After falling to a detrimental 2-0 series deficit, the Milwaukee Bucks swing back in Game Three and scrap their way to an 86-83 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. This series has been disappointing thus far, with the first two games resulting in blowout Brooklyn wins. However, Milwaukee crawled themselves right back into the series with a very encouraging win.
The Bucks came out of the gate playing incredible defense, forcing two turnovers on the Nets’ first three possessions. It took Brooklyn nearly four minutes to score their first basket, and the Nets ended the First Quarter shooting 5-25 and losing by 19 points. That lead quickly evaporated in the Second Quarter, and the game rode close for the final 24 minutes.
Khris Middleton stole the show for Milwaukee on Thursday with his remarkable 35 point performance. Middleton had struggled throughout the series, scoring just 15 points per game coming into Game Three. His bounce-back performance is an encouraging sign for Milwaukee, as the team needs his shot-making ability to be consistent the rest of the series. However, in his playoff career, Middleton has only once had a back-to-back performance of 25+ point games. The Bucks are going to need him to continue to be an incredible scorer to beat this Nets team.
The majority of positives from the Bucks’ performance came on the defensive end, where PJ Tucker shined. Tucker has been tasked with guarding Durant this series, and while not an easy task, PJ held the former MVP to just 39.3% shooting in Game Three. While Durant ended the night scoring 30 total points, the 36-year-old veteran did his job limiting KD to an inefficient shooting night. These two former Texas Longhorns also got hit with double technical fouls starting with Tucker barking at Durant, a savvy move by Tucker to show he’s not backing down to a superstar player.
The Milwaukee role players definitely stepped up defensively, but their offensive contributions were almost nonexistent. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were basically the entire offense, scoring 79% of the Bucks points in Game Three. Their percentage of total points marks the highest percentage of points from a duo in NBA Playoff history. The Bucks bench put up a total of six points on Thursday. Bryn Forbes, who was instrumental in the First Round, had some abysmal shot selection and ended up scoreless on the night. Offensive contributions for Milwaukee can’t only come from Antetokounmpo and Middleton if they expect to win the series.
The Bucks offense mainly struggled from three-point range. Milwaukee made just six threes of their 31 attempts (19.4%) on Thursday night which is the lowest made threes all series. The Nets have done a fantastic job not giving up good looks with their switch-heavy defense unless the open look comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Brooklyn has been more than happy to let Antetokounmpo take three-pointers this series. In Game One, Blake Griffin had no answer for Giannis inside the paint as he finished the game, dropping 31 points on 66.7% shooting. Games Two and Three have been a different story, as Antetokounmpo has begun settling for more jump shots than attacking the basket. Giannis took a playoff career-high eight three-point attempts in Game Three yet only managed to knock down one of them.
“You’ve got to shoot it,” said Antetokounmpo on his three-point shooting. “You’ve got to make the best decision. At the time, if I feel like I can knock it down, I’m going to shoot it.”
One thing is for certain, Giannis can’t continue to settle for jump shots if the Bucks are going to come back in this series. Shooting 12.5% during the playoffs on over four attempts per game just isn’t getting it done, especially when Antetokounmpo is shooting nearly just under 60% from inside the three-point arc.
The defensive intensity is there for Milwaukee, but the bottom line is the Bucks need to start knocking down shots. They can no longer afford to shoot below 30% from three like they have every game this series. Even if they continue their defensive excellence, the Bucks need to improve their offensive performance on Sunday in Game Four.
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