MILWAUKEE — The Nets wanted this. They wanted revenge against the team that had beaten them in the playoffs two years ago, they wanted to get their team on track, they wanted to show the world that they are not a mess.
They wanted to beat the Milwaukee Bucks so badly that in the third quarter coach Steve Nash, who usually has the most unemotional sideline demeanor in the league, had to be restrained by his players and was ejected after getting two quick technicals.
Wanting and getting, as we all know, are two different things — especially when the team you are playing is led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo scored 34 of his 43 points in the second half to lead the Bucks to a 110-99 win over the Nets Wednesday night. It follows a 44-point performance against Houston in his last game.
“Giannis just put his head down,” Kevin Durant said when asked what was the difference between the first and second halves.
The Bucks outscored the Nets 67-44 over the final two periods. After shooting just 3 of 10 in the first half, Antetokounmpo went 13 of 15 in the second half.
“It all starts with Giannis,” Nash said before the game. “His ability is almost unmatched with his size, skill, strength and athleticism. . . . They have a group that has experience and a championship pedigree and has been playing a style we’re familiar with but they are very, very good at it.”
The loss was a difficult one for the Nets, given that these are two teams that have matched up well in the past and the Bucks were without star guard Khris Middleton. The Nets (1-3) had a 12-point lead over the Bucks (3-0) at halftime.
The Nets were led by Durant’s 33 points. Kyrie Irving added 27 and Royce O’Neale had 12.
“I was just standing up for our guys,” Nash said after the game. “I don’t think I was overly demonstrative. There was a lot going on out there. What happened, happened.
“I thought we had a lot of chances but we didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half.”
The Nets looked to have broken up what was a close game with a 24-9 run in the final 7:40 of the second quarter. Irving, who scored eight points in the run, got this going with back-to-back layups. O’Neale hit consecutive threes midway through the run and the Nets finished the half with a 55-43 lead.
More important than scoring, however, was the fact that the Nets were playing their best defense of the season. The Nets held the Bucks to just 34.7% shooting in the first half. Antetokounmpo scored just nine on 3-for-10 shooting in the half.
Ben Simmons, who fouled out twice in his first three games, had just one foul in the first half despite the fact he spent a good chunk of it guarding Antetokounmpo. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game that Simmons’ defensive skills present a huge challenge to any offense.
“He’s a guy who can guard one through five, every position on the court,” Budenholzer said. “To do that you have to have a quickness. And you have to have a strength and base to guard bigger guys. He’s a very unique athlete to have all those skills and a mindset to do it. He’s very unique. He’s been gifted with the body the strength, athleticism.”