Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged he was playing to his strengths in repeatedly attacking the rim in Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, ending without a three-point attempt.

The Milwaukee Bucks superstar came up with 30 points and 17 rebounds on Thursday to help keep his team alive in the postseason, levelling the Eastern Conference semi-finals series at 3-3.

While Khris Middleton led the Bucks in scoring with 38 points, Antetokounmpo was crucially more efficient than earlier in the playoffs.

In the 2020-21 postseason, the 'Greek Freak' is a 52.3 per cent shooter from the field, but that breaks down to 70.2 per cent at the rim, 39.3 per cent from midrange and a measly 17.1 per cent from three.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 4.1 attempts per game from beyond the arc – up on 3.2 in the regular season, which was an increase on a career average of 2.2.

Against Brooklyn, though, Antetokounmpo did not shoot once from deep.

It was only the fourth time this season the two-time MVP had zero three-point attempts, one of which came as he sprained his ankle at Houston after 46 seconds in April.

Meanwhile, Game 6 was the eighth occasion across Antetokounmpo's NBA career he had 20 field goal attempts and none from three – the first since 2018 and first in the playoffs since his home postseason debut in 2015.

"That was just how it went," he said. "I didn't shoot a three tonight, but I'm just trying to be aggressive. Get downhill, make the right play.

"I think there was maybe one or two plays I was open at the three-point line and maybe could have shot it.

"But what I know is that I enjoy the game when I'm aggressive and I can get downhill and I can get my team-mates involved, and when I play to my strengths.

"That's when I enjoy the game the most, and that's what I try to do."

Coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Giannis coming into the game was in a good place.

"Just get him where he's attacking and creating for his team-mates, creating for himself. He came in today in a good place, and we've got to stay there going into Game 7."

Game 7 is back on the road, with all six games to this point having been won by the home team.

Antetokounmpo, who has only once been beyond this round and never past the Eastern Conference Finals, said: "We knew what kind of game this was.

"There was only one option: win the game. We knew if we didn't win the game, our season would be over, and we've talked about it multiple times in the locker room among the guys that it's not going to be easy.

"As I've said all year long, we're built for this moment. Simple as that. No one said it was going to be easy. It might be hard. But we are capable of doing it.

"So, everybody had a great mindset, came to play, came to compete, and hopefully we can do that in Game 7."

James Harden is confident he will have improved mobility for Game 7 of the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-final series after appearing limited in the 104-89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the series opener, playing both Game 5 and Game 6, but his mobility has visibly been restricted by the issue.

At one stage in Thursday's Game 6 defeat to the Bucks, former NBA MVP Harden swooped on a loose ball, offering up a fast-break opportunity but he instead held up play to ensure he did not need to sprint.

The Bucks levelled the series at 3-3, with forcing a deciding Game 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Harden's return coincided with Kyrie Irving's absence after he injured his ankle in Game 4, triggering further doubts about his fitness but the former insisted he was improving.

"It's not even about rust. It's about being able to move," Harden said after finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists from 40 minutes on court.

"Day by day I continue to get better. Game 5 was the first time I did any movement since I got hurt. Tonight was no different.

"I'm out there to do whatever it takes to win. I've got to be better on both ends of the floor which I will be on Game 7."

Nets team-mate Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds for second-seeded Brooklyn, felt Harden seemed to be on the improve.

"He was moving better today. That's a tough, tough injury," Durant said post-game.

"He's gutting it out for us. We're not expecting too much from him movement wise. He's going out there and giving it his all. You've got to respect that."

Durant was not happy with the way his side defended Khris Middleton, who had a game-high 38 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think we fouled him three times shooting threes, which got his rhythm going," Durant said.

"He's a shot maker. We gave him confidence. Every time it felt like they got an offensive rebound he hit a three. He made timely shots for them."

Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks forced a deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semi-final thanks to a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Bucks forward Middleton top-scored with an NBA playoff career-high 38 points, including five-from-eight three-pointers, and had 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals, as Milwaukee levelled the series at 3-3.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo produced a more aggressive display inside the paint to stay alive in the playoffs, putting up 30 points and 17 rebounds in a double-double display at home to the Nets.

Antetokounmpo played a key role in 14-0 fourth-quarter run, including a strong offensive rebound and slam, which warded off Brooklyn's threat.

Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo did not attempt one three-point shot in a clear change of strategy after criticism for his shooting earlier in the series.

James Harden started again for the Nets after returning from a hamstring injury in Game 5, getting through 39 minutes but was visibly hampered, lacking power and finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Durant had another busy shift, playing 40 of the 48 minutes, however he could not carry the second-seeded Nets, scoring 32 points with 11 rebounds following his monster triple-double last time out.

PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday were strong defensively, with the latter having four steals, harassing Durant – who only shot at 50 per cent from the field and two-from-eight beyond the arc.

Milwaukee led 59-48 at half-time with Antetokounmpo having 18 points in the opening half, shooting eight of nine from the field.

The Nets rallied in the third quarter and put pressure on the Bucks early in the last period with a 10-0 run.

Milwaukee hit back with their 14-0 run which led to Brooklyn benching Durant and Harden late.

The Nets will welcome the Bucks to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

 

76ers at Hawks

The east and west's top seeds – the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz – could be eliminated on Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and the Los Angeles Clippers both looking to wrap up their Conference semi-final series on their home courts leading 3-2.

Steve Nash says Kevin Durant's "signature performance" in the Brooklyn Nets' 114-108 NBA playoff win over the Milwaukee Bucks showed why is one of the all-time greats.

Durant produced a masterclass in Game 5 at Barclays Center on Tuesday; scoring 49 points, claiming 17 rebounds and providing 10 assists as the Nets took a 3-2 series lead.

The two-time NBA champion became the first player to put up at least 45 points, 15 boards and 10 assists in a postseason game.

Durant stole the show as James Harden struggled on his return from a hamstring injury for a Nets side missing Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle.

Nets coach Nash said of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP: "It's ridiculous what he's able to do.

"We knew he was capable of nights like this, but to do it tonight… We miss Ky, James obviously is soldiering through his ailments. We're down bodies, we're wounded. And for him to have the toughness, the mentality. That's what makes him one of the all-time greats.

"This is a performance that's a signature performance for Kevin, and it was beautiful to watch."

Durant is focused on trying to repeat his incredible exploits as the Nets go in search of NBA glory.

He said: "I didn't even think about anything but just each possession. I was trying to win each possession, and I didn't think about how many points I had or shot attempts or rebounds or assists.

"That's the approach I always take, and I was able to rack up some points. I did play every minute, so that did help with my point total."

Asked how he ranked his performance, he said: "Once they happen, I just move on and see if I can do it again. That was a fun game to be a part of, but there have been a lot of games in my career I feel have been just as fun."

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and took 12 assists but the Bucks lost despite moving into a 17-point lead in the third quarter.

James Harden stole the headlines pre-game, but it was Kevin Durant who dazzled with a monster triple-double to inspire the Brooklyn Nets to a 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs.

Harden was cleared to return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which was deadlocked at 2-2 upon the former MVP's comeback from a hamstring injury on Tuesday.

However, Harden struggled badly as team-mate Durant stole the show with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists – almost singlehandedly reclaiming Brooklyn's series lead following back-to-back losses.

Durant did not miss a minute of the clash at Barclays Center, where the second-seeded Nets withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to move ahead 3-2 after being outscored 29-15 in the opening period.

According to Stats Perform, Durant became the first player to post 48-plus points while playing all 48 minutes in a regulation playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant – a former MVP and two-time NBA champion – is the first player in NBA history with a 45/15/10 postseason game after moving the Nets within a win of the Conference Finals.

Back in the line-up, Harden played all but two minutes, however he was one-for-10 shooting for five points as Jeff Green (27) and Blake Griffin (17) were the only other Brooklyn players to finish with double-digit points.

Antetokounmpo put up a 34-point, 12-rebound double-double but it was not enough for the visiting Bucks.

Khris Middleton contributed 25 points for the third-seeded Bucks, who led 59-43 at half-time before the Nets rallied.

The series heads back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

 

Hawks at 76ers

The top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers will look to bounce back at home to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. The second-round matchup in the east is level at 2-2.

Brooklyn Nets star James Harden has overcome a hamstring injury and will return for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden was initially ruled out alongside fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving (ankle) due to his troublesome hamstring, which had him sidelined after bowing out 43 seconds into the opening clash with the Bucks.

But Harden's status was upgraded to doubtful and then questionable on Tuesday, before being cleared to play less than an hour prior to tip-off at Barclays Center, where the series is tied at 2-2.

"I'm not sure the level of risk," Nets head coach Steve Nash said before the game. "I think it is James' decision. He wants to play. Ultimately, he wants to play. He's been pushing."

Harden – averaging 23.2 points, a postseason career-high 8.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the playoffs in 2020-21 – has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

The former Houston Rockets guard, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

Harden then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but suffered an injury in Game 1 at home to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Bucks.

Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, second-seeded Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

The Nets have won three of four Game 5's at home in best-of-seven series all-time after being tied 2-2. Their only such loss came in the 2003 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs (93-83).

Brooklyn are outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when both Harden and Irving are on the court this season (regular and postseason). That differential drops to plus-2.8 when neither is in the game.

The Brooklyn Nets could yet be boosted by the return of James Harden on Tuesday after he was upgraded to doubtful.

Harden had initially been ruled out of Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The former Houston Rockets star has been managing a hamstring injury since the start of April.

Harden, who had been making an MVP run prior to the initial setback, returned in the closing stages of the regular season.

He then averaged 27.8 points per game in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics but bowed out 43 seconds into Game 1 at home to the Bucks.

 

The potential for Harden to feature in Game 5 lifts the Nets, who have also now lost Kyrie Irving to an ankle issue.

Having gone 2-0 up against Milwaukee without Harden, Brooklyn lost both games on the road to level the series.

Kevin Durant has led the team with 29.8 points per game in the series but was limited to nine-of-25 shooting in Game 4.

Brooklyn Nets stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden will both miss Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks due to injury.

Irving sprained his right ankle in the Nets' 107-96 loss in Game 4 on Sunday and underwent an MRI which confirmed he would not be available for Tuesday's clash, with the NBA playoff series in tied at 2-2.

Nets guard Irving joins former MVP Harden on the sidelines, with the latter still absence because of a hamstring he re-injured in Game 1.

Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash said the length of Irving's absence remains unknown.

"I have to wait and see how it progresses, I think," Nash said.

"And then the experts would have to wait and see how it progresses and give you a clearer picture on what the window would be for his return."

Nash added that Harden was "working out right now" but was unclear on his return to play timeframe.

The second-seeded Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – have battled injuries throughout the 2020-21 campaign, with Harden missing 21 games late in the regular season due to his troublesome hamstring.

"It's tough to lose great players but we've lost guys all season," Nash said. "If there's any silver linings, it's that we've continued to win games regardless of who's been available.

"We've been able to adapt on the fly which is difficult to do sometimes. That's something we have some experience with. We should have some comfort and belief."

The absence of two-thirds of the 'Big Three' puts a heavy burden on Kevin Durant, although Nash insisted it was not just about him.

"This does not fall on Kevin, this falls on the Nets," Nash said. "We've got to find a way together to play great basketball on both ends of the floor. We've proven we can do it.

"We try to stick to our principles and fundamentals, which is connectivity, competitive spirit, embracing the opportunity and playing together as a team."

The Phoenix Suns are waiting.

A series sweep over the Denver Nuggets means Monty Williams' team are through to the Western Conference Finals, where they will meet either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East, meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are serving up a prime example of how a seven-game series can ebb and flow throughout. At 2-2 and with injuries taking a toll, it is tough to predict who will progress.

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks also locked in a battle in the East, it is time to take a look at those players who have seized the chance to shine across the past week in the NBA playoffs, as well as those struggling in the shade.

RUNNING HOT...

Chris Paul

Paul set an unusual record as the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday. In contributing 37 points, the 36-year-old became the oldest guard in NBA history to outscore his age in a playoff game.

It capped a memorable week for the 11-time All-Star, who averaged 25.5 points per game in the series. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, Phoenix are the only team to knock out both the previous year's conference finalists in the first two rounds, having also accounted for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan Mitchell

Through three games against the Clippers, Mitchell has been an offensive juggernaut for the Jazz. He has scored a combined total of 112 points to average out for the week at 37.33 per outing.

His output has been aided by getting hot from long range, the guard landing 5.67 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that is correct: Per. Game. An ankle issue could slow him down in the remainder of the series, having already missed the end of the regular season and Utah's first game in the playoffs.

Bruce Brown

With James Harden out due to a hamstring injury, Brown has taken on a greater offensive role for the ailing Nets. In three games across the past week, the 24-year-old has taken 22 shots – he had tallied 31 in the previous six playoff outings – and made his first three-pointer in the playoffs as Brooklyn won Game 2.

His production could be set to further increase if Kyrie Irving joins Harden on the sidelines, the point guard having twisted his right ankle as his team lost Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday.

GOING COLD...

Joe Harris

Having been pivotal at the start of the Nets-Bucks series, Harris has cooled off since the teams travelled to Milwaukee. His opening two outings saw him manage 19 and 13 points, but since then just 11 combined in back-to-back defeats.

Harris landed only one of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 3 before fouling out, while Sunday’s Game 4 performance was only marginally better. Perhaps a return to Brooklyn for Game 5 will help him find his scoring touch again.

Bobby Portis

Just like Harris on the opposing roster, Portis is in a slump. The 29-year-old has averaged just 2.0 points per game across the past week, a major drop from his regular-season average of 11.42. He is also contributing less in terms of rebounding too, dipping down to 3.0 per outing.

Fellow big Brook Lopez is another role player to see the points dry up (6.33ppg), leaving Milwaukee to lean heavily on All-Star duo Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as they bid to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Morris Sr and Patrick Beverley

For the second successive series, the Clippers are having to dig themselves out of an early hole. An emphatic Game 3 victory over the Jazz halved the deficit, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George managing a combined total of 65 points.

The role players will need to help out too if they are to set up a clash with the Suns. Morris Sr has averaged 7.67 points across the past week, not aided by landing just one of his 16 attempts from deep. Team-mate Beverley is also struggling from long range while managing just 10 points in total in his past three games.

The Phoenix Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 after sweeping Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 4-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Suns duo Devin Booker and Chris Paul flexed their muscles in a 125-118 victory over the Nuggets in Game 4 as MVP Jokic was ejected on Sunday.

Jokic (22 points and 11 rebounds), who earned his first MVP accolade on Tuesday, was assessed a flagrant two foul after his foul on Phoenix's Cameron Payne in the third quarter.

That made life difficult for the third-seeded Nuggets – already missing star Jamal Murray due to injury – as the Suns rolled into the Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

Paul produced a vintage performance with a game-high 37 points, while Booker put up 34 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are the only team to knock out both the previous season's conference finalists in the opening two rounds since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984 per Stats Perform.

The Eastern Conference semi-final matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets is deadlocked at 2-2 after Giannis Antetokounmpo starred.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double to lead the Bucks past the second-seeded Nets 107-96 in Game 4.

Two-time MVP Antetokounmpo had a game-high 34 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucks topped the Nets, who lost All-Star Kyrie Irving to injury.

Irving – who had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action – twisted his right ankle after coming down on Antetokounmpo's foot, having scored from close range in the second quarter.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest as the third-ranked Bucks took advantage.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play.

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers visit the Atlanta Hawks for Game 4 on Monday, leading the Eastern Conference semi-final series 2-1. Utah Jazz – the top seed in the west – are also in action against the Los Angeles Clippers in their Western Conference second-round Game 4.

Kyrie Irving will undergo further tests on the ankle injury he suffered in the Brooklyn Nets' defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday – a result that leaves the NBA playoff series all tied up at 2-2.

Irving twisted his right ankle after coming down on Giannis Antetokounmpo's foot after scoring from close range in the second quarter of Game 4 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The seven-time All-Star received treatment on the court before walking to the locker room. The Nets later ruled him out for the remainder of the contest, though head coach Steve Nash confirmed after the game that X-rays on the issue came back negative.

"I have no idea what is going to happen with Ky in the coming days," Nash said.

"We will cross our fingers and hope that it is better than I don't know – better than what – better than missing the next game?"

Already without James Harden, Brooklyn slipped to a 107-96 defeat on the road. They host Game 3 on Tuesday, having recorded both their wins at home at the start of the best-of-seven series.

Irving had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of action.

Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets with 28 points but was stifled by the Bucks' physical defensive play which, at times, Nash felt went a step too far.

"[Tucker's] playing extremely physical. And made it difficult. That's his role on their team," Nash said. "I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times. But that's the playoffs."

Harden has not featured since suffering a hamstring injury in the early stages of Game 1. It remains unclear when the former MVP will return, though there are positive signs in his recovery.

"I asked him and he says he's feeling better, doing better," Nash said. "I asked the staff, they say, 'Yeah, it's getting better'. 

"I think he's in that arena where he's got a little gap to make up. But he's getting closer, so it's been positive."

Antetokounmpo's 34-point haul helped Milwaukee make it two wins from two at home. He was helped out by 19 points from Khris Middleton, while P.J. Tucker added 13 to go along with his defensive work when tasked with slowing down Durant.

"We're very happy, but we've got to keep getting better, keep playing together and hopefully we can go into Brooklyn and take one," Antetokounmpo said.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "At this stage, it's whatever it takes to win the game.

"It certainly helps to get more guys contributing, making shots. P.J. Tucker was phenomenal on both ends of the court."

Kyrie Irving enjoyed the battle of a "good old-fashioned playoff game" despite the Brooklyn Nets seeing a roaring comeback halted by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory in Game 3 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with the Nets still leading the series 2-1.

Milwaukee had surrendered a 21-point lead before Jrue Holiday put the home team ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Kevin Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

Irving, however, was not too downbeat as he was able to appreciate the contest as a spectacle.

"Shoot, man, they did what they were supposed to do: come out aggressive, backs against the wall, and we had to weather that storm," he said.

"So that definitely kind of put us on our heels for the rest of the game, just playing catch-up, playing their style of basketball, and then they made some big timely shots which carried them forward.

"But we had our chances down the stretch. It was a possession-by-possession game. Both teams battling. So that's a good old-fashioned playoff game right there."

Durant highlighted how fine margins determined the outcome of a game that could have gone either way.

He said: "They played more physical, they were there at the rim and they just played their regular way, the way they've been playing the whole season.

"I think we got great looks, we need to knock them down, but they also did a good job of contesting and being physical and blocking shots at the rim.

"But for the most part we got back into the game, had plays down the stretch and they just ended up making a couple more shots."

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted "a win is a win" after the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets, despite blowing a big advantage in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets in the Eastern Conference semi-finals but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining on Thursday.

The Bucks were forced to dig deep during the closing stages, however two-time MVP Antetokounmpo did not dwell on the manner of the win as Milwaukee cut Brooklyn's lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

"At the end of the day, a win is a win," said Antetokounmpo, who posted 33 points and 14 rebounds.

"It doesn't matter if you win by 30. It doesn't matter if you win by one.

"You can go back home and celebrate the ‘W.' "

Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

"We ran a lot of pick-and-roll, the first two games, in Brooklyn. I was able to get my spots, just wasn't making the shot, making the right pass or the right read," Middleton said.

"Tonight, I just tried to make the right read and make those shots. I can see what they are giving, just trying to take advantage of that."

On Milwaukee's defense, Holiday added: "I think part of it is playing desperate, knowing the situation, knowing what this game means to us and what it means to be home.

"And then the other part of it is the performance we had the first two games, showing that's not the type of defense we play. That was really out of character."

In theory, the Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the biggest obstacle on the Brooklyn Nets' path to an NBA championship.

To stand a chance of winning a seven-game series against the NBA’s premier trio of team-mates – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving – you've got to be able to score points, and a whole lot of them.

Despite a recurring run of injuries that often rendered their Big Three to a Big Two – or many times a lonely One – the Nets were a remarkable 27-2 when allowing 112 or fewer points in a game during a regular season which they finished as a de facto 1A to the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

The true magic number when it comes to facing Brooklyn, however, is 120, as the Nets were a pedestrian 8-13 when opponents scored above that mark. So, how many teams averaged 120 points per game this season?

Just one, as a matter of fact. That would be the Bucks.

And what team had the most games this season totalling 120 or more points? Again, the answer is Milwaukee, whose 39 games hitting the mark was six more than the next closest competitor – which, you guessed it, would be the Nets.

Well, after two games of the most anticipated series of this year's conference semifinals, Brooklyn's perceived greatest threat had offered no challenge whatsoever.

After comfortably winning Game 1, even with Harden playing a mere 43 seconds after aggravating a previous hamstring injury, the Nets unequivocally justified their status as the favourites to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy with a 125-86 Game 2 thrashing that came with Harden cheering on his fellow well-paid team-mates in street clothes.

In hindsight, those results were ones we maybe could have seen coming. Sure, the Bucks effortlessly disposed of the reigning East champion Miami Heat with a first-round sweep, but it came without their offense performing at its usually potent level.

Milwaukee shot just 32.7 per cent from three-point range for the series, well below their 38.9 per cent success rate for the season, and they had at least 15 turnovers in three of the wins. The Bucks advanced mostly on good defense, coupled with an unquestionably abysmal shooting performance from the Heat over the four games.

In the Brooklyn series, the Bucks haven't been able to hit water from a boat, going into Game 3, having shot a paltry 24.6 per cent from beyond the arc over the first two clashes.

The early stages of the series also exposed Milwaukee's greatest weakness during what was otherwise another splendid regular season under Mike Budenholzer – an inability to adequately defend the three. The Bucks permitted opponents to make 38.4 per cent of their trey attempts over the 72-game schedule, with only the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves yielding a higher percentage.

Against a locked-in team like the Nets, that can be – and has been – a recipe for disaster. The first team in league history to make 15 or more three-pointers in six straight games during a single postseason, Brooklyn have connected at an incredible 43 per cent rate from long distance so far in these playoffs, going into Thursday evening's third clash with the Bucks.

If the Nets could even come close to keeping that pace the rest of the way, that likely spells doom for the rest of the NBA. The three-point shot has been a strong indicator of success in this postseason, as teams have won at a 70 per cent clip (35-15) when recording a higher three-point percentage than their opponents and are 25-7 when hitting 15 or more triples in a game.

Moreover, teams that have shot better than 40 per cent from three-point range are 24-5 this postseason, and the five teams that lost each faced an opponent that also eclipsed the 40 per cent mark in that game.

So, assuming the Nets don't do the unthinkable and somehow lose this series, is it a fait accompli they'll represent the East in the Finals?

They did lose two of their three match-ups with the 76ers during the regular season, though it's hard to put much stock in those outcomes considering Brooklyn were without at least two of Durant, Harden and Irving in all of those games.

Philadelphia getting past the upstart Atlanta Hawks cannot be considered an absolute given either, but the Sixers will provide an interesting test provided they do get past their pesky second-round foes.

They have the lowest ratio of three-point attempts to total field-goal attempts of any of the eight remaining teams, not too surprising for an offense centred around MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and the perimeter-averse Ben Simmons. But while the Sixers generally aren't bombing away with the same frequency as those still left standing, it could be argued that outside shooting may be the single biggest factor in determining how far they ultimately go this summer.

Next to Embiid's ever-present fitness concerns, Seth Curry might just be the X-factor when it comes to determining whether the 76ers can end a 20-year Finals absence. When Curry is going well and Embiid is healthy, Philadelphia are awfully difficult to beat. And Steph's little brother is certainly doing just that right now, having averaged 24 points while shooting 61.9 per cent (13 of 19) from three-point range over his last three games.

The 76ers went 20-3 during the regular season when Curry made three or more three-pointers in a game, and they've hit the all-important 120-point mark in five of their seven playoff games thus far. If it comes to fruition, a Philly-Brooklyn match-up in the East Finals would surely be a treat.

As for the West, the Clippers could represent the most imposing roadblock to the Nets' first NBA title in franchise history – on paper, at least. No team shot above the coveted 40 per cent standard from three-point range more times during the regular season than Tyronn Lue's group, whose 42 such games were seven more than the team second on that list (again, the Nets). The Clippers also led the league in three-point percentage at 41.1 per cent.

There's no questioning the Clippers' talent and depth. Trust, however, is another matter. This is largely the same cast that famously blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in last year’s West semifinals, and they couldn't hold on to a 13-point half-time advantage in losing Tuesday's series opener to a Utah team playing without starting point guard Mike Conley.

History isn't on the Clippers' side either, as they've never advanced past the conference semis in eight previous tries.

And what about the Jazz, for that matter? Utah may not possess the Nets' overall star power and haven't displayed the same level of recent dominance as their potential Finals foes, but they did lead the league in wins this season, are capable of shooting their way out of any deficit and haven't lost a game when Donovan Mitchell has taken the court since April.

That is only a seven-game winning streak since Mitchell missed over a month with a sprained ankle, but has there been a better postseason performer than Utah's All-Star guard over the last two years?

In 12 playoff games over that period, Mitchell has averaged 34.4 points on 50.6 per cent shooting, and a 45-point masterpiece against the Clippers on Tuesday was his fourth outing with at least 44 points during that stretch.

Of course, superlative individual efforts don't always coincide with championship glory. Just ask Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

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