This is where things get interesting.
For the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinals series, rookie coach Steve Nash was outcoaching two-time Coach of the Year winner Mike Budenholzer as his Nets team jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Milwaukee Bucks in their best-of-seven series.
This was an upset to say the very least. An assistant under Greg Popovich in San Antonio for 17 seasons, Budenholzer has been a head coach since 2013. Budenholzer has coached 637 regular-season games, putting together a 375-262 record with the Atlanta Hawks and the Bucks.
Contrast that with Nash, who is coaching in his first postseason. Nash, a two-time league MVP and 18-year veteran, is certainly no stranger to the playoffs having been to a conference finals four times as a player. Still, it’s one thing to be there as a player and quite another to be there as the coach of perhaps the most talented team ever assembled.
Each game in the playoffs has to be a learning experience for Nash and his team, and that’s what he planned to stress to them Thursday night after an ugly 86-83 Game 3 loss.
"We can learn from it, we can grow," Nash said. "We got good looks. They just didn’t go in for us. It was an uncharacteristic night in that respect. But also a night where it was a new experience for us against an elite team in a hostile environment. Very physical game."
The Bucks came in Thursday night under immense pressure after the Nets followed a solid Game 1 win with a 125-86 annihilation of Milwaukee in Game 2. Fans in Milwaukee were starting to get fed up with the fact that their talented team seems to always wilt in the playoffs. Entering Game 3, there were a few on Twitter demanding that Budenholzer be fired mid-series.
Milwaukee charged out of the gate looking to make a statement and took a 21-point lead in the first quarter, riding the hot shooting of Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Nets came back with a big second quarter and slowly chipped away until they briefly held the lead in the final quarter.
They couldn’t maintain it, however. Jrue Holiday got free for a drive that put Milwaukee ahead with 11.4 seconds left. A final three-point attempt by Kevin Durant bounced off the back of the rim.
Nash’s matter-of-fact, easy-going attitude has worked well with this superteam so far this season. During the season, it was the key to handling a team with multiple egos and injuries. During the Nets’ first-round series, it was that attitude that helped the team bounce back from another Game 3 loss in Boston to win that series, 4-1.
His players seem to know that his job is not an easy one.
"It’s probably a little bit more nerve-wracking as a coach than as a player just because sometimes as a player you can kind of control more what you do," guard Mike James said. "As a coach, you kind of just have to trust that other people are going to do what they do. So I think he’s handled it pretty well. He doesn’t seem that nervous. He seems his same self; you know, positive and easygoing. So I think so far he’s made pretty good adjustments. He made an adjustment on the fly without James here and I think it’s been pretty good."
On Thursday, Nash cast the loss as a "learning experience," something that is not so much threatening as it is something that will help his team grow.
"I definitely think it’s much easier to learn from losses. Wins sometimes sweep things under the rug. We just have to look at the way we executed throughout the game. We didn’t make shots. Great experience for our guys."