The most recent time the Milwaukee Bucks visited the Brooklyn Nets, they held their breath as Kevin Durant’s foot was not behind the 3-point line at the end of regulation and then celebrated after winning a classic Game 7 in overtime.
Nearly seven months after prevailing in the Eastern Conference semifinals over the Nets, the Bucks will return to Brooklyn on Friday night.
Milwaukee overcame losing the first two games of the series and then won a pair of elimination games before beating the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals and Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. Those series wins occurred after the Bucks survived Durant’s 48 points and long 2-pointer at the end of regulation and then secured a 115-111 victory when Khris Middleton hit the go-ahead shot.
This time, the Bucks have the East’s third-best record and are looking to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season after significantly struggling in the second half of home losses to the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors.
After getting outscored 54-42 in the second half Monday, the Bucks negated their 77-point first half and were outscored 49-34 after halftime in Wednesday’s 117-111 loss to Toronto.
“It’s not good enough at all, I think for us no matter who is out there on the court,” Middleton said. “That same hustle or desire to win that we played with those last couple minutes, we’ve just got to find a way to do that the whole game. I think it’s as simple as that.”
Middleton scored 14 of his 25 points in the second half but had little support without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness. Antetokounmpo missed five games in the NBA’s health and safety protocol and is averaging 32.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in five games since returning.
While Antetokounmpo is done with the protocol, the Bucks were missing Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, George Hill and coach Mike Budenholzer due to the protocol. Darvin Ham filled in for Budenholzer on Wednesday and likely will do so again Friday.
The Nets have lost three of their past four games. After trailing by 28 in a 118-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Nets staged their largest comeback of the season by rallying from 19 down for a 129-121 win at Indiana in Kyrie Irving’s return as a part-time player on Wednesday.
Irving scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter but is ineligible to appear in home games because of New York City’s vaccine mandate.
Without Irving, the Nets hope to get another dynamic performance from Durant, who scored 39 points against Indiana. Durant has at least 20 points in 16 straight games, and his latest big night occurred as the Nets dominated the fourth quarter by outscoring Indiana 35-20 and making 13 of 19 shots from the field.
“It took us to get in a deep hole before we showed the game its respect it deserves,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “At that point, now we have confidence and they can see a big win. We showed character to fight back. We showed a ton of energy to win the game, but it’s that type of start in the first half that cannot be a constant thing.”
The Nets hope to put it together for a full game this time, especially since they are a combined 0-7 against the Chicago Bulls, Bucks, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Memphis.
–Field Level Media