Giannis Antetokounmpo hit his most important shots. Kevin Durant missed his.
A tense and physical battle boiled down to the stars in crunch time, and also the referees, who gave the visiting defending champion Bucks a favorable whistle in their 120-119 overtime victory Thursday over the Nets.
In the process of eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for first on the franchise’s all-time scoring list, Antetokounmpo, who dropped 44 points, tied the game in regulation with a clutch three-point shot and nailed the game-winning free throws with three seconds left.
Durant, who scored 26 points in 45 minutes, missed two potential buzzer-beating game-winners — one in regulation, one in overtime — and left frustrated.
The free throw disparity was stark. The Bucks took 34 compared to the Nets’ 16. Durant, who was hounded by double teams and blitzes all game, didn’t go to the foul line until 8.7 seconds left in OT, when he nailed three to give the Nets a one-point edge.
But the Nets can also blame themselves after blowing a nine-point lead with three minutes left in regulation.
Momentum shifted toward the Nets with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when Bruce Brown raced to a breakaway and was pulled to the court by Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. Brown fell hard and the impact was loud, drawing gasps from the crowd. Middleton was quickly ejected for a Flagrant 2, and the Nets took advantage by turning a three-point lead to 9 in about a minute.
But the Bucks hung around, and Antetkounmpo, an unreliable 3-point shooter, knocked down the tying trey off a broken play. Durant then dribbled into traffic and missed his potential winner at the buzzer. It was similar in overtime, when Durant’s shot off an inbounds rimmed out.
The East is so congested it’s impossible to plot first-round matchups, but Nets versus Bucks is a possible first rounder. It’s also something both teams want to avoid.
There are seeds for a rivalry between the Bucks and Nets. Beyond their playoff battle last year and Thursday’s hard foul on Brown, Kyrie Irving has implied that Antetokounmpo purposefully went underfoot when he jumped for a runner, sending the Nets point guard to the floor with a season-ending sprained ankle.
“I’m going up for a shot, and Giannis comes over, and his foot,” Irving said before using his fingers to make air quotes, “just happens to be in the way.”
It was an awkward play from Antetokounmpo, who was moving to box out, but didn’t appear intentionally injurious. On Thursday, a similar physical play unfolded in the third quarter, when Antetokounmpo stepped in front of Irving at midcourt in transition. Irving jumped but couldn’t avoid the hard contact, leading to a blocking foul on Antetokounmpo. Irving got up but didn’t look happy with the play. But, again, it wasn’t dirty.
Middleton’s foul also seemed more clumsy than intentional.
By the tip of Durant’s toes, the Bucks advanced last year over the Nets. The literal inch that kept the Nets from beating the eventual champions gives hope to idea that a top-heavy Brooklyn roster can persevere in a seven-game series against anybody, even if they’re headed to the potentially perilous play-in tournament.
With Irving out and James Harden on one leg, Durant took the Bucks to overtime in Game 7, nearly winning the game with a long distance shot that was instead ruled a tying 2-pointer because his toe touched line.
It underscored the individual greatness of Durant, arguably the NBA’s best player and a one-man title contender. Though, he couldn’t do it Thursday.
Source: Berkshire mont