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5 takeaways from Bucks' comeback win over Nets

Giannis Antetokounmpo reveals another layer to his game, Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez step up, while Ben Simmons continues to struggle for Brooklyn.

Giannis' determination to be great carrying Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE – One double-MVP went double-double, another double-MVP picked up double-Ts. Here are five takeaways from the Milwaukee Bucks’ 110-99 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at Fiserv Forum.

1. Antetokounmpo’s big 2nd half

Giannis Antetokounmpo got to halftime as peeved as the rest of the Bucks. They had played 12 miserable minutes at both ends in the second quarter, getting bruised defensively while struggling to shoot the bloody ball.  They were sputtering along at 34.7% overall and 18.2% on 3s and had seen a 10-point lead turn into a 12-point deficit. Antetokounmpo? He had one point in that quarter, nine by the break.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 40 points for the second straight game, finishing with 43 points along with 14 rebounds in a win over the Nets.

Some players would have stewed themselves into a lost night at that point. Others would have tried some mental gymnastics, seeking short-term amnesia to forget what had gone wrong. Not Antetokounmpo, though — he treats his performances, good or bad, like one continuous movie.

He took that thumbs-down first half into the second and flipped the script. After a 3-for-10 shooting start, he hit 13 of his 15 attempts over the final 24 minutes. He scored 34 points, more than half of Milwaukee’s total over the final two quarters. He didn’t just wear out Brooklyn’s defenders — he seemed to grate on Nets coach Steve Nash, who exploded over what he felt should have been an offensive foul on the Bucks’ superstar.

It was just another chapter in Antetokounmpo’s book of basketball development.

“We had a really poor second quarter,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He came out with a force and a determination to put us in the right place.”

“The Greek Freak” unveils wrinkles and tweaks in his game week by week now, sometimes game by game.

Said Budenholzer: “He works on it. Just adding layers to his finishing game. Obviously he’s got a ton of power … but when he adds the touch and he gets some more and-1’s, it gives the defense another thing they have to think about.”

2. No more Mr. Nice Nash? 

Steve Nash ejected for 1st time as coach

To some, Nash’s eruption with 4:24 left in the third quarter was overdue, a show of passion that will pay dividends up and down the Nets’ roster now that players have seen how much the 1-3 start has bothered him. To others, it was so out of character as to be contrived, a self-conscious moment not typical of his quiet, intellectual approach.

To Nash, it was nothing more than seeing a wrong and speaking out.

“I was just standing up for our guys,” he said afterward. “I thought Patty [Mills] took a forearm in the throat from Giannis.”

The play happened close to the Brooklyn bench, with nary a whistle. The Nets finished the defensive possession moments later but Nash already was chewing on a referee. Crew chief Josh Tiven explained to a pool reporter the sequence of technical fouls.

“Steve twice yelled out a very unsportsmanlike comment that was directed at the officiating, that was the first technical,” Tiven said. “The second technical was for his continual outburst after receiving the first.”

So hot that a couple of Brooklyn players had to get between him and the officials, Nash had cooled considerably by the game’s end. Assistant coach Jacque Vaughn slid over to Nash’s role for the rest of the night.

“I said my peace out on the court,” Nash said, declining to get into specifics.

3. Lopez patrols the paint 

Defending against two Hall of Fame-bound scorers, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, will stress any team. Doing so requires unflagging concentration and tough hides for all the inevitable failure, one play to the next.

Budenholzer didn’t want to let his players off the hook for all that task asked of them, mentally and physically. But he was delighted with the results — one game after Durant and Irving combined for 74 points at Memphis Monday, they got “only” 60 on 19-for-44 shooting.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are really high-level defenders,” Budenholzer said. “We can throw different bodies at these great players in the league. Just try to make them work and see different people — every guy that guards them maybe is just a little bit different. Keep them guys hopefully thinking and wondering.”

The game showcased again Bucks center Brook Lopez, the anchor of Milwaukee’s defense for five years now. This one, however, is a bit different. Instead of leaving Lopez in the “drop” coverage that all but dared opponents to hoist 3-point shots over the top, the coaches have asked him to be more active and mobile, coming out on pick-and-rolls and to contest shots.

Lopez is 34 now, which makes that a challenge. But he’s still 7-foot and 280 pounds, which makes him an obstacle for foes who try to elude him.

“He’s really changing the game in the paint,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve asked him to do even more this year. He’s embraced it. It’s a credit to him, he’s got just great feel and timing, and how to contest and block shots and still rebound.”

Said Antetokounmpo: “Whenever he’s out there, you kind of [exhale] and think, ‘Thank God he’s out there.’”

4. No joy in Simmons-ville yet

The Ben Simmons comeback trail continues to be strictly for off-road vehicles only. More bumps, rocks, potholes and roots than Nets fans ever imagined.

After Simmons contributed four points, five rebounds and nine assists on 2-for-7 shooting in more than 34 minutes, he added this distinction: According to, the list of NBA starters who have logged at least 100 minutes but amassed fewer than 25 points and 25 rebounds is a short one: Simmons.

Ben Simmons talks after the Nets' loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee.

“Ben did a lot of good things, and we’ve got to stick with the process,” Nash said. “Keep growing, keep improving. He’s a huge piece of our team and we’ve just got to support him and keep working with him and try to give him as much confidence as possible.”

Nash has said that he wants to see Simmons play with more aggressiveness, while finding some “joy” on the floor. They’re all still waiting.

“In time it’s going to work,” the Nets coach said. “It’s just gonna take time and we have to have some patience. We all have to participate in this and fight for it.”

Irving got a little salty when asked for the umpteenth time about the teammate whose former All-Star status seems lost, after a year’s layoff with injury and mental health concerns.

“You guys keep coming in here and asking me, ‘What about Ben? What about Ben?’ He hasn’t played in two years,” Irving said. “Give him a [expletive] chance. … We’re just here to give him positive affirmations.”

One such affirmation came in the third quarter when Irving dished to Simmons near the basket, only to see his 6-foot-10 teammate pass the ball rather than shoot it. Irving was seen palms up, imploring Simmons to shoot.

5. Portis buys the Bucks some time 

Milwaukee’s second quarter was such a mess — outscored 35-18, off-target shooting combined with faulty defense — that it might have proven lethal except for one thing: Bobby Portis.

The Bucks’ second-most popular player, judged by the “Bob-by! Bob-by!” chants, scored half of those 18 points, grabbed six boards and kept the home team from congealing completely.

Portis, who finished with 20 points, credited his ability to see from the bench what his team needs on any given night. With Milwaukee’s roster already thinned without Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles and Pat Connaughton — three of its top eight or nine rotation players — the Bucks still edged Brooklyn in bench points, 38-20.

“Without him,” Budenholzer said, “I don’t know where we’d have been in the first half. We’d have been in big trouble.”

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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