Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton saved the Milwaukee Bucks’ season at the start and at the end of Game 3.
Antetokounmpo barreled into the paint for dunks, and Middleton had his 3-ball going as the pair combined for Milwaukee’s first 30 points and a 21-point lead over the Brooklyn Nets.
But that great start fizzled. It was a three-point game at halftime, and Brooklyn took its first lead of the game near the end of the third quarter.
With their season on the line, the Bucks avoided a disastrous 3-0 hole, beating the Nets 86-83 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal on Thursday.
“It doesn’t matter how you do it this time of year, you’ve just got to find a way to get it done,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Trailing 83-80, Middleton and Jrue Holiday, who struggled offensively, made back-to-back shots and the Bucks took an 84-83 lead with 11.4 seconds left.
“To just take the ball, get to the basket and finish with a scrambled defense, we needed that,” Budenholzer said of Holiday’s basket. “We needed that one play from him, and he made it. It was big.”
The Nets called timeout but didn’t execute a solid play, and Bruce Brown’s runner didn’t go in. Middletown made two free throws, giving the Bucks an 86-83 lead. Kevin Durant’s 3-point attempt hit the back of the rim as time expired.
Game 4 is Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC), and the Bucks have a chance to even the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2.
“For us to have the big first quarter and then things change and for us, it was just find a way to win a game,” Budenholzer said. “Your character’s tested in the playoffs. Your character is tested coming into this game. The group has high character. They responded. Now, we’ve just got to fill our cup back up and get ready to do it again.”
Antetokounmpo (33 points and 14 rebounds) and Middleton (35 points and 15 rebounds) combined for 68 of Milwaukee’s 86 points. No other Bucks player scored in double figures.
Two of the league’s best offenses struggled, with neither team shooting better than 40% from the field and 25% on 3-pointers.
“Both teams were fighting for any bucket they could get,” Budenholzer said.
While Brook Lopez had just three points, he had 11 rebounds and six blocked shots, several of which prevented Brooklyn from either taking the lead or tying the score in the fourth quarter.
“Brook did a great job taking away a lot of layups, altering shots, making them change their path on their shots,” Middleton said.
Durant scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half. Durant also had 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block. Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points, and Brown, who had a playoff career-high 16 points, kept the Nets in the game in the second quarter.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bucks edge Nets in Game 3 to cut series deficit to 2-1
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