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Giannis, Khris Middleton Lead Bucks to Crucial Game 3 Win over Kevin Durant, Nets

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJune 11, 2021

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It was home sweet home for the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Milwaukee is on the board in its second-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets following a dramatic 86-83 victory in Thursday's Game 3 at Fiserv Forum. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks, who still trail 2-1 but bounced back nicely from a blowout loss in Game 2.

While the other two players spearheaded the effort, it was Jrue Holiday who put them ahead for good with a clutch shot in the lane in the final seconds. Brooklyn could have forced overtime on its final possession, but Kevin Durant missed a desperation three-pointer.

Solid showings from Durant, Bruce Brown and Kyrie Irving weren't enough for the Nets, who were once again without James Harden.


Notable Player Stats

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  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, MIL: 33 PTS, 14 REB, 1-of-8 3PT
  • Khris Middleton, F, MIL: 35 PTS, 15 REB
  • Kevin Durant, F, BKN: 30 PTS, 11 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL
  • Kyrie Irving, G, BKN: 22 PTS, 5 REB, 3 STL
  • Bruce Brown, F, BKN: 16 PTS, 11 REB, 3 AST

Hot Start, Khris Middleton's Finish Propels Bucks to Win

There's nothing like a 39-point loss in the middle of the playoffs to find out what kind of resiliency a team brings.

The pressure was all on Antetokounmpo and the Bucks after their embarrassing performance in Game 2, and the two-time MVP was ready from the start. He attacked the space Brooklyn gave him instead of settling for jumpers and unleashed multiple dunks right out of the gate by powering his way to the rim and bullying defenders in his way.

Throw in Middleton catching fire from three, and the home team jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first quarter with its two go-to options doing all the scoring.

And then somehow it all went out the window in the second quarter, as Milwaukee managed just 15 points in the second quarter while Antetokounmpo started launching threes and struggled from the free-throw line.  It also didn't help that the rest of the team outside of those two was essentially invisible on the offensive end, and the lead was down to three by halftime.

It would have been easy for Milwaukee to fade after the powerhouse Nets came storming back, but P.J. Tucker provided some energy by getting into it with Durant. Brook Lopez then fired up the crowd with his blocked shots, and the Bucks had an opportunity to win and get back into the series during a critical final 12 minutes.

While Antetokounmpo continued to struggle from the outside, Middleton played the role of crunch-time hero before Holiday's winner.

He went basket-for-basket with Durant and scored eight points in the final three minutes to rescue a stagnant offense and keep his team in the series. That stretch set the door for Holiday's heroics, and Milwaukee is right back in the series.


Brooklyn's Offense Goes Cold on the Road

The Nets seemed downright invincible in Game 2, so it was somewhat understandable that they started the game thinking they could simply go through the motions and still prevail as the more talented team.

That is exactly what it looked like Thursday as they scored a meager 11 points in the first quarter with even Irving and Durant struggling to create and capitalize on open looks.

They needed a spark, and they got just that in the second quarter from Brown. The role player looked like peak Draymond Green while working as a screener who could throw lobs and dive to the rim. He dropped floater after floater over Lopez and took full advantage of the space Irving and Durant drew.

He also battled for boards and helped at least contain Antetokounmpo after his blistering start, and Brooklyn had all the momentum entering the second half as they closed the deficit.

It was fitting that the visitors took their first lead of the game in the third quarter on another Brown basket, but it was just a matter of time until Durant found his touch as a scorer. He did just that in the third, although the Nets still trailed heading into the fourth in large part because they were fighting such an uphill battle from their start.

The stage was set for either Durant or Irving to take over with the game on the line, but they both continued to struggle and finished a combined 20-of-50 (40 percent) from the field. The normally sharp-shooting Joe Harris was also an ugly 1-of-11, and only Brown played better than he usually does.

Still, it was surprising to see him with the ball in his hands in the final seconds after Durant finally hit some shots down the stretch. He missed a driving shot in the lane after Holiday's clutch basket, and the Nets ended an abysmal offensive night with their first loss of the series.


What's Next?

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee.

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