NBA

NBA Playoffs 2021: Milwaukee Bucks survive Game 3 battle with Brooklyn Nets to close to 2-1 in the series

The Milwaukee Bucks still have a pulse.

While Game 3 wasn't win-or-go-home, it might as well have been with no team in NBA history recovering from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

Perhaps the tension of the moment contributed to the dour affair, with neither team executing offensively in the 86-83 tussle.

Milwaukee will now have a chance to tie the series on their home floor in Game 4.

First-quarter barrage

It appeared Milwaukee had figured out their offensive woes in the first quarter.

Between an aggressive Giannis Antetokounmpo driving to the paint at will and the smooth moving Khris Middleton using screens to open himself up for jump shots, the Bucks were rolling.

Both Antetokounmpo and Middleton finished with 15 points and seven rebounds for the period, remarkably being the only Milwaukee players to score for the quarter.

On the other end, Brooklyn were just 5-for-25 from the field and 1-for-9 from deep as Fiserv Forum got rocking early.

Bruce the roll man and the Brook Lopez question

The early dominance on offence completely evaporated from that point on, with the Nets rapidly surging back into the contest to be trailing 45-42 at the half.

All series long the Nets have tried to take advantage of Brook Lopez in pick-and-roll situations.

Banking on Lopez dropping back into the paint in coverage, the Nets feasted in the first two games by shooting open jump shots. In Game 3, they used Bruce Brown as the roll man with great impact.

Brown led the Nets in scoring with 12 points at the half, with all six of his points coming in the paint on a combination of floaters and push shots. With the Bucks refusing to adjust coverage, Brooklyn continued to feast in the situation.

Brown finished the night with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Ultimately, the defensive impact of Lopez was felt in a massive way, with the big man swatting six shots including a number of big blocks down the stretch.

Milwaukee can't afford to lose the critical rim protection, while Brooklyn will continue to use his man as a screener in a fascinating back-and-forth.

Poor shot selection and free-throw woes

Milwaukee don't win this game without Giannis Antetokounmpo.

You could also make the case that if they had lost, one of the reasons may have been shot selection from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks' superstar finished 14-for-31 from the field, including 1-for-8 from the 3-point line. With the Bucks desperately scooping water from the leaky boat in attempting to keep Brooklyn at bay, Antetokounmpo's insistence in shooting 3-point shots threatened to open the door wide open.

A dominant force from 2-point land where he was 13-for-23, one has to wonder why he has insisted on pulling up from the outside.

At the free-throw line, the 2-time MVP was called for his second 10-second violation of the postseason and finished 4-for-9 from the stripe.

Credit where credit is due, he did hit is lone 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, while also hitting both his free-throw attempts in the frame.

He's simply too good to bail out the defence like he has at times this series. And quite frankly, the Bucks can't afford to waste offensive possessions against this team.

Khris cashes in

Middleton was 13-for-43 from the field in the series thus far, including an 0-for-8 start in the Game 2 drubbing.

All good shooters say they just need to see the ball drop and perhaps a strong finish to Game 2 left the Milwaukee All-Star feeling better about himself.

Middleton finished with a game-high 35 points on 12-for-25 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds in a monster performance the Bucks desperately needed.

Hitting a series of jumpers down the stretch, Middleton almost single-handedly kept the Milwaukee offence ticking as Durant threatened to rip the game away from them.

To top it off, Middleton knocked down two clutch free throws with 2.1 seconds left to ultimately ice the game.

Where's the help?

In the postseason you rely on your stars to do the heavy lifting, but with Middleton and Antetokounmpo, an incredible stat emerged in Game 3.

Combining for 68 of the Bucks 86 points, the star duo contributed 79 percent of the scoring.

According to StatMuse, that number is the highest by any pair in NBA playoff history.

KD and Tucker get face-to-face

Durant and P.J. Tucker are no strange to one another.

Having battled in the postseason for years, the duo once again were at it all night, with Tucker's physical style a feature.

During the third quarter, tensions threatened to boil over, with Tucker called for a foul and the pair going nose-to-nose as the Milwaukee crowd erupted.

The interaction ultimately fizzled into nothing, but with three games now in the books, look for the friction to continue as these squads get to know each other.

Overall, Durant finished with 30 points on 28 shots and Tucker deserves credit for his defensive efforts, but with the significant size and length advantage, it does feel too easy for the Nets superstar at times.

It's almost impossible to stop Durant from getting 30, you just have to hope he gets there at below-average efficiency. Tucker gets a tick for tonight.

An odd Kyrie Irving stat

Irving has never been a high volume free throw shooter, averaging only 4.3 attempts per game in his two seasons in Brooklyn.

Although it may be the case, it was still a mind-blowing number to see his first attempts from the strip come in the third quarter of Game 3 in this series.

Overall, Irving finished with 22 points on 22 shots, with Bucks guard Jrue Holiday doing his best to shadow his every step.

As an entire team, the Nets have attempted just 24 free throws through three games. With players like Durant and Irving on the roster, it's a remarkable number and perhaps the Bucks deserve more credit for defending without fouling.

What's next?

Another two nights off are on the schedule before Game 4, with Fiserv Forum once again the scene for an afternoon game as Milwaukee look to square the series at 2-2.

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