If you were hoping to see the Bucks come out and prove that they could play at a high level against the Brooklyn Nets, well, uh, Thursday's butt-ugly Game 3 wasn't that. Milwaukee's offense still looked stagnant, they coughed up an early 19-point lead, Giannis took more misguided threes than Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Along Came Polly," basically only two Bucks scored points the entire game and, if we're being honest, the Nets looked like they were on cruise control, maybe playing at 70 percent in a game Milwaukee needed far more than them.
If we're being dishonest, though? WOO, WE'RE BACK IN THIS THING, BABY!
It was a nasty, ugly, trash game of basketball – but it was a nasty, ugly, trash game of basketball that the Milwaukee Bucks won, 86-83, defending home court and taking a step toward evening their series with the Nets. You wouldn't say the Bucks proved they could win the series – 86 points against a weak Nets defense and a typically scorching Brooklyn offense, even sans James Harden, won't often end in smiles – but they proved they could win a game. And after losing by almost 40 last game, this is progress.
Let's savor this victory – and hopefully learn some lessons for Sunday's Game 4 matinee – by looking back at some of the key moments from Thursday night's beautifully hideous win.
1. Sacked by gravity
For the first time since March last year, Fiserv Forum was filled 100 percent – and amongst that joyous crowd were two Packers, Za'Darius Smith and Aaron Jones, bringing some Titletown mojo to the Milwaukee sidelines. Actually, they also brought it to the court itself as they took turns dunking before the game. Or, uh, "dunking."
I say we go full chaos for Game 4 and get Aaron Rodgers courtside. Give ESPN a full-court press panic attack.
2. Return of the mean mug
The Bucks at least came out like a team that was fully embarrassed and needed to win on Thursday night, playing strong defense on the Nets, slamming home Giannis dunks – plus the above mean mug – and holding Brooklyn scoreless while getting out to a 9-0 lead, eventually growing into a 30-11 advantage after the first quarter. And then I refuse to acknowledge what happened until about 20 seconds left in the fourth!
3. P.J. gets PO'ed
After two straight demolishings, the Bucks' self-proclaimed "dogs" showed up on Thursday night – particularly P.J. Tucker, who may not have scored a single point over 33 minutes but played intense and scrappy defense on Kevin Durant, escalating into this testy little tiff between the two ... and apparently Durant's bodyguard too? Not sure why or how THAT'S allowed ...
4. Blake blocked
Blake Griffin's been feeling himself in the first two games of the series, putting in solid role player minutes, stepping over Thanasis in junk time in Game 1, dunking all over the place in Game 2 and basically flipping two middle fingers to Detroit Pistons fans. So let me pettily enjoy this quick moment ...
Brook Lopez had one of his worst games of the playoffs on Thursday night, only putting in three points – but none of that matters because this happened.
5. No no no no no ... YES!
One of the reasons for the Bucks' struggles this series has been Giannis randomly deciding that he's Steph Curry and should shoot regularly from deep. Some quick inside-basketball analysis: He shouldn't do that! While he put in arguably his best game of the series thus far, Giannis also shot a horrifying eight three-pointers in Game 3, tallying up an even more horrifying 1-for-8 from deep. The one he did make at least came at the right time, keeping the Nets at bay in the fourth, but if he never lines up another triple in this series, it'll still be too soon.
6. A Holiday in Milwaukee
Jrue Holiday had an alarmingly Bledsoe-ian game for the most part Thursday night, playing good defense on Kyrie Irving but also going 4-for-14 shooting, only scoring nine points in 46 minutes and losing control several times throughout the messy proceedings. But none of that matters because he hit the most important shot of the game, a driving layup under 20 seconds left to give the Bucks a lead they wouldn't give back. Hopefully it's exactly the moment Holiday needed to wake up in this series and join Giannis and Middleton as Milwaukee's big three.
7. Cheer District
God, it's so refreshing to see Deer District finally have something to cheer about again. Here's to giving this image a few sequels in the next week or two.
8. It's time for ... Bruce Brown?
Kyrie Irving has some of the best handles the league's ever seen. Kevin Durant may be the best pure scorer of his generation. So obviously, down one with the game on the line, the Brooklyn Nets' fate was put into the hands ... of Bruce Brown. Huh. Well, let's see how that went:
Yeah, that tracks. He's had an impressive series thus far as a part of the Brooklyn bench mob that's handily outplaying the Bucks' reserves ... but I don't think Bruce Brown's seeing the ball much on Sunday afternoon.
Kevin Durant had an "off night" – aka still 30 points, including a torrid stretch of shots in the final frame that made it look like the Nets would steal this must-win game. But thankfully Bruce Brown took over, and when the ball finally wound up back in Durant's hands late, he missed this highly contested desperation three. Much like everything on Thursday night, though, it was FAR closer than preferred.
10. Dynamic duo
Khris & Giannis scored 79% of the Bucks points, the highest percentage of any team’s points by any duo in NBA playoff history.
(via @ESPNStatsInfo) pic.twitter.com/uVel1N9bgG — Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 11, 2021
Giannis had easily his best performance of the series on Thursday night with 33 points and 14 rebounds, but even more important, the struggling Khris Middleton finally broke out, putting in a "now that's more like it"-inducing 35 points plus 15 rebounds of his own. Together they accounted for almost 80 percent of the Bucks' points – an impressive stat that's also kinda depressing considering Milwaukee only managed 86 points on the day. If the Bucks have any hope of winning another game – much less the series – they're desperately going to need the rest of the team to join them on the court.
I've been a little low on the Bucks' win yesterday, so let me end this recap by turning off my brain and enjoying a moment of pure elation with no caveats:
I would like this image to be the new Milwaukee flag, please and thank you.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.