The Milwaukee Bucks have a pulse. After two lackluster performances in Brooklyn, the Bucks finally staved off the Nets and won Game 3 to bring the series to a 2-1 standing. In a game that felt like a mid-2000s slugfest, the Bucks may have finally figured out their postseason woes.
Coach Bud going all-in
Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenhozer is famously a stickler for his rotations, even if it costs them games. But in Game 3, Coach Bud played Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged around 36 minutes before yesterday’s contest, 43 minutes. It paid off almost immediately as the Bucks stormed to a 30-11 in the first quarter. Giannis usually takes a short break at the 2-minute mark of the opening period, but he played on until the final minute of the first quarter.
Coach Bud also didn't gamble in the fourth period, having Giannis and Khris Middleton back in the game with 9:37 on the clock and rolling with his closing five that included Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and PJ Tucker with more than seven minutes left.
It remains to be seen if the Bucks can keep getting away with playing Lopez against the Nets' small-ball closing lineup, but the semi-gamble has paid off for the Bucks. Lopez’s size was key in deterring Bruce Brown's potential game-altering shots at the rim in the final minute (more on this later) and Lopez has been able to punish mismatches, especially when the Nets slot a guard against him.
Coach Bud has been criticized for his lack of adjustment, especially in the playoffs. With Milwaukee’s season and his career on the line, he pushed the right buttons to make this a series.
Brooklyn’s (not) Finest
For a team lauded for having a historically unstoppable offense, 83 points is a disappointing total. Brooklyn's duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving went 20-for-50 from the field. Still, the Nets led one of their ugliest games of the season 83-80 with 1:23 to go after Durant hit a contested triple over Giannis.
After that, Durant and Irving did not get a shot off until their final possession. Joe Harris missed a jumper then Bruce Brown clanked close-range shots. Credit goes to Milwaukee’s defense for forcing the ball out of the Nets’ best players' hands, but Brooklyn signed KD and Kyrie precisely to make tough shots at the end of games. Durant did have a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but his shot over two Bucks defenders didn’t go in.
After everything that went wrong, the Nets still only lost by three on the road. Even if Giannis (33 points) and Middleton (35 points) had tremendous games, that pair accounted for nearly 80 percent of Milwaukee’s points. The Nets have a lot to fall back on for Game Four.
Closing time in Milwaukee
Jrue Holiday has been one of the most underrated players in the league for the better part of a decade now. Despite not having the best game offensively, Jrue was still an effective foil for Kyrie Irving (22 points on nine-for-22 shooting) and was clutch when the Bucks needed him.
Clutch possessions for Milwaukee in the postseason are going to keep looking weird, mostly because they likely won't have Giannis handling the ball at the end of games. For all his freakishness, Giannis' struggles at the free throw line and lack of a jumper are going to cap his effectiveness as a closer.
For now, the Bucks will have to be creative in closing tight games. The Holiday layup came off a great decision not to call timeout following a stop, allowing the Bucks a semi-transition opportunity. Going against a team with two bonafide closers, the Bucks are going to need all the help they can get.