Brooklyn Nets: Takeaways From Game 3 Loss To Bucks

Agh, that would have been nice. Game Three of Milwaukee Bucks-Brooklyn Nets began as many Game Threes have. The team down 0-2, at home for the first time in the series, comes out with an energy only true desperation can foster. The road team eventually lands a punch, and it turns into a respectable affair. Only this time, the Nets had a real chance to land a knockout and go up 3-0. Despite one of their worst shooting performances of the season, despite the Bucks’ two best players getting real busy, despite only shooting eight free throws all night, the Nets had it.

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Then they lost it. Not to be the “sometimes you get beat, other times you lose” guy, but…it sure feels that way. A lot of worthy attention is on Bruce Brown‘s faux pa at the end of the game. It was the most important play of the game. But it’s not the only possession Brooklyn would love to take back. The Nets, of course, can still accomplish a split in Milwaukee. They played their worst game of the postseason and it still may have been better than any of the first three games the Bucks have played this series. But man, they had a fantastic opportunity on Thursday night. It would’ve been nice to have that one. Here are three takeaways from Game Three.

James Harden‘s Absence is Felt

That’s a minor cop-out. Not a game passes without feeling the absence of an all-time great. But when the Nets’ fourth-quarter offense slowed to a crawl, it was quintessential Harden time, as it had been all year. It is important to note that both offenses were lackluster in the second half, though, and Brooklyn’s lackluster is still much better than Milwaukee’s. Joe Harris, who missed ten-of-11 mostly wide-open shots, got a couple of good looks. And Kevin Durant taking any shot is a good look; he made a few big ones.

But, if there’s one area of Durant and Kyrie Irving‘s combined skillsets that falls just short of superstar-level, it’s offense organization. With two players with so many other superstar skills, it’s a minor complaint. But it shows up from time to time, and it loomed large in the stretch run of Game Three. Irving went 0-2 in the final 11 minutes of regulation after hitting two absurd jumpers to start the quarter. Bruce Brown took that many shots in the final thirty seconds. (And it’s Harden who unlocks his easiest looks as a roll man anyways.) Brooklyn was continually searching, as opposed to their usual offensive dance of surgical destruction with Harden on the floor.

There’s also the minutes issue. Irving ended with a hefty 45 minutes; it’s not unreasonable to think that could have been the source of his quiet fourth quarter. But with the Nets’ role players specializing in anything but offense creation, how do you keep both Irving and Durant on the bench? Brooklyn has proven Harden’s absence isn’t an unsolvable issue. But he sure would have helped on Thursday.

Bruce Brown has a Loud Game

Yes yes, the end of Brown’s night wasn’t great. You don’t want him taking the two most important shots of the game, although when he sets a high ball screen and catches the ball rolling to the rim, I don’t know what you expect. The missed lefty layup was worse and we’ll leave at that. But he was awesome for much of the night. Brown’s combination of defense, rebounding, hustle, and feathery touch on push shots brought Brooklyn back from an early hole.

His play is also making Brook Lopez minutes untenable, at times, for Milwaukee. Brown has become a talented screen-setter, which gives Irving and Durant ample space to attack Lopez inside the arc. Add in some made floaters over Lopez, and the Bucks have to consider putting in Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, or Bryn Forbes. Not bad players, but less than ideal for Milwaukee.

Without Jeff Green, the Nets can’t unleash their five-out, five-shooter offense than blowtorched teams in the fourth quarter this year. In this scenario, giving Brown extended minutes has even less potential downside, especially considering his stout man-to-man defense. Overall, he was fantastic, but stepped into some oversized shoes in crunch time. And it wasn’t all his fault, either. Lopez didn’t have a great game, but he did well coercing Brown into those shots in the fourth quarter. And Brooklyn wasn’t adept at avoiding those situations, either. Something to watch out for in Game Four, for sure.

The Nets Defense is Still Good

Maybe some regression to the mean is still on its way for Milwaukee. It probably is, after three straight poor games from the field. But luck is far from the main reason for the Bucks’ poor shooting. Brooklyn is still playing great defense, and Lopez, P.J. Tucker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo aren’t snipers either. Forbes may not go 0-4 again, but his looks were not easy in Game Three. At some point, the Bucks’ offense might just be what it is, and the same for the Nets’ defense. Trust your eyes, as they say.

Blake Griffin deserves a ton of credit. His ability to hold up guarding Antetkounmpo with minimal help changes the complexion of that end of the floor. Meanwhile, the Bucks’ problems are all too familiar. When Antetekounmpo is at a standstill with the ball, at the top of the key, five sets of eyes can key in on him and play aggressive defense. He played well, but even his good playoff games don’t provide much of a boost to his teammates. The Nets are not being forced to react and make arduous closeouts, but rather loading up and preparing. Jrue Holiday has also been subpar as an initiator, unable to score efficiently or put pressure on Brooklyn from the perimeter. His reads can get pre-determined; the Holiday-Antetokounmpo pick and rolls are not as fruitful as you might imagine.

Khris Middleton, for his part, made a boatload of contested shots and went 8-9 from the line. But the single assist on his line is important too. He isn’t bending the Nets’ defense either. The Bucks’ two best scorers may have dropped 68 points, but it took 56 shots to get there, and it’s not leading to great team offense either. Brooklyn played their third satisfactory defensive game in a row. They certainly did enough on that end to take a 3-0 series lead, but there’s no point in looking back now. There’s more than enough reason to look ahead to Sunday afternoon, where Brooklyn has an excellent chance to take a slightly less dominating, but crucial 3-1 series lead, and head home to finish this series off.