MILWAUKEE — Coming off a 26-point beatdown in Philadelphia, the Nets staggered into BMO Harris Bradley Center missing injured DeMarre Carroll, Dante Cunningham and Jahlil Okafor. Waiting for them were the playoff-bound Bucks, who steamrolled the Nets in two previous meetings by 25 and 15 points, led by All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who totaled 57 points and shot 21-for-33 in those games.
The prospect of another walkover was in the air, but the ever-resilient Nets rose up with lights-out shooting performances from Allen Crabbe and D’Angelo Russell combined with a tremendous defensive job by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and rookie center Jarrett Allen to control the “Greek Freak” in a shocking 119-111 victory. It was the third win in the past four road games for the Nets.
Crabbe had 25 points and Russell added 22 for the Nets (26-53), who shot 19-for-39 from three-point range (48.7 percent). They also got 17 points from Joe Harris, 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks from Hollis-Jefferson and 10 rebounds and five blocked shots from Allen.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks (42-37) with 31 points. Antetokounmpo was held to 19 points and 7-for-21 shooting.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was thrilled with the ball movement that led to 30 assists, but it was the defense that showed real growth, especially by the 19-year-old Allen, the No. 22 pick out of Texas.
“Giannis has had some poster dunks against us and Jabari [Parker] had one tonight, but if you’re going to protect the rim, that’s going to happen sometimes,” Atkinson said. “Rondae and Jarrett especially did just a great job protecting the rim. That’s who Jarrett’s got to be. He’s got to be our paint patroller, our rim protector, and he was outstanding controlling the paint tonight.”
Allen had a rough game against the 76ers on a personal level, but he bounced back, starting by blocking the second shot of the game by Antetokounmpo.
“It felt good,” Allen said. “He’s a really talented player, super tall, super athletic, an All-Star. Just being able to block his shot shows I have a good future in doing that.”
Describing the tag-team effort with Hollis-Jefferson, Allen added, “The main focus is having our teammates’ backs. Whenever I would go to block a shot, he would have my man, and whenever he’d go to block a shot, I’d have his man. We just tried to have each other’s back. It turned out good for us. That Philly game, I didn’t have such a great game, but I was able to turn it around.”
The Nets blew an 11-point third-quarter lead, and it seemed as if they might be headed for another meltdown. In the fourth period, the teams traded the lead six times and there were five ties before Crabbe hit back-to-back threes to give the Nets a 111-105 lead with 1:18 left. They held on from there by converting eight straight foul shots in the final minute.
“Shots were going in,” Crabbe said. “They were trapping [Russell], and I was in the right spots at the right time. That was huge for us. It was a good team win in a bounce-back game.”