What a thriller. In overtime, the Bucks squeezed by the Nets 120-119. With another 40+ point (44 to be exact) effort, Giannis Antetokounmpo is now the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer with 14,216 points. At 48-28, Milwaukee sits a half-game behind Miami for the East’s top seed and clinches a postseason birth with the W. Brooklyn now finds itself in a three-way tie with Charlotte and Atlanta, two games behind Cleveland in the play-in region. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 26.
Both teams combined to miss their first nine attempts from the floor until Bruce Brown’s dunk just over two minutes into the game. The Nets got out to a 10-4 lead before coach Mike Budenholzer called timeout, after which the Bucks immediately got back into things thanks to a Pat Connaughton trey off a nice ATO. Brooklyn retook the lead as the quarter waned, up 30-23 thanks to a buzzer-beating Goran Dragic lay-in.
Behind some thunderous dunks from Giannis (including two and-ones) and a Connaughton four-point play, Milwaukee closed the deficit to two early in the second. An 8-0 Nets run quickly stamped that out, and while the Bucks got to the line enough to draw closer, they missed too many clean looks granted to them by the Nets’ defense. Still, a late flurry of makes put them down four entering half at 60-56. Giannis led both teams with 20 (on 11 shots), putting him 19 points shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s franchise scoring record.
In the third, Giannis quickly got to work at that title with 11 points before checking out with 4:49 left in the quarter, having sliced the Bucks’ deficit to one. Without that much help from a cold Khris Middleton and a passive Jrue Holiday, though, the Bucks couldn’t jump in front until Giannis re-entered as the quarter ended. On an alley-oop from Holiday, his 12th and 13th points of the quarter put the Bucks ahead for the first time since the first, entering the fourth up 87-86 with Giannis 7 points away from becoming the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer.
Both teams traded the lead a bit as the fourth opened, and with 7:43 to go and the Bucks up 96-92, Giannis took a short break. Without him and Middleton on the floor, the Nets used a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead. Three points shy of Kareem, Giannis returned with his team down 3 at the 5:24 mark. After he threw a bad pass into the backcourt that was picked up by Bruce Brown, Middleton streaked after him on the fast break and fouled him hard. The refs went to the replay and sent Middleton to the showers early, ejecting him with a flagrant-2. Brooklyn’s run reached 11-0 before Holiday canned a triple, but Kevin Durant quickly snapped back with a deep three and a dunk off an Irving lob to make it a 108-99 game with 3:52 to go. Milwaukee and Giannis, however, were not done. They closed the quarter on a 11-2 run, including two free throws by Giannis which tied the record and capped off by his absolutely massive three with 18.7 seconds in regulation, tying the game at 110 and claiming the franchise scoring title outright from Kareem.
With the shot clock off, Brooklyn obviously gave the ball to KD. With help from Giannis, Wesley Matthews forced Durant to miss as time expired, and we headed to OT.
A Wesley Matthews corner three and a Bobby Portis bucket put the Bucks up 4 after 1:50 elapsed in the extra period. Brooklyn hung tough, though, and cut the lead to 2 with 40 seconds remaining. Giannis couldn’t connect on a jumper with 20.2 on the game clock to put the game more out of reach, so Durant again raced down court in an attempt to save the game. While he missed a wide-open corner three with 8.7 seconds remaining, Matthews fouled him on the attempt. Bud challenged the call unsuccessfully, and KD made all three free-throw attempts to grab a one-point lead. Receiving the inbounds pass, Giannis then flew to the opposing rim in 5 seconds flat, where he was fouled by Nic Claxton. He calmly drained both free throws to put the Bucks back in front with 3 seconds left. The inbounds pass went to—who else—Durant. He did not airball his three-point attempt as the buzzer sounded... but he still missed it, harkening back to these teams’ second-round series last summer, and the Bucks escaped with a 120-119 win.
One word came to mind watching Giannis in this one: chills. Seeing him hit shot after shot as he willed his team to victory and set the all-time franchise scoring mark was witnessing supreme greatness, sending shivers down my spine. Anyone fortunate to be there won’t soon forget this legendary performance from one of the best twenty-ish players (a number which keeps shrinking) to ever touch a basketball, which likely won over more MVP voters. He ended up with 44 points on 14/21 shooting, including a massive 15/19 at the charity stripe to go with 14 boards and 9 assists. As usual, the Nets had no ability to stop him. Durant was the primary assignment on Giannis most of the game, and while KD is probably their best choice for that matchup and a solid defender in his own right, he didn’t stand a chance. Routinely, Giannis mashed through Brooklyn’s weak interior and threw down some rim-rattlers that drew rises from the largely bipartisan crowd.
Khris Middleton never got going, then got run after a flagrant. When the opponent has a room service lay-up/dunk off a turnover and you’re in a position to foul him on the attempt, it makes sense to force him to earn it at the line. Middleton raked Brown across the arm, without winding up, but certainly pulled the Net guard down in midair. Have a look for yourself. In real-time, only seeing one angle on the replay, the flagrant-2 call surprised me when I initially thought a flagrant-1 was obvious. Postgame, Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash called it dangerous but made a point that he doesn’t think Middleton is a dirty player. For his part, Brown called it “just a hard foul” and a “basketball play,” though he noted he bruised a bone in his wrist.
Wesley Matthews did one helluva job on Kevin Durant. His efforts (assisted by Middleton, Giannis, and Jrue Holiday) were the main reason that the Bucks held the Nets superstar to just 7 first-half points. Only putting up 6 shot attempts, Matthews’ defense relegated KD to more of a facilitative role, which he did rather well (ending with 11 assists) but isn’t ideal. Durant finished with a rather pedestrian 26 on 10/21 shooting, only getting to the line three times. Of course, those attempts came near the end of OT thanks to Matthews’ foul, where he fell into KD”s leg. The officials also reviewed this one and did not deem it flagrant, but Durant said after the game that it was “reckless,” not meeting the criteria for a flagrant on a technicality because Matthews did not invade his landing space. Nevertheless, Matthews was probably the second most important Buck last night.
Wesley Matthews, upon sitting down for the press conference: “damn, I’m tired.”— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) April 1, 2022
Bonus Bucks Bits
- I had the privilege of covering this game in person. Like I said, it was sublime and awe-inspiring to see Giannis work in this one. I informally asked some national and New York-based journalists around me in press row if this performance makes him the MVP favorite, and the response from each was along the lines of “whoa, you know, I think it does.”
- For his part, Giannis seemed unaware that he passed Kareem last night, especially with such a huge bucket late in regulation:
Giannis on breaking the record with the three: “did not know about it, but it was good because I’m changing the narrative. I don’t wanna be the guy who dunks and runs… but it doesn’t even matter.”— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) April 1, 2022
- While the 53.3% to 45.5% Net advantage in FG% in the first half doesn’t look outrageous, the differential beyond the arc was 56.3% (9/16) to 27.3% (6/22) in their favor. That number did not swing much at all towards the Bucks in the second half, when the home team shot 47.1% (8/17) to the visitors’ 29.4% (5/17).
- Not one, not two, but four Buck three-point attempts were blocked in the first half. The last one was likely a foul, but I found this kind of shocking. Middleton himself had his shot blocked three times in the game.
- Milwaukee turned the ball over a whopping 23 times last night to Brooklyn’s 16. Oddly, though, they managed to outscore the Nets off turnovers by a final tally of 25-22.
- Bobby Portis again struggled with his shot—a pattern as of late—for part of the game. He also dribbled it off his foot in the third for one of many confounding Bucks turnovers. However, he then came alive by hitting 3 of his final 5 shots, including a big one early in OT to put the Bucks up 4.
- Quick turnaround for this one, as the Bucks head back to Milwaukee today to face Paul George and the Clippers tonight. Both teams are on a back-to-back.
- Finally, what does one do in their first public comments after dropping 44 and claiming a franchise record? You already know: