Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo went off for 49 points, a season high by any Nets opponent, and though the Nets’ Kevin Durant responded by tying his season high with 42 points, his missed three-point at the buzzer allowed the Bucks to escape with a 117-114 victory Sunday afternoon at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee in what both teams regarded as a potential playoff preview.
Blake Griffin inbounded to Durant with 3.6 seconds left well above the three-point arc, and his long heave bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer. It marked the first time the Nets had lost consecutive games since Feb. 9, when they lost their third straight.
Asked if that was the shot the Nets wanted, coach Steve Nash said: "They had an opportunity to foul, so we couldn’t be too cute with the play. We got a shot off, it looked like he stumbled a little bit and didn’t quite have his footing. But Kevin with the ball in his hands at the top of the [arc], that looks good to me any time."
The teams were tied at 90 entering the fourth period when the Nets opened with three-pointers from Griffin and Landry Shamet for a 96-90 lead at the 10:31 mark. But they fell into a cold spell, missing their next seven shots and committing three turnovers while the Bucks went on a 16-3 run, featuring six points by Khris Middleton, including a four-point play that tied the game, and another seven points from Antetokounmpo to build a 106-99 lead.
The Nets cut their deficit to 115-112 on a Kyrie Irving three-pointer with 1:54 left, and then Irving and Durant each missed potential tying three-pointers before the Nets got one more chance for Durant’s miss at the buzzer.
Antetokounmpo shot 21-for-36, and the Bucks (40-24) got 26 points and 11 rebounds from Middleton and 18 points from Jrue Holiday. The Nets dared Antetokounmpo to shoot from three-point range, and he delivered a 4-for-8 effort.
"I’ve been working on this jump shot my whole life, and I knew one day it’s going to click," Antetokounmpo said. "The 49 points I scored does not matter. What I care about is how I get to my spot, how I slowed down, how I was able to miss one, miss a second one, miss a third and still be able to shoot another one. This is who I believe I can be."
Nash defended the strategy the Nets employed against Antetokounmpo. "I think we can live with that," Nash said of the three-pointers Antetokounmpo hit. "What we can’t live with is all the dunks, offensive rebounds and transition buckets.
"He had 50, and we have a shot to tie. We didn’t play well. Although he was sensational tonight, I think the game plan was fine. It’s about all the other things we can clean up in order to give ourselves a better chance."
Durant also had 10 rebounds for the Nets (43-22), who got 20 points from Irving, 17 from Shamet, 11 by Griffin and 10 points and 11 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan. But they fell to second place in the Eastern Conference, half a game behind the 76ers, who won Sunday night in overtime in San Antonio. Now, it’s on to a rematch against the third-place Bucks on Tuesday night.
Durant shook off his miss at the buzzer and said he was "super-excited" to be part of such a high-caliber matchup. "Of course, you want to gauge yourself against the best defender, best team defense, best coaching," Durant said. "I get excited and I relish these opportunities, and we do as a team. It’s one of those games you enjoy playing in, and hopefully, it’s a better one for us next game."