The Nets experienced a not-so-super Sunday at Barclays Center.
Their minds may not have been on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl LII, but they weren’t all there when it came to engaging the Bucks at the opening tipoff.
The Nets didn’t perk up until they found themselves in a 28-point hole in the third quarter. They cut the deficit to seven in the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee ultimately claimed a 109-94 win.
“Somehow, for some reason, we weren’t ready,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I don’t understand how that happens. I’m a little upset with our group that we weren’t more ready mentally, physically. You give up 36 points in the first quarter, it’s, like, that team is too good to let that happen.”
That team, with all of its length and athleticism, built a 54-36 advantage on the boards on the way to improving to 29-23 with its sixth win in seven games.
The Nets lost their 10th in a row to Milwaukee and fell to 19-35 with their sixth loss in seven games.
Eric Bledsoe paced the Bucks with 28 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. John Henson had 19 points and 18 rebounds and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Greek Freak hobbled off after twisting his right ankle in the fourth quarter, although he said he could have returned. “Oh yeah, definitely,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve done it in the past . . . I’ve twisted it twice in the last five games, but I just got to play through it.”
DeMarre Carroll and Caris LeVert scored 15 points apiece and Jarrett Allen had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Nets. D’Angelo Russell finished with three points, shot 1-for-8 and fouled out with 10:41 left.
“Overall, as a team, we foul too much,” Atkinson said. “We just do.”
Khris Middleton nailed a three-pointer and Antetokounmpo drove for two dunks in a 7-0 run that gave the Bucks a 69-41 lead early in the third quarter. But later in the quarter, the Nets went on a 23-6 run to cut it to 81-72. Spencer Dinwiddie’s three-pointer cut the Bucks’ lead to 88-81 with 8:50 remaining in the game.
Then Antetokounmpo got hurt when he stepped on Carroll’s foot while playing defense. He limped to the bench with 7:34 left and the Bucks up 92-81. But Milwaukee held off the Nets without him, going up by as many as 18. Bledsoe scored 11 points in the final eight minutes.
“Really nice job stepping up,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said of Bledsoe. “ . . . It’s a hard responsibility to run the team, score a little bit, but he played very well.”
Antetokounmpo erupted for 41 points when the Nets played at Milwaukee on Jan. 26. They got off to a similar sad start in that game, falling behind by 26 in the second quarter before moving within seven in the third and then losing by 25.
This time they trailed 36-22 after one and were down by 25 in the second quarter.
“Like Coach said, we weren’t ready to compete from the jump,” Dinwiddie said, “and they just did a better job than us in all facets of the game.”