MILWAUKEE — The formula was suspect. The Nets shot 37.4 percent from the field and made only 11 of 41 three-pointers, but they defended with heart and fought to get to the foul line 33 times. As difficult as it was to believe, they wiped out a 16-point third-quarter deficit to put a nose in front of the Bucks early in the fourth quarter.
But as well as the Nets played, they couldn’t get the ball to go in the basket enough times to finish the job. The teams traded the lead 12 times down the stretch before the Bucks took control with a late 11-1 run on their way to a 112-103 victory that gave them a sweep of a home-and-home set Saturday night at the HMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Nets’ shooting problems were a team-wide malady. Justin Hamilton missed all six shots he took and went scoreless. Sean Kilpatrick shot 3-for-13 but compensated by getting to the foul line to make 12 of 13 free throws and total 19 points. But no one struggled more or took it more personally than Brook Lopez, who missed all 10 of his first-half shots before finishing with 13 points and 3-for-17 shooting.
“I know I definitely wasn’t happy with the way I played,” said Lopez, who actually led the Nets with nine fourth-quarter points. “I’m very disappointed in myself. I think I definitely affected the outcome. I let us down tonight, no question.”
Asked if the Bucks’ length and athleticism on defense was to blame, Lopez brushed it off. “No, I just wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I think I let us down on both ends of the floor . . . It’s on me, completely.”
The Nets (5-14) were led by Bojan Bogdanovic with 24 points and Joe Harris with 17. Anthony Bennett, who recently played two D-League games, started in place of power forward Trevor Booker, who was ill, and contributed seven points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
But the Bucks (10-8) were the more efficient offensive team with six players scoring in double figures and a whopping 62 points in the paint, a category in which they are second in the NBA. John Henson led the way with 20 points and Matthew Dellavadova added 18. The Nets, and especially Bogdanovic, did a solid defensive job against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he still finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
“I was really pleased by how our guys bounced back [from Thursday night’s home loss to the Bucks],” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Our defense showed a lot of pride. I thought there was a lot of fight in us. We were really competitive on the defensive end. Unfortunately, I don’t think we made enough shots tonight to win the game.”
The third quarter has been the spot where Nets games go to die, and they fell behind by 16 points, but Kilpatrick led a determined comeback. Driving repeatedly and drawing fouls, he scored 13 of the first 15 points in a 22-8 run that cut the deficit to 70-68 late in the period.
“Not every game are the shots going to fall, but you’ve got to find different ways to continue to keep helping your team stay in the game,” Kilpatrick said. “By me getting to the line, I think that’s what we did.”
The Nets led six times in the final period, the last at 94-92 on a three-pointer by Lopez with 5:20 remaining. That’s when the Bucks went on their 11-1 run to build a 103-95 cushion with 1:43 left.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Lopez said. “I’m so frustrated with myself right now. I’m looking forward to that next game, because I’m pretty mad at myself right now.”