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Nets can’t afford to give Bucks life

Brooklyn shooting for 3-0 series lead on Thursday

June 9, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Kick ’em when they’re down.

Up two games to none and coming off a wire-to-wire rout of Milwaukee at Downtown’s Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t about to take their foot off the Bucks’ figurative throat when they visit the Fiserv Forum for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night.

“They’re gonna raise their level and we’ve gotta raise ours as well,” Nets head coach Steve Nash intimated when asked what he expects from the Bucks as the series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two games.

“You could talk about schemes and all that stuff but really our fight and our level of competition, guys being locked in, being aware of the game plan and being able to take care of details has been outstanding,” he added. “It’s gotta continue. It’s even gotta improve.”

Hard to believe it can after Brooklyn bludgeoned Milwaukee in Games 1 and 2, the latter of which featured the Nets leading by as many as 49 points before calling off the dogs in the fourth quarter.

The Bucks, Eastern Conference favorites but postseason disappointments in each of the previous two years, looked ready to take the next step after blowing past defending East champion Miami with a four-game sweep in the opening round.

However, reigning two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and the third-seeded Bucks have hardly showed up in this series.

Milwaukee is shooting just under 30 percent from 3-point range after two games and failed to score more than 24 points in any of the four quarters here in Brooklyn Monday despite leading the league in scoring this year.

Antetokounmpo was limited to only 18 points in Game 2, when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spearheaded the Nets to a landslide victory despite the continued absence of superstar James Harden due to a hamstring injury.

The Nets rolled into Boston two weeks ago with a 2-0 series lead and gave away Game 3 before closing out the Celtics in five games.

Giving Milwaukee renewed life after dominating the Bucks so thoroughly in Brooklyn could force the Nets into a longer-than-expected series prior to the conference finals.

If the Bucks grab Game 3, there’s no guarantee that the Nets will even return to Barclays Center with an advantage in the series.

So it is no time for Brooklyn to relish the two games it has already put together vs. Milwaukee.

Instead, the Nets need to play even harder and more cohesively on the road this week.

“We recognize that they’re a very good team, and we have to bring everything we have,” Nash noted.

“And then I think continuity and confidence is growing. So I think we’re more aware of what we’re trying to accomplish and in more scenarios, and that’s helping us feel free to really go for it, play hard, compete, be willing and okay to make mistakes, but try to do the right things on both ends.”

The Bucks, however, are refusing to go gently, insisting that a win Thursday night could turn the series around.

Reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be desperate for a win Thursday night in Milwaukee. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

“We’ve all seen it 1,000 times; we’ve got to protect our home court like they’ve protected theirs,” said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “If you’ve been in the league a long time, you’ve seen this before.”

According to ESPN, a team that has gone up 2-0 in an NBA playoff series has gone on to advance 300 out of 322 times.

Milwaukee is chomping at the bit to become the 23rd squad to accomplish that feat.

“In the locker room, there’s a lot of great leadership,” Budenholzer revealed. “The guys will respond appropriately.”

According to Nash, so will the Nets, who are title-hungry and were built for challenges like the one the Bucks will doubtlessly pose come Thursday in Milwaukee.

“We know how important Game 3s are and we know that their crowd is going to be in it from the second we get on the floor for warmups,” said Durant, who is averaging 32 points per game in these playoffs.

“We know their guys, they play better and more comfortable when they sleep in their own beds and got their same routines at home. So we got our work cut out for us but we’re looking forward to it.”

Out since the opening minute of Game 1, Brooklyn’s James Harden isn’t likely to play when the Eastern Conference semifinals move to Milwaukee on Thursday night. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

Game 4 is also in Milwaukee on Sunday at 3 p.m.

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