Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it, and the Nets’ “third-quarter blues,” as coach Kenny Atkinson has termed it, are becoming a sad refrain. Once again, a tight game got away from the Nets in the third period, when their one-point lead became a 13-point deficit on the way to a 111-93 blowout loss to the Bucks on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Too bad President Bill Clinton, who was sitting at courtside, didn’t have his saxophone handy to blow a blues riff to accompany the Nets’ defensive breakdown. At one point in the third period, the Bucks scored on 12 straight possessions.
In the middle of that span, they took control with a 18-4 run, including seven points from Tony Snell, to push their lead to 77-64. The Nets ultimately allowed the Bucks to score 38 points in the period, including 11 by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks shot 12-for-19 for a 90-78 lead heading to the final quarter.
“I think our offense got stagnant,” Atkinson said of the third-quarter letdown. “Give [the Bucks] credit. They switched a lot of our stuff and forced us into a lot of one-on-one play and the ball stopped moving. Turnovers hurt us, you know, the third quarter again. They outscored us pretty good there, so we’ve got to look at what we’re doing there. We haven’t figured it out yet . . . We have to look at what we can do differently. Whether it’s a different lineup, we have to take a look.”
The Nets (5-13) never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Most of all, they failed to control the so-called “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo, who had 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Bucks (9-8), who made 15 of 34 three-pointers (44.1 percent). He got support from Jabari Parker with 22 points and Snell and Malcolm Brogdon with 13 each.
Brook Lopez topped the Nets with 15 points, Sean Kilpatrick had 14 and Bojan Bogdanovic added 13. But in losing for the eighth time in nine games, the Nets shot only 38.2 percent from the field and were outrebounded 48-40.
They have a rematch with the Bucks on Saturday night in Milwaukee.
When the Nets broke their losing streak Tuesday night against the Clippers, it took all the energy they had to pull out a double-overtime win. One of the overlooked keys to victory was a strong defensive showing in the third quarter, when they held the Clippers to 30 percent shooting.
Before the game, Atkinson praised the urgency his players showed against the Clippers in the third quarter and challenged them to maintain it. Trailing the Bucks 52-51 at halftime, they were in a good position to score their first back-to-back wins of the season. But they weren’t up to it.
After taking a 60-59 lead, the Nets fell apart, scoring on two of their next eight possessions while the Bucks launched their 18-4 run. Too often, the Nets settled for three-pointers.
“Sometimes we get happy shooting from the perimeter,” forward Trevor Booker said. “I think when we drive the ball a little bit more, we will get more open perimeter shots instead of contested ones . . . You just got to find ways to get a better start in the third quarter.”
Atkinson said his game plan was designed to keep Antetokounmpo out of the paint to whatever extent possible, but when he couldn’t get to the rim, he kicked it out as the Bucks knocked down 15 three-pointers.
As point guard Isaiah Whitehead said, “They’re knocking down shots, and it’s really tough to play both ways. So I think that’s where we struggled.”