in regulation, the Nets found themselves trailing 109-107 in the final minute. Inbounding with six seconds to go, Jeff Green got the ball to Durant, who found the room to launch a game-tying 23-foot 2-pointer right at the 3-point arc with a second remaining. They couldn’t find the same magic in overtime.
“We had some fatigue for sure, but we also missed a couple looks,” said Nash. “We missed a couple open looks and didn’t make some really difficult ones. They made theirs. There’s nothing in it. It’s a two-point game and you miss one or two shots and obviously it hurts. But it was really well-contested by both sides. It was a war down the stretch and in overtime, very difficult to find baskets. We just couldn’t get it done. At that point in the game, guys were fatigued. Seven games plus an overtime. It’s a flip of the coin.”
Two games after a historic 49-point triple-double in Game 5, Durant again delivered a performance to remember. He shot 17-for-36 with nine rebounds and six assists, setting a franchise record for points in a postseason with 411 in 12 games. In the franchise’s history, three Nets had put up a 40-point playoff game. Durant did it three times in this season’s playoffs. He also became the first player in Nets NBA history with three consecutive 30-point games and set a franchise record with eight 30-point games in this year’s postseason.
“Simply amazing,” said Jeff Green. “He put us on his back for multiple games now, led us. Led us. Gave us great hope. Gave us all he had. He did everything possible to keep us right there. Couldn’t ask for more. That’s about it man. That guy’s special. On and off the court. That’s my brother for life. I’m glad I had a chance to go out there and fight with him on that court and battle with him. I hate the way it ended. I loved watching him again go to work.”
Harden, who played at least 40 minutes all three games after his return, scored 22 points with nine assists and nine rebounds. Blake Griffin had his second double-double of the series with 17 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 7-for-12 overall and 3-for-6 from 3-point range. Brown scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and Joe Harris had 10.
Brooklyn jumped into an early lead with an 11-0 run capped by a Harris 3-pointer. After the Bucks jumped back on top with a 23-20 lead, the Nets closed the quarter on an 8-2 run split between Brown and Durant, with Durant’s jumper giving the Nets a 28-25 lead going into the second quarter.
Durant and Griffin opened the second quarter with 3-pointers to push the Brooklyn lead to nine points. With the Bucks back within 40-38, the Nets scored six straight capped by a Durant 3-pointer. That was the start of an 11-3 run, with Harden’s three-point play putting the Nets up by 10 on the way to leading by 53-47 at halftime.
The Bucks scored the first seven points of the third quarter to go up 54-53, the first of 11 lead changes in the quarter. Trailing 72-68, the Nets launched an 11-2 run with a Harden 3-pointer followed by two Durant free throws. Giannis Antetokounmpo put Milwaukee back up 74-73 and the Nets answered with six straight — Griffin scoring off the roll with Harden, then two free throws each from Harden and Durant for a 79-74 lead. Milwaukee answered with eight straight before Durant’s drive closed the quarter with the Bucks leading 82-81.
Tied at 86 early in the fourth quarter, the Nets broke out to a 96-91 lead after Durant’s three-point play with 5:39 remaining. They were still up five with four minutes to go after Harden banked in a shot-clock beating 3-pointer to make it 101-96.
After Milwaukee’s 13-4 run gave the Bucks a 109-105 lead with a minute to go, Durant’s baseline pull-up got the Nets back within two with 42.4 remaining. Brooklyn forced a shot clock violation to get the ball back with six seconds left, and Durant sent it to overtime with a shot that was just inches from being a game-winning 3-pointer.
“They know they could have won the series,” said Nash. “They also do realize deep down that they gave it everything they had. It’s not total…It hurts. It hurts bad. It hurts all of us. I hurt so much for these guys. But they also realize they gave it everything they had.”